The Schooner Russamee

"The story of how she came to be"

by David Russell  December 2011

Dynarchy

Surprisingly, the story really begins  in 1959. I had just graduated as an architect in London and a tutor had recommended me to a small firm of architects called ‘Pinckney and Gott’. Roger Pinckney and Arthur Gott were both larger than life characters and had both been apprenticed to an architect called Sir Giles Gilbert Scott who was mainly renowned as a cathedral builder.

I was hired to do the ‘modern’ stuff that was beginning to invade their office, much to their disgust, as Pinckney was a Gothicist and Gott was a classicist. Pinckney was at that time converting a romantic and rambling 18th century gothic castle into apartments while Gott was busy reclaiming a huge Georgian mansion for Mrs. Ian Fleming, wife of the creator of the ‘James Bond’ character and stories.  Pinckney was a large man with a beard while Gott was about 1/3 of his size and sharp as a razor.

To cut a long story short, I caught Jaundice and as part of my re-couperation I was invited by Pinckney for a week’s sailing on his cutter ‘Dyarchy  ’.  I later discovered that this was a sailing boat of some fame as was her owner. She was my first introduction to sailing and of all the boats that I have sailed since, she was one of the most magical. Her lines were sublime.

Having caught ‘the disease’ I vowed that one day I would learn how to sail and then create my own boat. I sailed quite a lot with Pinckney that year and was beginning to learn something about sailing. He was a bit of a loner but seemed to tolerate me, In fact he was famous for cruising the North Sea, the Baltic and the Mediterranean with only his octogenarian mother as crew – she must have been some lady.

We met again some 15 years later and I told him all about Russamee and what he had started. He told me that he had sold Dyarchy in the early ‘60s and feeling age creeping up on him decided that as he had only really seen Europe from the sea the time had come to buy a car and see what was inland so he was now ‘land cruising’.

I left after a year to seek my fortune elsewhere. This resulted in my working for Sir Denys Lasdun’s practice working in a team designing extensions to London University and a new university in East Anglia. However these jobs kept starting and stopping as government funding kept hitting difficulties. After one protracted ‘stop’ I glanced at The Sunday Times on a bitterly cold day in February and spotted an ad in the personal column ‘Bus to Kathmandu - £100 all in’. My cheque was in the post box within 10 minutes. So, on April 7th . 1965, I found myself sitting in an old London bus with 32 other passengers, heading for Kathmandu. The co-driver had failed to show up so when we reached Istanbul the driver suffered a nervous breakdown and I volunteered my services as I had driven a variety of heavy vehicles while doing my two years National Service in the Army. By the time we reached Afghanistan, I was part of the ‘business’. The business really amounted to driving the bus to Kathmandu and then selling it, the passengers were almost an afterthought! Having sold the bus to the Royal Nepal Airlines I flew back to England, return flights back to England being part of the deal. I was then joined by a friend and we formed our own company called AsiaBus. We did two more journeys, while my partner continued with another journey to Nepal and then drove another London bus from New York to Argentina.  Our second journey with two busses stopped abruptly in Kabul as the Indian/Pakistan war had started closing the frontier and we had to charter a plane and fly our passengers on to Kathmandu. The two busses were sold to an Afghani who wanted to run a bus service over the Khyber Pass. Having travelled through that country I remembered reading of the ill fated British Indian Army expeditions to the Khyber Pass during the 19th. century and thought at the time that anybody considering fighting in that area must need their head examined.

Sawankhaloke

After my third journey, I too could feel a nervous breakdown in the air and decided that enough was enough. Driving a big vehicle over a mountain pass in the Himalayas where there are 750 hairpin bends in 70 miles, where I couldn’t see the edge of the road on my side, just the bottom of a gorge with perhaps the remains of a truck that hadn’t made it lying 2,000 feet below, not to mention 35 anxious faces with complete trust in me (no alternative), well, that was about it. 

