Home News Local news IT'S THE SEA OVER THE SOIL FOR THIS NURSERYMAN

IT'S THE SEA OVER THE SOIL FOR THIS NURSERYMAN

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Feb. 24, 2002 – Chief Passenger Cliff Young of the S/V Legacy, or any of the other Windjammer Cruises sailing vessels, finished his most recent tour of duty on St. Thomas a week ago.
This trip he just completed was his 21st annual cruise with the tall ship fleet — his ninth on the Legacy alone – bringing him to a total of 87 weeks aboard the big boats.
Young keeps a meticulous log of his journeys on the cruises, recording every trip from his maiden two-week sail on the Polynesia and Yankee Clipper vessels under Captains MacLeod and Helmet in 1982 to his just-completed four-week sail on the Legacy with Capt. Radford.
It was in 1982 that he became addicted to the ships, the sea and the people on board.
As one listens to the gregarious Young, it comes as no surprise that he is more than a little Irish. He sports a jaunty Windjammer cap and his green eyes twinkle with good humor as he relates his adventures. At 52 years of age, he is an able, if slightly rounded, sailor. He says, "Well, sometimes I help out. I know the ropes, and I can bring a ship into port (when they let me)."
Just in case he isn't recognized for the pro that he is, Young has a sign mounted on suction cups which he attaches to his cabin door for each year's sailing adventure. Yes, it states "Cliff Young, chief passenger." And his personal card reads, of course, Windjammer Chief Passenger, Cliff Young."
"Sometimes they think I'm a screwball," he says.
Prior to his sailing career, Young says, his open-water experience was limited to rowboats as he went crabbing off the New Jersey shore. "I had more of a dinghy background," he says.
He got his first taste of sailing on a vacation partly provided by the company he works for. He is the nursery division manager of Chalet, a nursery company in North Chicago, Illinois. Landscaping wouldn't seem to have much to do with sailing, but the company, located two miles from Lake Michigan, used to sell small sailboats, and that connection led to a sailing vacation in the Caribbean. "My God, I loved it," he says, "It was like camping at sea."
But that was a one-shot deal. However, even before the Illinois winter started to get to him the next year, Young decided he needed another sailing vacation. He did the sensible thing and took his desire to a travel agent, who immediately identified him as an ideal candidate for a Windjammer Barefoot Cruise.
The Windjammer fleet of tall ships is the largest of its kind in the world, cruising year 'round in the Eastern and Western Caribbean. It is still privately owned by Capt. Michael D. Burke, the company's founder, and his family. The company now sails six ships. It lost one, the Fantome, and its 31-member crew, in Hurricane Mitch in 1998 off the coast of Central America.
Young's jovial demeanor changes abruptly as he talks about the Fantome, almost as though it were yesterday. "That hurt, that really hurt," he says of the sinking. "I knew the captain and I knew the crew. They did everything they could. It's tragic."
The Fantome had left its 100 passengers in Belize City as the hurricane, which kept changing course, became more intense. The vessel left to seek a better position, only to be fooled by the ferocious storm. Five days after the last message was heard from Capt. Guyan March, eight life vests bearing Fantome identification were found floating off the Honduras coastline.
"The Burkes are like family to me," Young says. "They were heartbroken."
The more Young talks, the more it becomes obvious that his nursery career takes a backseat to his love of the wooden sailing ships. There's no contest; it's the sea over the soil. And when he's in port on St. Thomas, he does incidental crew work on other boats.
The Windjammer cruise vessels tie up in Crown Bay on a dock where Immel Marine's big, orange tugboat Lady Salvor is berthed. Young, exercising his innate curiosity about things nautical, introduced himself to Jerry Immel a few years ago when he found Immel working on the dock. Now, he has become a regular crew member on the tugboat whenever he is in port.
"I've never run into anything on the sailboats as hairy as some experiences I've had with the tug," he says. "Going out to service the tankers, wow."
The Immels give the chief passenger a passing grade as a sometime crew member — and by now a full-time friend. "He's great," says Jerry Immel. "We've got him doing everything."
Young figures he has spent about $85,000 on his Windjammer trips by now. Wouldn't that buy a dandy sailboat? "Oh, no, that's not it," Young says. "I've seen all the islands by now, and I've sailed on all the ships. They don't change — but the people change each time. I love that."

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