In Memoriam: Bill Trayfors, s/v Born Free

While Margaret and I were using some of the free internet today at Pirate’s Bight, she turned and said, “I just got some sad news.” And, while telling me about the passing of our friend, Bill Trayfors of s/v Born Free, she turned her computer towards me, which had Bill’s ever-smiling face adorning a Facebook remembrance. He had passed “unexpectedly” on February 15th. Even writing it now, my tears are just at bay.

Margaret and I had not known Bill too long, which is what makes his passing particularly hard to take. In the short time we had spent with Bill, we felt like we had found a kindred spirit.

Our first meeting happened in what Bill avowed was his favorite anchorage: Seal Bay on the eastern side of Vinalhaven. To be fair, Bill also extolled the virtues of at least have a dozen other harbors in Maine and beyond in that first evening. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Margaret and I had just put the hook down in Seal Bay for the first time. Sitting in the cockpit and taking in the scene, we could hear someone on the radio asking if there was a diver in the area. Margaret pointed out that the caller was the other sailboat that we had been leapfrogging all day as we came across Penobscot from Rockland in the fog, stopping first in Southern Habor and then the Seal Cove outside Perry Creek along the way through the Fox Islands Thorofare to Seal Bay. We had seen Born Free at Perry and then again as we conned our way into Seal Bay. 

Still awed by the beauty and absorbed in the scene, I bantered back and forth with Margaret about Born Free, but just spaced on her suggestion that I call back and see if I could be helpful. It was not until about ten minutes later, on to talking about other things and finally acclimated, that I suddenly got up to answer Born Free. Apologizing for not replying sooner, we found that Bill had wrapped his dinghy line around his prop and would very much like my assistance. 

While Margaret got to know Bill and both of them shouted encouragement, I dove on Bill’s prop repeatedly, cutting away the line while cutting my own hands on the Spurs that the line was, ironically, wrapped around. After I freed the line, but before I had even got aboard, Bill ducked below to get me a drink. He was not only eager to pay me back for my troubles, but he was also, as I remember him making me feel, ecstatic that someone else shared his appreciation for a Mount Gay on the rocks. As I would find, rum was just the first of a long list of shared loves.

At this point, it was only about three o’clock in the afternoon, but Margaret and I spent the rest of the evening aboard Born Free, talking to Bill and, for my part, taking advantage of his hospitality. But the thing is, Bill is so hospitable, it would have felt like an insult had I not. Throughout the night, he plied me with Mount Gay and Heineken and told fantastic stories about his Foreign Service days, though these were more a means of getting to the cruising adventures that his diplomatic work had opened up. We also discussed all things boats, including Bob Perry. Perry penned both Bear and Born Free. Even though Bill’s Golden Wave is a remote breed from the Tayana 37, sharing a yacht designer has a way of drawing sailors together.

By the time we left that evening, I was not only tipsy, but we had plans to get together again when Bill eagerly promised to hook up our SSB. I also went away with a few borrowed Travis McGee novels. It turns out Bill shared a fondness for John D. MacDonald’s conch detective from Cedar Key. Bill’s love of McGee might have been a little more un-ironic than my own, however. 

Later that summer, Margaret and I spent a lovely day with Bill, on land this time. He took us on a lazy tour from Rockland to Camden in his car. After walking the inner harbor, we ate at Peter Ott’s, and Bill recited the history of the various schooners coming and going just in front of us. It was a lovely day, made all the sweeter by Bill insisting on taking us by the supermarket on the way back to the boat.

We hung out with Bill another time or two, including at the SSCA Penobscot Bay gam that summer. Bill had been a long-time member of the SSCA, and he had many friends at the gathering. But he made sure to make us feel welcome. As we would find, Bill was also active in a number of other cruising organizations, especially any of the various marine radio organizations. It turns out his offer on the SSB was not just a lark. He was a whiz at high frequency radio and also a major figure in SSB and ham circles afloat, willingly giving his time and sharing his enthusiasm.

man at a salon table with tools spread out before him
Bill Trayfors installing an SSB for s/v Zanshin, from their blog. I love the ever-present smile on his face! And we are pretty sure Bill was wearing this same outfit when we met him!

Over last winter, we communicated with Bill here and there, and he assured us that he would be in Maine again. When we finally got up to Maine, a month or so later than we intended, we emailed Bill to see what his plans were. With his summer base in Rockland and our arrival at Mount Desert, we were on opposite sides of the cruising grounds. But he figured we would cross paths sometime later in August as we made our way west and Bill took some family towards MDI. 

We did finally rendezvous with Bill, once again in Seal Bay. On a rising tide with Felipe aboard, we set off in the dinghy to circumnavigate Penobscot Island. After making it around and up to Burnt Island, we saw Born Free anchored up at the head of Seal Bay. Coming alongside, Bill quickly welcomed us aboard and, once again, plied us with Mount Gay and Heineken. As the sun set, Bill entranced us with some stories as we shared our plans for the winter. He was so excited that we were heading south. Departing, we promised to see him at the gam that fall in Pasadena, Maryland, which we never made it to because of our engine troubles. 

I am sad that we never hooked up again. But I am grateful that we shared the time together that we did. And I am also thankful that we met the way that we did; I would have felt terribly in his debt had I not been able to help him out initially. As it was, he gave us way more than we could in return, perhaps most of what he provided by way of example.

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