 

I spent some time in Nepal designing schools for the British Council and then moved on. I wanted to go somewhere that hadn’t been a British Colony, or anybody else’s colony for that matter, and preferably by the sea. Thailand was just about the only possibility that fitted the bill. On the second day after my arrival in Bangkok I found that I had a job, a house and a car.  Soon after my arrival, I heard a rumour that a young Danish architect was building a schooner in the centre of Bangkok. I soon found him and was invited to join his ‘venture’. A German engraver had also joined him and later his brother.  Claus, like all architects in Denmark, had to spend a year on a building site apprenticed to a tradesman. Claus chose carpentry and sat and passed his trade examinations after one year. He was one of those unique architects who could actually build something themselves. The design of his boat, ‘Sawankhaloke’ (named after a town in Thailand and means ‘Heaven on Earth’) was based on the West Coast (US) fishing schooners but scaled down a little. She had a fisherman’s staysail rig and a square sail. 

 

Claus drew out her lines on the concrete road outside the house that he had rented – they were still there 10 years later.  ‘Sawankhaloke’ was built in a corner of a timber yard located right in the centre of Bangkok. He employed two Thais to help him. One was a professional thief (to feed a drug habit, buying his drugs from the local police chief) while the other was a street noodle seller. However in one year Clause had weaned the thief (‘Komoy’ in Thai) from drugs and had taught both of them something about carpentry . After two years they considered themselves qualified ship builders and we heard years later that they were both doing really well. 

The keel and frames had been sawn by hand (Claus didn’t believe in band saws) and they were erected on a reinforced concrete keel, Claus not having the wherewithal to go for iron. The double sawn frames were of Mai Thakien Thong (Mai meaning timber) fastened with trunells (of Mai Macar or ebony) set in resin . There are a few villages in the north of Thailand where the making of trunnels is their only industry and most of the villagers had never seen the sea let alone the boats that consumed their product.  The masts were made from Mai Yom Hom which is a tropical hardwood very much like mahogany but as light and as strong as spruce. The only problem with it is that it has to be kiln dried and then cut, glued, planed to shape and varnished or painted as soon as possibly as any moisture left in the wood will cause rot. Sawankhaloke’s masts are still going strong 45 years later. 

 

I designed and built a sailing dinghy out of 6mm Mai Thakien Thong plywood and this too is still very much alive. The decks were also sheathed in Mai Thakien Thong plywood with teak strips on top. Now Mai Thakien Thong is really the king of tropical hardwoods and is approx 35% stronger than teak in tension and in compression and like teak, is resinous and virtually impervious to rot and borers.  Plywood has the same qualities and I am not at all surprised that Russamee’s decks are still showing no signs of problems.  Unfortunately there is no more Mai Thakien Thong left in Thailand and nowadays an inferior version is imported from Indo-China and Indonesia, primarily for fishing boats. Recently I have tried to find the plywood but the dealers only shake their heads sadly. I have no idea what the Latin name for this wood is but I will find out from the Forestry Department. Sawankhaloe’s construction is typical of wooden boat construction in Thailand and possibly came from Holland at the end of the 19th century. Interestingly the famous Thai rice barges that can still be seen in the Maenam River in Bangkok were found by a Dutch naval architect to be identical to a particular type of Dutch sailing boat that went extinct about 200 years ago. He was planning to buy one and rig it traditionally and sail it back to Holland.

 

About this time, we met an old Italian architect called Manfredi. He had built some of the main streets in the older part of Bangkok during the ‘20s and 30s. A pity though, that they were in the Italian Fascist style. But to us, his other interest was in sailing and this was of greater interest. In the early ‘30s he had been appointed naval Architect to the King.  During this time he had built an exact replica of Joshua Slocum’s ‘Spray’ with the intention of sailing to Europe but the war intervened. We had a look at her but as he remarked, she was built out of the very best teak available and was so heavy, she hardly sailed at all. His wife added that he could never find a crew anyway because as soon as he stepped aboard, he became a Captain Bligh! (how many times have I heard that). We began to have some qualms about ‘Sawankhaloke’s displacement.

