On display in the Maritime Museum of British Columbia in Victoria is the name plate of one of the most famous ghost ships of lore, the SS Valencia. In 1906 the captain intentionally ran the ship aground near Vancouver after a collision with a reef off Cape Mendocino tore a gaping hole in the bow. The rough waters flipped many lifeboats, depositing the passengers in the unrelenting sea. Several lifeboats were swept away and only 37 people survived. 2 lifeboats were eventually found carrying passengers. Another, lifeboat #5, appeared in near perfect condition, but had no passengers aboard, since it was not spotted until 27 years later, somehow floating in busy waterways, harsh winters and brutal storms for all those years without ever being detected or destroyed.
Whether or not you believe in ghost stories and ghost ships, we will tell you the story of a man. That man’s name is Jay Berglund. While tracking our R2AK adventure you may have heard a couple of random whispers about a ghost on board. This is a reference to Jay, whose name lives next to Gizmo’s. And this is his story.
One day, from far across the pond in Australia, only weeks before the race start, Freddy was surfing craigslist for a boat in Olympia, Washington. In typical Freddy fashion, he had signed himself up for a ridiculous adventure with little know-how and absolutely no boat. He came across a perfect Harmony 22 all decked out for racing and contacted the owner with the insane plan of convincing him to let Freddy “borrow” the boat for possibly the most insane race in all the world. Turns out, the man he contacted, John Thompson, was just as nutty and had raced in R2AK just the year before. Through some kind of lucky star and angelic persuasion, the world had put these two men in touch and the race was on. Freddy and John (and much assistance from John’s wife, Fran, who cooked up a ton of provisions) set to work prepping Gizmo for R2AK 2017.
But there is more to the story. R2AK was a final tribute to John’s friend Jay Berglund, who had gone down with the boat years before. John decided to raise the boat and the spirit of Jay seemed to come right up with her. In John’s words, here is the story of the tragedy which took them both in 2014:
“On October 25, 2014, Gizmo foundered in a freak storm during the Eagle Island Race. During the storm, the winds were running up to 40 knots with gusts up to 60. There were 4-6 foot waves in Budd Inlet, typically known for its flat water. We were 25 miles into a 27 mile race when the storm hit. Seeing the storm approach, we changed down to the working jib, reefed the mainsail and cleared the decks. Once in the storm, we were quickly overwhelmed. The mainsail was just flogging away, so I called for it to be doused. The daggerboard is further forward on the Harmony 22 than on a typical boat, so I thought maybe we could sail with jib alone just to get to the finish line. She did have some leeward helm, but we were doing just fine, powering over the waves at over 5 knots. We passed a S2-7.9 which was trying and failing to make headway with only a full main up. It was not fun, we were on our beam ends, but we were making good headway towards the finish just a couple of miles away. And then tragedy struck.
We encountered a series of steep waves about 8′ high (measured trough to crest). I was working Gizmo’s bow over the waves by driving up into the wind and over the crest, and then falling off in the backside of the wave. But on the first of the large waves, as I drove up into the wind, the wave was too steep. Gizmo fell off into the trough and the wave rolled her over. I released the jib sheet as we fell off, but the wave had us. Gizmo rolled completely over and started to come up the other side. She would have made it except that the hatch boards weren’t in place. She sank in about 5 minutes, taking Jay with her.
I was devastated by the loss, not just Gizmo, but worse was the loss of my friend Jay who had become very close to me. I decided that I was done with sailing. Time to take up something else like building R/C planes. But one night as I lay in bed sleepless, Jay spoke to me and said that it was his time to go. Don’t give up sailing. And sure enough, when I was in grief counseling with several others who had been involved, his wife sent me a message that stated that Jay had an incurable degenerative neurological condition that would take his life in only a couple of years. He had retired from professional sailing and moved to Olympia with his sweetheart to live out his last few years. Sailing with me, first in the vintage Stars and second on Gizmo, gave him some life to his last few years. He died doing what he loved to do with the people that he loved. So, I had to find Gizmo and restore her.”
After almost 2 months of searching, Gizmo was raised from the frigid waters the Wednesday before Christmas. John spent almost an entire year restoring her and relaunched her in September 2015 for the Eagle Island Race, the same race which had claimed her the year before. Not only did she win first in her class, but first overall, singing past the rest of the fleet by catching a narrow band of wind to carry her to the finish. John is certain that it was his “jovial ethereal crew” working his magic.
Maybe it was Jay playing practical jokes by slipping the pin out of the lower pintle in our rudder. Or maybe it was him who sent the strange man who appeared out of the shadows in the dark of night to warn us that it was missing just as we were about to set out for some of the least navigable water in the cover of night. Maybe he switched off our power after we made the second checkpoint like turning off the bathroom light while you’re trying to take a pee. And just maybe he is the one who somehow got this motley crew safely to Ketchikan on his boat and a prayer.
John had entered Gizmo in R2AK last year, but due to time constraints, his team combined with Team Golden Oldies on their 38’ multihull to make for a quicker trip. John’s team name was Ghostrider.