Angels of the water,
sirens of the sea
sweet love songs
Calling out to me...
In the late ’60s, singer-songwriter Neil Young disbanded Buffalo Springfield, the rock group he had formed with Stephen Stills, and, at loose ends, hooked up again with Stills to join a fledgling group called Crosby, Stills & Nash, moving the ampersand and tacking his name on after it.
The rest is history.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, known to the cognoscenti as CSNY and constantly embroiled in turmoil and interpersonal strife, remains a lasting influence on music and culture, in spite of the fact that its meteoric brilliance burned barely a year before it imploded. That the musicians were in the right place and time is evident because they were invited to an unknown music gathering, where they started their set by admitting “This is only the second time we’ve performed in front of people. We’re scared. ...” That event is now known as Woodstock.
The wind and the sea had always drawn Canadian native Neil Young, so it was no surprise that, with his newfound wealth, he acquired a most unusual yacht. At a time when rock musicians were more likely to be partying aboard flashy, large motoryachts, Young chose a rustic 101-foot Baltic trading schooner.
Don’t try to rescue me
I’m gonna go with my ship...
A ship, indeed, but not a new one. Built in 1913 to haul granite through the rugged northern seas, she was 77 feet on deck and weighed a Rubenesque 280,000 pounds — 2.5 times the displacement of a similarly sized Swan yacht. As such, she’s much larger than Mayan, the 59-foot Alden schooner owned by Young’s CSNY singing partner, David Crosby. Young named her W.N. Ragland after his grandfather, and, for the next 35 years, he sailed far, wide and handsome aboard this pirate ship, lavishing care and maintenance upon her without regard to cost.
You cannot describe Ragland without using the words husky or rugged, but even such evocative words pale when you see the yacht up close. Launched before the opening of the Panama Canal and the First World War, Ragland comes from an era when such a vessel had to be seaworthy and self-reliant in every possible wind and sea condition. There was no Sea Tow to come fetch you when the winter gales howled down the Skagerrak off Scandinavia. There was no radio to call for help from a lee shore, and even the term Mayday, the international distress call, wouldn’t be coined for another decade.