Paralyzed on the left side by a stroke in the early 1980s, the intrepid Ragged Islander who has plied the ocean from Spain to Florida to New York to Rhode Island and back to the marine playground of Long Island Sound, misses the foamy deep.
The nostalgia glistens in his deep, knowing eyes, crested with a still-determined brow, and emphasized by a defiant jaw. Now 65, he spends most days around Lockhart boatyard in Oakes Field in Nassau, where his younger brothers build boats and booms and masts, carrying on an exacting family tradition started in Ragged Islands many years ago by their grandfather, Horace A. Wilson.
Leaning on a walking stick, Capt. Lockhart still moves with a commanding elegance about the yard, here and there offering a gem of technical advice. But he is really around the boats because that is all he knows, all he loves, and apart from his children all he has any desire to know and love.
Capt. Lockhart walks over to where Edward is putting the final Lockhart touch on a 59-ft. mast for the “Southern Cross”, nods his head in silent, prideful approval, and gazes introspectively at the “Eugenia”, sitting on stilts at the front of the yard.
The “Eugenia” is a controversial story on its own. She has been built by Capt. Lockhart, and had never been beaten, but she was banned from racing.
The “Ragged Gui”, the first boat to be built by Capt. Lockhart back in 1954, was also banned, because both boats were “too yachty”.
Around the Lockhart boatyard, there is a bitterness about that controversy, but the Lockhart love for boats and the sea and the challenge of excellence is far stronger.
Capt. Vernon Lockhart was born in Ragged Island two days before Christmas of 1926, and only weeks after a devastating hurricanes had swept through The Bahamas.
He attended the All-Age School in Duncan Town, and as a youngster became proficient in carpentry, tending more towards furniture and cabinet making.
He was more than 25 years old when he left Ragged Island for Nassau. He was capable of expanding on his building expertise, however, and for practical reasons he took to constructing houses. Beyond Nassau, this took him also to Andros and Eleuthera.
But boats were his love, because there was a natural affinity between boats and his passion for the sea.
Apart from the “Eugenia” and the “Ragged Gal”, he had built such outstanding crafts as the “Intrepid” and the “Wilfiezm Aura”, and had captained many of them in regattas. Indeed he was the skipper on the “Ragged Gal” when she competed in the second Out Island Regatta in George Town in 1955.
For four years of his life, however, Capt. Lockhart’s sailing experience was expanded immensely when he served as mate of the 72-ft. yacht “Ticondcroga ”, which was owned by John Hertz, Jr.
He was on that roster of rugged Ragged Island seamen sought after around the world, and be- came part of the crew who picked up the “Ticcndcraga ” in Spain to bring her to Miami.
In those four years, he had digested a different side of the sea-going experience, and when he returned home in 1959, that experience stood him in good stead around the waters of The Bahamas.
The years passed. He was building boats and racing boats and winning and chalking up disappointments. But his resourcefulness endured throughout, until the stroke urged him to the sideline.
The sideline for Capt. Vernon Lockhart – if he had a choice – is just right. Constantly around boats and boat building and boat talk, and reminiscences about the sea and racing.
He is the father of six sons, one of whom is attorney—at-law Elliot Lockhart, but all have chosen other professional careers.
Yet his quiet life if full of what he wants it to be, watching Edward and the rest carry on the tradition. They are now building a boat commissioned by the Ministry of Tourism for destination in Spain as part of the Quincentennial exercise. He finds that exciting. Being there.
A new mast for the “Thunderbird” was stretched out, ready for masterful design.
I must go down to the sea one day,
his nostalgic eyes seem to say,
to the wonderful sea and sky.
“And all I need is a tall ship,
and a star to guide her by”.
John Masefield, who wrote those lines in his poem, “Sea Fever”, never met Capt. Vernon Lockhart, but he caught, precisely, the thoughts and the intrepid spirit of the rugged Ragged Islander who refuses to surrender.
Images from the Gallery
Sail her down, sail her down,
Sail her down to George Town.
Highborne Cay the first: we see,
Yellow Bank is by the lee.
Harvey Cay is in the moon,
Farmers Gay is coming soon.
Now we come to Galliot,
Out in the ocean we must go,
Children’s Bay is passing fast,
Stocking Island came at last.
Nassau gal is all behind,
George Town gal is on my mind.
A wiggle and a giggle and a jamboree,
Great Exuma is the place for me!