 

‘Sawankhaloke’ was eventually finished and after a huge party where the whole neighbourhood turned out, she was launched into the klong (canal). This was not without its problems as she got stuck halfway and we had to resort to asking the Abbott on the other side of the klong if we could ‘borrow’ his bell tower as an anchor on which to fasten a block and tackle in order to unstick her. The masts were then lifted onto her deck and she was towed to Klong Toey, Bangkok’s harbor, where a friendly Danish ship’s captain kindly helped us step the masts with the aid of his ship’s derricks. From there we sailed to Pattaya and prepared her for a voyage back to Denmark. 

 

An engine and head were conspicuous by their absence but for all practical purposes were never missed except for one incident that I will describe later and for the fact that ladies seemed very reluctant to sail with us. However we found that she sailed beautifully, she was not too heavy and sailed well close to the wind. The only problem was with the square sail. We found that it was very difficult to manage and took a long time to maneuver with it up. So worried were we about the safety aspect that we threw a lifebelt over the side and with one keeping watch on it while we set about going about. Well, after one hour, we never saw that lifebelt again! Food for thought.

We sailed down the Gulf of Siam to Cambodia, then Malaya and Singapore, Java and Sumatra to Bali. From Bali we set off for the Cocos-Keeling islands via the Christmas Islands. While in the Christmas Islands we met a number of Malays who had been turfed off Cocos-Keeling by it’s ruler, a Scots/Malay man called Clunies-Ross. We were told that in the 1830s a sea captain of that name had discovered the island on his way from South Africa to Australia and thought that it would be an ideal place to retire to. Eventually he did retire there and as a strict Presbyterian Scot took a bunch of Malay men with him but unfortunately for him, at the same time another sea captain who was not a strict Presbyterian Scott, had the same idea and he too retired there with a cargo of scotch whisky and Malay women. They agreed to occupy different sides of the island that were separated by a shallow lagoon but it was not too long a time before the Malay men contrived to build fast outrigger canoes in which to cross the lagoon.

We left Christmas Island with a cargo of letters and parcels for their friends and families on the Cocos Islands. We found the island at dusk and seeing a light calculated where we were and hove-to for the night. As dawn broke, we were horrified to see breakers just to leeward of us and we were closing in on them fast. But to no avail, we just couldn’t get her sailing in time and so we headed straight into the shore, we hit the coral with a resounding crash. We thumped around for about 30 minutes before we drifted into shallow but calmer waters. As there was no way in which we could ever get off the same way that we came in, we decided to take everything moveable ashore and seek help. 

 

We found that we had arrived on the Clunies-Ross part of the island. The island was a horse shoe about nine  miles across with the Malay village on the eastern side and a small airstrip with an Australian administrator on the West. It turned out that the light that we had seen was from the airfield. The open end of the horse shoe gave access to a small anchorage in the lagoon on the western side, A small island north of the opening contained an abandoned Cable & Wireless barn with derelict equipment inside. The descendent of the original Clunies-Ross was not amused when he heard of our arrival – especially when he heard that we had brought and distributed gifts from ex islanders that he had previously ‘exiled’ for ‘bad behaviour’. He was like a feudal lord, dressed in white with a ceremonial Kris on his belt. However to get rid of us as soon as possible he lent us two tractors and drivers to drag Sawankhaloke across the land where we had landed with the aim of launching her into the lagoon and sailing her on her beam ends across the lagoon to the Australian side and the anchorage where she could be repaired.

 

Well, that was our idea. The only problem was that the lagoon was very shallow with some terrible coral heads just below the surface and it was infested with sharks. We were then told that the highest water of the year would be in four weeks time. We promptly set about moving her otherwise a wait of 6 months. We found in the mess that Cable & Wireless had left, a block and tackle with a huge amount of rusty cable and grease suitable for a slipway. These we ferried across in the dinghy and found that the two tractors could move her with the blocks and tackle sliding her on cut palm trees well greased. Once out of the water we inspected the hull and found to our absolute amazement that she was hardly damaged at all. One frame was cracked and a couple of planks had sprung and several trunnels pulled. The concrete keel was broken in several places and we broke that up to lighten her. I think that this was testimony to the strength of this type of construction and I bore this in mind when the time came for Russamee’s creation.  To cut a long story short, we constructed a sort of road across the island and at high tide launched her and sailed her to safety without touching one single coral head and nobody was eaten by a shark.

