When Ted and Jean Taylor finished putting together a biography of their late son this month they decided to give it a title -- "A Free Spirit."
Which is what Travis Taylor was.
Taylor was a blue-water sailor and a blue-water boat builder. No motor ever fouled his hold or transom. He rode the wind and followed the sun.
Taylor built two boats in his 31 years. The first, a 16-footer, was laughably curde, an aquatic gooney bird. He built it by the seat of his pants while he was working as a pancake chef in St. Louis. Then he and his father rowed it from St. Louis to New Orleans in the dead of winter.
In New Orleans, Taylor, who had three years of physics at the University of Virginia behind him, took a laborer's job at a boat yard. In his spare time he built himself a new boat.
Where his first effort was a joke, the second was an apparition, a 26-foot sailboat as sleek and seakindly as a wise old porpoise. He named her "814," for reasons known only to him and his sweetheart.
It was fully decked for open-ocean sailing, so it couldn't ship wather even in the worst storm.
Taylor sailed his 26-footer in blue water with his sweetheart, Mary Catherine Flythe. They sailed for a year in the Caribbean and later in New England, living off the money they had saved. Later he made a two-man Atlantic crossing in a friend's small boat.
When Taylor came back to Northern Virginia he got a job at Backyard Boats in Alexandria. He worked hard for three years, saved his money and just after the first of the year he decided to ship out again for a year more in the gin-clear Caribbean.
Flythe had a fine job and elected to stay home this time.
Taylor left Alexandria in mid-January and sailed to the mouth of the Chesapeake. He left Hampton, Va., on Jan. 29 and was due to arrive in Great Abaco Island, theBahamas, 10 days later.
He had not arrived by Feb. 19 and his parents notified the Coast Guard. On Feb. 22, an overdue report was issued. On March 7, the boat was sighted 280 miles southwest of Bermuda, drifting listlessly.
The captain of the Greek frieghter that spotted 814 sent a boarding party out.They found the 6-foot-5 Taylor's body in the cabin. He had been dead several weeks.
An autopsy in Bermuda determined he had a hear attack. He had no history of heart trouble, but the occusion that occured is not uncommon in younger men, his parents learned.
The Taylors and Flythe are just back from Bermuda, where they set to work scrubbing out the boat Travis Taylor built and loved. They are arranging to have it shipped home.
There is no great gollm in the Taylor household. Instead, there are signs of great relief that they had a son lucky enough to experience life's joys during the short time he had.
"I was security-oriented, growing up in the Great Depression," Ted Taylor said yesterday. "They lived out my vicarious desires."
And in the biography, which they mailed to friends and relatives, the Taylors and Flythe wrote:
"Travis was his own man, determining what he wanted to do with his life and when. Of prime importance to him was to take his retirement early, when he could enjoy it most."
His mother, Jean, likes to think the boat her son built is a monument to his life.
"When they found it it was still sailing itself," she said yesterday, "and it hadn't had a captain for at least three weeks.
"I scrubbed the sails out and they weren't even torn. He was quite an achiever, we think. Quite a guy."
His father shared one of Travis' adventures when they rowed down the Mississippi. "Travis had developed a philosophy of a simple life style and independence," said Ted Taylor, "and he felt one of the easiest ways to do that was to have a boat and live on it."
But three weeks together in a 16-foot boat in the dead of winter?
"I think we really enjoyed each other," Taylor said. "We even got to talking philosophy. It was something of a role reversal. I used to tuck him in when he was a child. As the captain, he thought he'd better make sure I was all right before he turned in, so he'd roll up my jacket and put it under my head, tuck me in my sleeping bag...."
The Taylors hope to arrange a memorial service for their son when the weather gets warm, probably somewhere along the Potomac. Flythe suggested a quiet place where they can raise the sails on the boat, tie her off and just watch her.
"She's a pretty boat, you know," Ted Taylor said.