BAR HARBOR — Sitting on a town mooring easy conversing distance from the Shore Path last week was a 42-foot sloop with some stories to tell. Its owner, Eric Forsyth, has sailed around the world twice and received the Blue Water Medal from the Cruising Club of America. At 87 years old, he’s still logging cruising miles.
In 1975, the 42-foot sloop Fiona was delivered, in the form of an unfinished hull and deck, from the soon-to-be-out-of-business Westsail company in Costa Mesa, Calif. to Forsyth’s home on Long Island, N.Y.
“It had a custom trailer; the keel was just a hand-width above the ground,” Forsyth said. “In some states, it needed a police escort.”
With some help from his then 10-year-old son, he made room for the trailer in his front yard when it arrived and rushed to a meeting at work. He was an engineer at Brookhaven National Laboratory in until his retirement in the 1995. He completed the design of the heavy iron collider that was to be built there, he said, but realized he “didn’t have time to build it if I wanted to go sailing.”
Before they bought Fiona, Forsyth and his late wife Edith had done a trans-Atlantic crossing in their previous boat, Iona. They had also sailed to and from Bermuda lots of times, and Eric Forsyth served as navigator in Newport-Bermuda races 6.5 times (six full races plus one return).
When Fiona arrived as just a hull and deck, he said, “it looked like a big green cavern.” He spent eight years, after work and on weekends, finishing the interior to his own design. The design idea that gets the most “oohs” and “ahs” from visiting sailors? A real engine room with headroom and a workbench — a major asset in offshore sailing, when the crew must make their own repairs.
In 1988, Forsyth was singlehanding Fiona on the 600-mile crossing back to Long Island from Bermuda when the boat was dismasted in winds exceeding 100 knots. “Although I had a bolt-cutter on the boat it seemed easier to withdraw the clevis pins from the turnbuckles,” he wrote about the incident in an account in Ocean Navigator Magazine and posted on his website. “As I left the cockpit clutching vicegrips and pliers the wind pressed so hard I had to slither along the deck on hands and knees, allowing myself to be pressed against the side of the cabin.”
He freed the standing rigging and motored home safe, staying in contact with the Coast Guard in Boston via a research vessel that was close enough to relay messages.
Forsyth’s adventures have been featured on National Public Radio and in sailing publications. Sea stories and photos are published on his website, yachtfiona.com, and in his 2017 book, “An Inexplicable Attraction: My Fifty Years of Ocean Sailing.”