 

        

 

‘Sawankhaloke’ nearing the lagoon                                        ‘Sawankhaloke’ breaking the concrete keel

 

Sawankhaloke’s landing on the Cocos-Keeling Islands

At this juncture I received a cable from England and I had to return. Eventually I returned to Thailand to raise some money for the repairs and got so deeply involved in architecture again that I didn’t rejoin the others.

Sawankhaloke was repaired and was sailed to South Africa, across to Brazil, up the Amazon for a time and then across the Atlantic to Denmark where she is still enjoyed having shown no signs of her adventure.

Russamee

By 1970, I had accumulated enough money to consider building my own boat. Inevitably Dyarchy and Sawankhaloke dominated my thoughts and I wrote to J Laurent-Giles, Dyarchy’s architect and received a reply from his son that the practice was now in his name and his father’s designs he considered old fashioned and he wasn’t interested. I later found out that he had received dozens of letters like mine and for economic reasons,  eventually  had to relent.  I set about drawing up a boat with some of Dyarchy features but as a schooner with Sawankhaloke’s rig which we had all found superb. However the differences were so great it was well beyond me, as a land architect. On a business trip to Sydney I heard about Len Hedges. He came highly recommended as a yacht designer who enjoyed designing traditional boats. Unfortunately, I have lost other details, boats designed etc.  With Roger Pinckney’s words loud in my ears, but conveniently ignoring them, I gave all my drawings and sketches to Len and detailed the type of traditional construction, timbers etc. that were applicable in Thailand.

 

 

Roger Pinckney’s description of  Dyarchy’s creation (Cruising by Peter Heaton, Pub: Penguin 1952 reprinted 1961

I  hope that I didn’t confuse Len ‘with a mass of ignorant detail’ but I must say, 40 years on, I now recognize myself as I was then, as the type of client that I have spent my whole lifetime as a ‘land’ architect trying to avoid. Len came up with some drawings that were what I wanted and had integrated my ideas regarding rig and interior arrangements and other essentially aesthetic factors. He also agreed with me about Dyarchy.  As for ownership of the ‘design’ I have always considered that the lines are really what matters and what will determine whether a boat sails like an angel or like a brick. During construction, I did make a change of some significance. I had started making half models and found that the stern should be at least 3½ ft. or so longer; the boat looked a little bit ‘stubby’. We were in fact building two boats as a friend of mine in Hong Kong wanted one as well.  She was called ‘Kynaree’ but he was happy with the hull as it was. A few frames had already been made but Len decided that the under-water lines would be unaffected.

But before construction began, a beautiful Thai girl entered my office one day explaining that she had recently graduated as an architect and would I give her a job. Being an English gentleman (?), how could I refuse such a request?  Four months later, we were married. She told me later that it was the drawings of a yacht on the wall behind my desk that interested her, together with my claim - ”marry me and see the world”. Construction, however, took one year longer than anticipated and towards the latter stages of construction, Srisurang, pregnant with our second daughter, was climbing up and down ladders supervising construction.

