Tzu Hang Revisited

FBYC History....

Jere Dennison

In the January 2008 Log I sketched the story of a chance encounter by several club members with the bright red 46’ ketch Tzu Hang anchored in Fishing Bay on a particularly inclement day in the spring of 1967. The yacht was made famous by the globe-girdling exploits of her owners, retired British General Miles Smeeton and his wife, Beryl. These exploits included two capsizes on a Cape Horn passage attempt in 1956-57. The Smeetons memorialized their survival experiences in their classic book on voyaging under sail, Once is Enough. Other books on their nautical adventures aboard Tzu Hang followed and inspired future generations to pursue the challenges of blue water sailing.

Why were these sailing luminaries anchored in Fishing Bay some forty years ago? This mystery was partially answered by a reading of a book left in the club library by an unknown donor. Entitled High Endeavors: The Extraordinary Life and Adventures of Miles and Beryl Smeeton, it was written by Miles Clark, Mile Smeeton’s godson, and published in 1992. This detailed biographical work described the Smeeton’s final circumnavigation in Tzu Hang which included a stop in Washington D.C for a reception at the National Geographic Society before returning to England. I assumed that the Smeetons had meandered into the Piankatank by happenstance as they worked their way north up the Bay seeking shelter from a raging nor’easter. .

But now we know the complete story. There was indeed a personal FBYC connection that brought the Smeetons to our shores. Temple Bayliss, current member and a son of 1955 Commodore Major Bayliss, greeted me recently at a recent gathering in Richmond with the news, later incorporated in an email, that “the reason that Beryl and (General) Miles Smeeton chose Fishing Bay as a port of call that windy, rainy day in 1967 was that they were planning to stay with my parents, Catherine and (Major) Murray Bayliss, then very active in the Club and the owners of the aged 32 foot catboat, Tempest. The Smeetons had called at Jamaica where they stayed on the plantation of Welly Lyon-Hall. Welly was a close friend of my parents from the war, when my father was stationed on Jamaica. She wrote my parents and arranged the Smeeton's visit.”

Temple continued, “My father and brother Murray picked up the Smeetons (Murray remembers the wild weather) and took them to Goochland were my parents entertained them for a few days. Alas, I was away. General Smeeton wrote a decidedly snitty account of the visit, and even made a poke at Welly Lyon Hall in his next book, To the Misty Isles. My parents were not offended. The Smeetons had been delightful guests.”

But what of Tzu Hang’s fate. I declared in the January issue that her whereabouts was unknown. Now, thanks to another member, immediate Past Commodore Allan Heyward, we may now have the answer to this question also. Recently Allan received a gift of a book entitled Passage to Juneau by Jonathan Raban published in 1999 by Random House. The book describes a solo voyage from Raban’s Seattle home to the Alaskan Panhandle via the Inside Passage along the Pacific coastline. The author had been friends with Miles Clark, Smeeton’s biographer, and had read several of Smeeton’s books.

His route took him by Saltspring Island off British Columbia where Tzu Hang had often being moored between the Smeetons’ ocean passages. This proximity allowed Raban to devote a couple of pages in the book explaining why he admired their sailing achievements while denigrating their characters. Go figure…he never knew them personally but evidently eschewed their political beliefs and eccentric habits.

But interestingly, he stated: “In 1968, the aging Smeetons sold Tzu Hang to a friend. Several owners later, she was carrying large cargoes of marijuana on the Columbia-Chesapeake Bay run, and in 1988 she was impounded by U.S. Customs agents. In 1990, a Puerto Rican ship-breaker bulldozed her to bits.”

So now we have determined the ignoble demise of this famous vessel …or have we? For some reason, Miles Clark tells us in the Smeeton biography published in 1992 that the ultimate fate of the yacht was unknown. Perhaps he never received word of Tzu Hang’s demolition in 1990 until after some knowledgeable individual had read the biography later in the 1990s and connected the dots. Unfortunately Miles Clark died of a self-inflicted wound in the late 1990’s, and the source of this information was not cited by Raban in his book.

Thanks to Temple and Allan for their help in updating this intriguing story.

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