Lucy was one hell of a crew. No demands, ate almost nothing, stayed away from the rum supply, loving, in her own way, no idle chitchat, and didn’t pounce on the skip when I made a nav blunder. A perfect crew. Except for one thing. Did she defecate. Holy cow! She’d do it right on deck, in the galley, all over the V-berth. Horrible. But, all in all, we loved her, enjoyed her company, but were really happy when she jumped ship.

Chuck Adams, the ‘mate’, and I sailed from Horta in the Azores at just after noon, May 20, 1997, amidst heavy-duty tearful farewells from the yachties left behind. We’d arrived May 15, worked on several minor projects aboard, re-bonded with the crowd at Peters Sports Cafe, and watched the weather with an off-and-on tune-in to Herbs weather net. 12 other boats awaited Herb’s all clear for a dash for the English Channel. Three nights at Peter’s hashing over Herb’s no-window nightly negative advisory with 12 eager-to-sail crews was just a bit much for Chuck and I. We decided to sail once we concluded there was no way we could sail the 2000 miles to the UK without getting whacked by one or more gales.

Gales overwhelmed us nonstop during ten days. 20 to 35 knot winds out of the northeast propelled huge deep blue seas that pummeled New Chance, my North American 40, without mercy. We found heaven when on the 31st of May winds ebbed, seas calmed a bit, skies cleared and the sun warmed and dried out two waterlogged beaten sailors who once again could savor noon happy hour in the cockpit without getting hosed. I was below fixing lunch when Chuck cried out, “Hey Skip, look!”

Chuck sat in the cockpit, a pigeon on his lap. It had circled the boat several times, came in for a landing, saw Chuck’s inviting lap and crash-landed. The bird, obviously totally tired and thankful to be out of the air, moved not a muscle. The bird had two leg bands, one read GB-95 and the other H00600. Obviously a British carrier pigeon, we guessed it had been released somewhere in France during some sort of racing event for a flight home, and got blown off course by the gales.

Up to now, birds that landed aboard usually stayed for a few hours, at most a day, recovered, and flew away. When we found the bird still with us at dawn the third day we declared it crew and needed a name. Our crew from San Juan, Mike Stoughton, who had flown back from Horta, had a girl friend by the name of Lucy. Neither of us had a clue how to sex a pigeon but it got baptized Lucy, like it or not.

Days later we got slammed by yet another gale, this one out of the northwest. When waves washed Lucy’s nesting area in the stern, she moved into the bow compartment, the V-berth. We shot into the English Channel at hull speed. Lucy remained below, cozy and quiet, the bow her new home. When we edged our way into the tight harbor of Weymouth on the southern coast of England, Lucy, back on deck, oversaw our motor-less maneuvering into the town dock. Once secure to shore, we fully expected Lucy to figure out she was home and fly away. As the days passed, more and more sailboats rafted to the outside of New Chance. Lucy, adroitly and totally unconcerned, dodged the multitudes of people hopping across our boat on the way to shore.

The V berth in the bow, green with pigeon droppings and feathers, had to be totally stripped, hosed down, sprayed, and readied for company who we would meet us in Amsterdam. Lucy ignored our pleas to fly away and join her flock. A dozen times a day I pleaded, “Lucy, you’re home. Bye Bye. Time to go.” I was totally ignored.

Intent on returning Lucy to her rightful owner (and getting her off the boat) we asked around the quay and found that members of the local Royal Carrier Pigeon Society met at one of the local pubs on Thursday evenings. it happened to be Thursday. It took about 3 pints of ale to track down these pigeon lovers and present our enigma. Their reaction: “A lost pigeon. My heavens, no one wants to feed a pigeon that gets lost. They usually end up in the pigeon feed hopper!”

Lucy! Get chopped up. No way! She’s crew!! With a ten pound bag of pigeon chow aboard, Lucy sailed with us up the English Channel into Ijmuiden, Holland, up the North Sea Canal into a marina in Amsterdam across from the RR station. Four days later, in spite of my urging her constantly to fall in love with one of the cute boy Dutch pigeons that were all over the place, and with my wife and the Reiners Schwebels aboard, she continued with us into the Ijsselmeer to Enkhausen on what used to be known as the Zuider Zee. Large typical Dutch sailing craft lined the snug harbor.

Pigeons were everywhere. Lucy stuck to the boat. As a matter of fact, she hadn’t flown since she landed on board. Suddenly, late in the day. as I was bent over doing laundry in a bucket in the cockpit, she jumped onto my back, walked up to my neck, hesitated, and then flew off, never to return.

© William A. Butler, 2004