Family's story about life at sea was a labor of love

March 04, 1994|By Jody Roesler | Jody Roesler,Special to The Sun

Ellynore Seybold-Smith keeps copies of the book recalling her life at sea with her husband and two children in a baby carriage in the living room of her house in High Point because "the book was more labor than having babies," she says.

She and her husband, Delano Smith, started the book 12 years ago, but it wasn't published until January, two years after Mr. Smith died. Books Unlimited, a small Baltimore company, issued its first printing.

"We talked about every conceivable story about the boat," Ms. Seybold-Smith recalls. "We recorded it, then I typed it and cut it and cut it. We sent out 40 copies and got 40 copies back."

She put the book away after receiving the rejection letters and didn't pull it out again until after Mr. Smith's death.

"I figured I'd read it and have a real good cry then throw it away," she says. "But I didn't cry, I knew what was wrong -- it was overwritten. I cut it and knew that this was it. I thought, 'Now, Delano can have his book.' "

"The Wooden Mistress: A Sea Story -- A Love Story" is "about a young couple as green as the hills who bought a 56-foot yawl in 1962 and wanted to live aboard it," Ms. Seybold-Smith explains.

But it is "not written for boat people; it's not technical," she says.

"I have a short attention span, so I write for people with a short attention span," she says.

Her story begins in Stuttgart, Germany, where she was born during World War II. Her family moved to Maryland when she was 10, settling in a house in Hamilton with an apartment upstairs.

Her future husband's parents moved into the apartment several years later. She met him when he came home from the University of Maryland on weekends.

Just before homecoming weekend in 1958 he "was desperate for a date," she recalls.

"He waited too late for homecoming, so he thought, 'Well, I'll ask that gal down there.' And we've been dating ever since," she says.

They married in 1959 and bought the boat three years later. The boat was in Connecticut and they wanted to bring it to Annapolis.

"We went offshore, to the ocean, and within 24 hours the beautiful boat started falling apart," she recalls. "Then we really ran into trouble."

First, the cables that held the 75-foot mast in place broke. Then, as they motored close to the shoreline of Southampton, Long Island, to attract attention, the motor conked out.

Ms. Seybold-Smith dove into the ocean to swim to shore for help and the boat ran aground just offshore. Before long, a northeaster blew in, washing the boat onto the beach.

"She was so high and dry you could walk around her without getting your feet wet," she says.

She used a newspaper photograph of the boat washed up on the beach at Southampton for the cover of the book. The boat was named Cesonne then, but because the people of the town helped the young couple so much, they renamed the vessel Southampton.

"One man opened his house to us, said we could live there as long as the boat was stuck, and offered a $10,000 line of credit in his name," she says.

What they didn't know at the time was that Ms. Seybold-Smith was pregnant with their first child, Arion.

The book opens with Ms. Seybold-Smith swimming to shore at Southampton, and goes on to tell the stories of disasters, of their perseverance and of raising Arion, now 30, and their daughter, Antionette, 29, on the water.

The couple moved from a marina in Annapolis to the house on Stony Creek in 1977 to find a cheaper place to dock their boat, which they sold in 1987. The wooden boat became too much work, Ms. Seybold-Smith says. "It was 10 hours of work for one hour of sailing."

Ms. Seybold-Smith approached Books Unlimited last fall after she saw an ad, company president Al Cunniff says.

"I was very impressed with her writing and her dedication to the story," he says. "I'm convinced that the way she told the story it will have universal appeal."

Now, Ms. Seybold-Smith is working on a screenplay of the book. Meanwhile, Books Unlimited is hoping to attract a larger publisher for the book.

But Ms. Seybold-Smith says, "This book was not written to make a fortune. It's a wonderful story that should be told.

"We owe it to the people [of Southampton] for what they did."

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