Frank (white hat) and Margaret Dye (leaning on Wayfarer dinghy) talk with visitors to the Beale Park Thames Boat Show in 2008 (my photo)
Dinghy Cruising Association members recently received the latest issue of their excellent newsletter including a couple of tributes to legendary dinghy sailor Frank Dye, who died in the spring.
Dye first became famous in the 1960s when he sailed his Wayfarer dinghy to Iceland and Norway, and in later life sailed up the Eastern Seaboard of the USA and into the St Lawrence River.
In his tiny boat he often endured and survived weather conditions that would have beaten lesser sailors. He made a widely watched film for the BBC, and wrote a book, Ocean Crossing Wayfarer, in which he described his earlier voyages, and explains his reasons like this:
‘Offshore cruising in an open boat can be hard, cold, wet, lonely and occasionally miserable, but it is exhilarating too. To take an open dinghy across a hundred miles of sea, taking weather as it comes; to know that you have only yourself and your mate to rely on in an emergency; to see the beauty of dawn creep across the ever restless and dangerous ocean; to make a safe landfall – is wonderful and all of these things develop a self-reliance that is missing from the modern, mechanical, safety-conscious civilised world.’
In many ways, the appeal of dinghy cruising that he describes is the same for many of us. However, this slight, mild-mannered gentleman wasn’t quite like the rest of us – most of us get quite enough fear and exhilaration either from making long voyages in much larger and better equipped boats, or short voyages in small craft over distances of a few miles.
Even Margaret Dye, Frank’s wife and long time sailing companion, has written that she didn’t really understand why he did it – and she sailed with her husband for decades, only dropping out during his sailing voyage of a lifetime, a trip which took him up the Eastern Seaboard of the USA and into the St Lawrence River.
The DCA’s tribute articles include a revealing interview with Frank by DCA webmaster Johnny Adams and a long introduction by Margaret, and it’s from here that I have chosen a couple of anecdotes and a quotation that seem to say much about this extraordinary man. (I have the DCA’s permission to do this, by the way.)
‘”Don’t sail with that man; he’ll kill you!” said the instructor of my dinghy course after overhearing Frank’s invitation to me to crew for him on his Wayfarer the weekend following the course. Fortunately, I didn’t even entertain heeding my instructor’s advice.’
‘…we married, and towed Wanderer [Frank’s Wayfarer] down to Devon to share our honeymoon. It was December, and the sailing was good, but never before had I known what it was to be so cold. On the last night, we sailed to a waterside restaurant for dinner. We were dressed in many layers of clothes, and as I struggled into oilskins at the end of our banquet, a fellow diner leaned over to me and said, “I’ll drive you home. Let your old man sail his own boat home!” But that night we had the most wonderful moonlit sail down the estuary, phosphorus dancing from every wave, and a silence rarely enjoyed in this noisy, busy world.’
‘I was privileged to crew Frank and Wanderer for over 25 years, and the happiest and most hellish times in my life have been spent afloat with them both’
Wanderer is now at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall at Falmouth and is sometimes placed on display.
Frank and Margaret Dye’s books are available from Amazon.