During  Sawankhaloke’s construction we had heard of a 70ft. schooner being built out in the country near to a town called Cholnburi. It was a beautiful boat, almost finished and belonged to an American named Capt. Morgan. It was being built by a family of Chinese carpenters using the traditional Thai boat building techniques that Claus had used.  I later sought them out and they agreed to build a boat for me. I negotiated with the owner of the timber yard for the rent of the space on the understanding that he would supply the timber. However before they  could start, we found that we had so many buildings to design in Hong Kong and in Australia but very few in Thailand, we had to make a move to Hong Kong. At least I was keeping my promise to Srisurang to ‘see the world’. This meant that I really had to find somebody to look after things. In my last building in Bangkok, I had used a local firm run by an English/Italian named Angelo to fabricate fiberglass formwork. He told me that he was going to go into the boatbuilding business with a well respected Thai whom I already knew and offered to be the ‘prime’ builder i.e. I would enter into a contract with him and would hire the same Chinese family and be responsible for paying the bills for the timber, keel etc. This was agreed and all went well for the first few months until work started slowing down. The one year construction period passed and I made a surprise visit to the yard – no carpenters. It turned out that Angelo (who we later named ‘Don Angelo’) had sold his new firm (Oriental Marine) to a huge company of building contractors and that this had become the nucleus of their marine ‘wing’. They had acquired a contract to build several patrol boats in GRP for the Thai Navy.  He was using ‘my’ Chinese carpenters to lay out the lines and make the plug. Relations were a little strained after that and my friend and I realized that under Thai Law, a boat under construction belongs to the builder until the last payment had been made. We had to tread carefully as a foreigner fighting a large Thai company in the courts rarely succeeds, if ever.  To make matters worse, his Thai partner whom we knew and trusted had been killed in a car accident. It really took a considerable effort to get both boats finally finished hence the fact that we had to do much of the supervision ourselves. Of course were looking after all of the fittings, engine, rigging, sails etc. anyway.

Fortunately the carpenters knew what they were doing and we were impressed by the care with which they set about the work. First they constructed a tin roof over the building area. All of the timber had been ordered at the commencement and the planking had been planed and laid out on the ground on timber battens to season and on these the lines were drawn out. As in Sawankhaloke, the frames were all sawn by hand – a backbreaking job. The plug for the iron keels was made and cast in a local foundry. At that time these were the largest iron castings that had been undertaken by any foundry in the country. The timber for the masts was delivered.

 I managed to get a French engineer friend, a welding fanatic, to cut and weld all of the stainless steel straps and rigging fittings. Gas cutting and welding stainless was then very difficult and I was told that Thai lime juice was used somehow but I was never able to find out exactly how – a trade secret, it seemed. Len told me that the stainless steel straps help to resist torsion and I remember seeing these on Capt. Morgan’s boat but that boat, having frames of the same dimensions and spacing as Russamee’s seemed rather fragile to me. I hardly think that torsion would be a problem with Russamee.

The engines were ordered from England and were marinised Ford Lehman truck engines. The marinisation had not been carried out very well as the core plugs rusted through on her voyage to the USA causing her to overheat and run her big ends, but more of this later. To keep costs down I became the ‘Far East’ agent for Simpson & Lawrence of Scotland so that I was able to get a full dealer’s discount on fittings. These fittings, electric winch etc were of very good quality for that time. Although the fastenings were mainly trunnels, I remember buying at huge cost, masses of 3in monel screws.  I think that they were used on the ends of the planking.  Eventually the boat was finished, the lengths of the standard rigging calculated, cut and swaged and the masts stepped. Alas, when they went into the water they were both high in the bows and low in the stern necessitating additional lead ballast.

                      

“Russamee” Framing almost complete

As a footnote, ‘Don’ Angelo, who had now become a director of the contracting firm, was caught by his fellow directors channeling the firm’s marine orders through his family’s company in England. It seems that his fellow directors were ‘not amused’, ‘though I must say that I was a little surprised as they were undoubtedly also running their own little businesses on the side as most directors do when they are running public companies in Thailand. I am told that the secret  is to  cut-in your friends to keep them happy. Don Angelo didn’t.

          

 ‘Russamee’s’ frames ready to be installed                                ‘Russamee’s’ stern parts

            

‘Russamee’ planking complete                                                ‘Russamee’, detail

I made a whole series of simple sketches for the carpenters benefit. I very definitely didn’t want a fancy interior that Taiwan builders are fond of, acres of teak and fancy details, over-guilding the lilly, I call it. I wanted simple joinery similar to Sawankhaloke which was very functional (and cheap!).   When I produced the stove the carpenters wondered whatever it would be used for, they had never seen such a thing in a boat before.

