In our neighborhood in Annapolis we don't need chilly winds and fire-tinged leaves to remind us autumn is coming. One day it's summer, the next you look up and here come John Goodwin and Gudrun Lemperg on their little collapsible bicycles, headed into town for supplies.
They come every year about this time, creeping up the creek under power aboard Speedwell, the comfortable, 48-foot ketch Goodwin built of wood with his own hands in Cape Town, South Africa. He finished the job in 1980 and sailed across the Atlantic four times the next year to make sure she was sound and seakindly. He's been at sea ever since.
Lemperg came aboard in 1988, in Bermuda. She was sailing home to Sweden after quitting her job as a registered nurse in Miami. But the boat she was on wasn't a happy one, so she jumped to Speedwell, where Goodwin was looking for crew.
They sailed around the world together over the next five years, with stops in British Columbia, Alaska, two years in the South Pacific, then New Zealand, up through the Straits of Malacca to Thailand, across the Indian Ocean, up the Red Sea and into the Mediterranean, then back across the Atlantic to the West Indies.
They've been on a regular schedule since, spending winters in the Caribbean and summers in Canada "where we get the mold out of the boat," said Lemperg, 64.
"It's a hard but fair cruising life," joked the bearded Goodwin, who soon will turn 70.
Among the perennial stops on their route is the month-long autumn layover in the creek outside Annapolis, where we live. It is a source of pride to the neighborhood to have world travelers choose our backyard for an anchorage, and everyone tries to be helpful, sharing telephones, a home-cooked meal, a dock to land their inflatable dinghy.
Goodwin knew about the creek from childhood. He spent 10 years in Arlington before, and during, World War II. His father, a British land developer, brought the family when he came to build houses around Washington. Goodwin and a chum from the Landon School rode bicycles out to Annapolis to visit the friend's aunt when he was 12. "That," said Goodwin, "is when I developed my taste for crabs."
Like any good mariner, he also filed away in the back of his mind the location of a fine anchorage with deep water, good holding ground and protection on all sides. Bound south from his first summer in Canada after the 'round-the-world voyage, Goodwin stuck Speedwell's nose in our creek, dropped the hook and wound up staying a month, as he has done every autumn since.
This year Speedwell summered in Newfoundland, where Goodwin and Lemperg hoped to find icebergs. "We were planning to cut off a chunk of that marvelous, deep blue ice for drinking water," he said, "but it was too warm this year and there were no icebergs there."
They enjoyed Newfoundland anyway, with its "deep fjords, like Norway," said Goodwin. "The people are exceptionally hospitable and kind, and the economy, which had been very poor because of declining fishing, is improving, in large part because of the gas and oil fields they discovered."
When they leave the Chesapeake next month they'll head for the Virgin Islands, then Martinique, Bequia in the Leeward Islands and finally Trinidad, a good place to get work done on the boat since a U.S. dollar is worth more than $6 in the local currency.
Wherever they go, they anchor out, using the inflatable to get to shore. Marinas, with their $30 or $40 a night charges, are not for them. Swinging free at anchor, Speedwell's bow always points to the wind, "so we get good ventilation," said Goodwin. And their little dog Fiffi, a football-sized Schipperke, can't annoy the neighbors.
Schipperkes are a Belgian breed whose original job was to guard and help on canal barges. They would be sent by the barge master to chase the mules that pulled the boats, nipping at their heels. They also killed any rats that came aboard.
"See that?" asked Goodwin, dangling a rag in front of Fiffi and then watching delightedly as she grabbed and shook it ferociously with her teeth. "She's killing a rat."
Like his father, Goodwin was a real estate developer and builder. He specialized in restoring antique residences in England and South Africa, and did well enough at it that he took off at 50 to cruise the world. Building Speedwell was an intense job at which he worked seven days a week for five years. She is strip-planked and fastened with modern two-part glue, light, beamy and comfortable, with an elegant teak interior. The boat is crammed with artifacts from around the world but not cluttered, and always is ready for sea.
Goodwin and Lemperg barely beat Hurricane Floyd here, arriving from Block Island a day before the rainy tempest swept through. They have weathered two hurricanes, one at sea in the Yucatan Channel off Cuba, the other (a cyclone, actually) at anchor in Pago Pago in the South Pacific. Floyd was not bad by comparison. "Wet," said Lemperg, "but not that windy."
So what do these world travelers do to amuse themselves in their floating cottage without television, newspapers, telephones and the like? "I like making teak sawdust," chuckled Goodwin, who carves, filigrees and varnishes decorative wooden bits. "I clean up after him," said Lemperg, who also likes to sew. They read a lot. In Annapolis, they keep a few chicken necks over the side on strings, hoping to catch enough crabs for supper.
They like it here. It's a safe, pretty anchorage and a good place to stock up on supplies, said Goodwin, who is deeply enamored of Bacon's, the used marine equipment store in Annapolis that is beloved by cruising sailors the world around. Late September and early October are premier weather months in the mid-Atlantic, of course, with crisp, dry days and cool nights.
Then, come mid-October, a high-pressure ridge will charge down from Canada with fair winds and following seas. They'll raise the hook, motor out the creek, hoist main and mizzen, set the genoa jib and press down the bay and out to sea on the wings of a crisp nor'wester, not to be seen again till another year has flown by.