It is a story that begins, as do so many boaters’ stories, with the love of traversing some part of the planet by water. But like many stories, it is tucked within another larger life-story – one of power and of struggle, of service to country and of a historical boot-print that helped change the trajectory of the world.
In 1937, a husband and wife and their crew were traveling from Hawaii to San Diego, California on their sailboat when they were caught in a terrible storm. The boat suffered major damage and her entire crew was fortunate to have survived.
Shortly after, they traveled to the east coast to spend time at their family home. It was a beautiful estate with a horse stable and rolling hills on which to ride their horses. It was there that the husband suffered a terrible accident while horseback riding when his wife’s horse kicked him and severely fractured his lower leg. The hospital stay was long and painful and often grim so the woman, deciding her husband needed something to cheer him up, reminded him of their plan to build a bigger boat. It was she who reached out to the world’s best marine architect to work with her husband to build a boat. The boat would be inspired by a journal they had kept on a journey taken in 1935 titled, “When And If We Ever Build a Boat,” based off of his statement, “When the war is over, and if I live through it, Bea and I are going to sail her around the world.” And so, in 1939, General George S. Patton and his wife Beatrice christened their new yacht the When And If.
It was a brilliantly warm evening at Stock Island Marina Village in Key West. The kind of evening that feels almost soft. A slight breeze rippled with a texture that was distinctly salt air. You could feel Key West. And it was the kind of evening that makes being on the water, whether at sea or dockside, seem the only place in the world one should be. As we sat on the top deck of OLOH having just arrived that late afternoon, we reveled in the perfect seas we had enjoyed that day and we toasted our good fortune with a cocktail to celebrate our arrival. It was dusk and as the oranges and pinks began to burst into the seen, a tall ship gracefully moved into the basin. Her sails, still up and barely billowing, looked regal. She paused just outside the fairway as if waiting for the light to find her. The afterglow of sun-drop flickered a cadmium-yellow-deep cast onto her sailcloth gown as it gently lowered, leaving her bare and ready for a moonlit slumber. As she entered the fairway she glided past us, an evening swan, her long neck searching for starlight. Her crew expertly docked her just a stone’s throw – to our surprise and pleasure – from our stern. As we sat staring at this quite fetching piece of history, she seemed to stare back at us in all her glory exclaiming…I survived! There is a story to all things and hers would be one of many we learned here. Dusk left the sky to twinkle and we couldn’t help but feel welcome here.
That next morning her When And If pennant was flying high atop her mast. We strolled over to get a better look and it was clear she was kept in ship-shape. The crew couldn’t have been more friendly and willing to stop and answer questions about this lovely old damsel who had, at one time in her life, been in great distress. Now she sat lovingly restored to her original beauty.
Each evening folks come to feel her history and to touch her sole on a magical sail aboard, sipping wine and enjoying hors-d’oeuvres and taking in the legendary Key West sunset.
We had the pleasure of meeting owner/captain Seth Salzmann, a remarkably accomplished captain who was proud to share this piece of history with all who came aboard. Seth is the owner of Sunset Sail Key West, a small (but impressive) fleet of sailboats available for private charter.
We also had the great pleasure of meeting the First Mate, Sean Flynn, a terrific guy originally from Arkansas who grew up running around on johnboats (or jon boat – a flat-bottomed boat for hunting and fishing that tends to ride over the waves rather than cut through them). His love of being on the water and sailing was evident and he took great pride in caring for the When And If and sharing her history with us.
Each nuance about the life of this boat painted a fascinating story of her journey. When Sean invited us to join them one evening to experience it for ourselves we couldn’t say no. Luckily, our best friends and fellow boat owners, Bruce and Pam were along and it was a spectacular experience.
We shared the ride with about eight other terrific and easy going guests.
Our captain for the evening was Captain Kayla Lang who took great care in making our experience unique. The crew was gracious and attentive. If you plan to spend any time in or near Key West do not miss the chance to experience a ride on this historic, majestic vessel. We can assure you it’s an adventure you’ll not soon forget!
Be sure to press play on the video below to sample the majesty of the When And If.
You can read more about the When And If on their website and find out where they’ll be sailing next.
The information and details described here are sourced from www.sailwhenandif.com and the book Patton’s Drive: The Making of America’s Greatest General by Alan Axelrod.