 

                      

 

 

      

    ‘Russamee’ Sketches for join  ery

Quite early on in the construction the boats had to be named. I had arrived in Thailand at a time when the Vietnam war was at its height. This war, I was vehemently against as I had been an ardent demonstrator in the late ‘50s early ‘60s in support of CND and the peace movement. I had been inspired by a distant relative, Bertrand Russell who headed the movement and actually spent a time in prison while in his ‘90s. Since 1932 Thailand had had a series of rather nasty military dictatorships, one under two military generals, Prapart Charasuthien and Thanom Kittikachorn. America was giving vast sums of money to the Thais in order to use it as a platform from which they could bomb Cambodia, Laos and of course, Vietnam. Another trench of money went into helping the Thais ‘suppress’ their own ‘communists’. These ‘communists’ really only existed in the minds of the generals although there were a few such misguided fellows hiding out in the jungles. Most of this money inevitably ended up in the pockets of the generals. The Thais are not in the least bit interested in communism, all they want is to free themselves of a very corrupt dictatorship and achieve what Lincoln had set out in the end of his Gettysberg Address. Most of these freedom fighters were students or recent graduates and many were ‘disappeared’ or chased into the jungles which they uneasily co-habited with the communists. One remarkable young woman, who was one of their leaders, was brutally killed in the jungle by the Thai army. Her name was Russamee and for me she symbolized the spirit of freedom and the sacrifices necessary to achieve it (as Lincoln had so eloquently described earlier in his address). Thailand still hasn’t achieved what Russamee had given her life to achieve but we are slowly getting there. I accept that you may or may not be estatic about this explanation, but there we are!

  

Kynaree,  motoring from the Klong where she was built. Don Angelo at the helm

Once finished (and the last bills paid), the two boats were ours. You have of course read Geoffrey Ransby’s account of her maiden voyage so I won’t repeat that but there are several incidents that he didn’t mention. We sailed the boats from where they were built, along a klong to a river and then to Klong Toey. Here we tied up alongside the two British frigates on a goodwill visit to take on stores. These were the two ships in which Ransby and the crew had sailed from Hong Kong in. This was done right under the noses of the Thai customs officials and was, of course, illegal. They would loved to have caught us and relieve us of a lot of money (they are a dishonest lot) but no doubt they feared a diplomatic incident or perhaps the frigate’s guns! The boats then tied up to the wharf where a river borne bunch of robbers ransacked them during a lunch break and made off with many things including my movie camera on which I had filmed the launching. I would have thought that an army crew would have posted a few armed guards!

  Chaos at Klong Toey

Before departure, we invited a group of Buddhist monks to bless the boats and all who sailed in them and to place a Buddha in the stern of Russamee. The monks were very keen to see what foreign yachts were like and they readily agreed. My wife maintains that it was this that saw Russamee through the typhoons in the South China Sea. My friend wasn’t Buddhist and sailed without Buddha’s image!

Of course her disappearance at sea alarmed us all and a US airforce plane was dispatched from a base in the

Philippines to search where we had calculated she could be. No doubt that Ransby’s father-in-law, who was a General, helped in this. On the morning of Christmas Eve, I received a phone call from the man whose company had insured both boats to say that a sailing boat had just passed below his house and she looked very much like Russamee. (he lived high up on the rock of Hong Kong). We rushed out to North Point to find her sailing into the Typhoon shelter next to the Yacht Club. The insurance agent was almost ‘beside himself’ with joy.

She was in good condition considering her ordeal and only required a little caulking and a clean-up.

During her time with us she sailed around the coast of China and the Hong Kong islands and gave us all a great deal of pleasure. It was during this time that I built the sort of dog house over the main hatch to keep the rain out during the monsoon weather. I can’t really decide whether she would be better without it as she looks a bit too much like a motor-sailor with it. We entered her in the 1976 South China Sea Race (from Hong Kong to Manila).  There was a gale blowing at the start and we really thought that we stood a chance, however no sooner had we had lost sight of Hong Kong, the diesel tank split and life below deck was, shall we say, a little unpleasant. The tank was in GRP and made by Don Angelo so ‘no comment’. I replaced her with a stainless steel tank. As we were going to a foreign port, Hong Kong Regulations required us to have a ‘de-ratting’ certificate. This certified that after an inspection the ship was free of rats – price $HK 75. 00.  It was issued over the counter at the marine office but I refused to pay because there had been no inspection and this was what the $HK 75 was presumably for.  I had a hilarious time ‘pulling the tail of the British Raj’ as we called it, going through the court system. Alas, I had to pay up in the end.

  

 Model of ‘Russamee’ (now in need of a re-fit)

We tried using the square sail but despite Len Hedges suggestion of making the yard in two pieces hinged in the centre so that the sail can be easily and quickly collapsed, it didn’t really work – although Russamee looked great when up and running.

As you know her sister ship Kynaree sought refuge and repairs in Vietnam and tied up at the French Yacht Club in the centre of Saigon. Her owner and myself flew to Saigon with Russamee’s storm jib to ready her for her journey to Hong Kong after the repairs had been completed. Unfortunately our timing was all wrong and it turned out that we were on one of the last civilian planes to fly out before the Viet Kong took over. Even then, our take-off was dramatic as we had to gain height circling over the airfield as the Viet Kong outside the perimeter of the airport was firing at anything that moved. I intend to return one day to see if she still exists.

  ‘Russamee’ Sails up for the first time

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, our architectural practice flourished and we saw little chance that we would ever be able to sail away as we had originally intended. Quite apart from that my bus journeys of the ‘60s strangely enough began to ‘pay off’.  From our slow progression from Europe, through Asia Minor, North Africa to Central Asia, the inter-relationship between the cultures, religions, topography, climate and architecture, both religious and secular, fascinated me and I had begun to read all that I could.  I had been teaching part-time at the University of Hong Kong but I was then asked to be an associate professor teaching the History of Asian Architecture as well as, of course, design. My wife then followed also teaching design. What with a new academic career and two children, ‘marry me and see the world’ had changed some of its allure anyway, not to mention that keeping a largish yacht the size of Russamee in what was now a very expensive city/state was also beginning to get very costly indeed so the time came to part with her. 

I advertised her in the Hong Kong Yacht Club and very soon a couple of Americans began to make enquiries. I never did fully understand their motives but they gave her a very thorough inspection, paid their money and sailed away. I later heard from a friend in the Philippines that they had visited Manila and had taken on board a large rubber dinghy and a 100hp  Mercury plus a lot of navigation equipment. The next sighting was, strangely enough, off Pattaya in Thailand when she was seen sailing past heading for a well known drug island run by the Thai Navy. I don’t want to put two and two together and make five but I can’t help wondering!  Two years later the skipper turned up in Hong Kong and told me about her Pacific crossing. Apparently the weather had been kind initially but then they became becalmed for three weeks. During this time they motored but after the third week a core plug blew out of the block, the engine overheated and ran a big end. He described how they had to lift the engine up, remove the sump and the big ends and file the cap of the offending bearing. The weather then changed and the ordeal of putting the whole thing together again in a strong swell was something that he never wanted to go through again. He said that the boat had then been sold. He denied her ever being in Thailand, by the way.

The departure of Russamee from our lives left a big hole which we tried to fill by building a beautiful steam launch and sailing in a horrid little plastic boat called of the Ruffian Class. This was followed by a single seat aeroplane (also of wood but not with double sawn frames of Mai Thakian Thong) that we built in our office on the 13th floor of a building. The Civil Aviation inspector once remarked that this was the first aeroplane under construction that he had ever inspected on the 13th floor of any building. Well, I believe him but ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, I am told.     

   “Russamee” sailing from Cholnburi to Bangkok under full sail

   ‘Russamee’ owners under hatch