By Holly Clay
It’s Labor Day in Gloucester Harbor. Eve Robinson sits composed and dignified in Principles’ cockpit. Though Eve is legally blind, she appears to gaze out over the glistening water, to engage me with her eyes. At peace on Principles, the 48-foot schooner owned by her partner Derek Durling, she nonetheless senses the splendor of the decorated schooners, the high energy the visiting vessels bestow.
Eve hails from Tunstall, near Kirkby Lonsdale in Lancashire, the North of England.
“It’s the kind of place you do not criticize anyone because you know they belong to someone else,” she says.
Her remark could equally apply to Gloucester. It reflects a principled approach to life. No wonder she feels at home on a mooring in the “Inner Harbor.”
Though it was only recently, in 2016, Eve and Derek first encountered Gloucester, they are solidly hooked. “We were racing last year; that’s when we discovered Gloucester. It’s a special place; the people are special. They have time to talk and be nice,” says Eve.
Derek says they returned this year, ostensibly, for the Gloucester Schooner Festival on Labor Day weekend. Principles was already at its mooring in June, so it’s clear other attractions worked their magic on Eve and Derek. Friendships have a lot to do with it, like those with Inner Harbor folks, sailors mostly, like Fred Shrigley, Beth Leahy, Rob Bent, Mark Sheldon, and Bradley Royds.
Royds piloted Principles north from the Bahamas at the start of Summer, with then skipper Justin. The meaning in the associations doesn’t escape Derek.
Quite simply, “we made friends here. We like Gloucester. There’s a nice mix and it’s not touristy.” He says he and Eve are more than comfortable just being on the boat. They feel part of the community.
Derek first saw the schooner Principles in 1995/96 at a Newport, RI rally.
“I thought she was the most beautiful vessel I’d ever seen,” he remembers. Her name comes from the first owner. A corporate leader, he left his company when the board made an unconscionable decision.
“He said he resigned, because ‘It was the principle of the thing,’” Derek continues, adding that he narrowly missed a chance to buy Principles in 2006. Nevertheless, in due course, his turn came. He’s owned Principles for three years now.
She “definitely has” kept him and Eve young, Derek says.
When young, Derek married an American woman. Ironically, he didn’t reside over here until after her death several years ago. He lived mostly in the U.K., minus a brief Royal Air Force posting here or there. Derek’s first opportunity to own a sailboat and learn the sailing arts came while he was stationed in Scotland. The North Sea was his teacher.
Meanwhile, Eve, also married with one son, Malcolm, made a pleasant life for herself in England. In fact, she made a career out of her passion for kitchen arts, beginning as a cooking demonstrator in Manchester, England auditoriums. It wasn’t long before the headmistress of a nearby independent school approached her to teach home economics.
The Clergy Daughters’ School in Casterton, Cumbria, where she taught, “was a special place, because the Bronte sisters attended services and classes there,” explains Eve. “I had no experience with teaching,” she continues, but she always heeds the principle, “answer when opportunity knocks.”
“I stayed there for many years…I loved it. I had an affinity for it. And better yet, it supported my cars.” Eve loves classic cars.
The same principle, combined with more than a little spunk, propelled Eve into a sailing life in 2013, even though, by then, she’d lost her eyesight.
“What would I have done sitting in a big house all by myself? Life needs to be more than that. You lose heart if you don’t get out and do something, anything. It would have been just existing. I’m not decrying it,” she adds. But she knew, she was made for something more exciting.
Deric and Eve set out from Glasson Dock, Lancashire on a cold day in December 2013. Companions in the years after their spouses’ deaths, they share a love of music and each has an indomitable spirit, just what they needed to face a ferocious Atlantic in winter. As became their custom, they had a skipper named Euwin, on board.
“The idea was to go round the coast ‘til butter melts,’ then have a go at the Atlantic. When we got to Hollyhead, Wales, trouble with the engine generator stalled us. Don’t ever go to Hollyhead! We finally did get over to Cork.”
In Cork, more challenges, topped with dollops of good fortune, awaited. As Eve tells the story, “Euwin approached us, declaring ‘by the way, I’ve engaged a nurse.’ Hannah the nurse arrived with a suitcase, a big one, an electric blanket, and a teddy bear,” not the usual comportment for a sailing lass. Clearly, she had been invited aboard for a variety of reasons, not least of which was Euwin “fancied her.” Eve smiles. But wouldn’t you know, before the ship had left Cork, Eve broke her wrist, another disappointment causing another delay. Nevertheless, Hannah brought joy to the situation. “She was well-organized. The medicine kit was complete. And she gave me the Teddy Bear,“ Eve says. “And so, we dawdled…” until Eve was fit for travel. They headed first to Belize, which didn’t suit them, and ultimately to Treasure Key in the Bahamas where they bought a house.
Eve doesn’t shy away from talking about her lost eyesight.
“Back in 2007, I was driving along when I almost drove right into the back of a tractor-trailer,” she explains. “It was my sight, you see. Something was affecting it. We drove to Liverpool. It turns out I’d had a hemorrhage. The surgeon said, ‘we can operate to clear the damage,’ but not without grave risk.”
He then suggested a less risky surgery that would restore a vague sense of dark and light. Eve opted for the latter operation. It was successful. Light and shadow provide guidance. She’s holding out hope for stem cell replacement, once it’s invented for vision. She giggles: “At my age, I don’t have a lot of time to wait.”
“All my life I’ve been age-conscious,” Eve continues, speaking of another heartfelt principle. Put another way, she doesn’t talk or think about age, “consciously.” “When asked my age, I always say, ‘What’s it got to do with anything.’ I’ll be 90 in September. One time I was driving in England. Someone passed me recklessly, took off the side of the car. The driver apologized and took the blame; we exchanged information. I left the scene, thinking ‘well enough.’ But my husband Eddie, retired by this point, was adamant I must report the damage to the police.”
Off Eve went to the police station where she sidled up to the Sergeant. They were well-known to one another, yet he had to pose the usual questions.
“He asked, ‘what’s the damage?’ And, ‘what’s your name?’ He knew my name perfectly well. Then, he asked my age. ‘Guess,’ I shot back. ‘30,’ he said. ‘That’ll do,’ I said.” It was the principle of the thing.
Eve comes by her principled nature honestly. Her mother, half Lebanese and half French, arrived in England a child bride. A marriage to a man 20 years her senior had been arranged. She spoke no English.
“I think my grandparents thought, ‘we’re giving her a new life.’ It was bad in Syria and Beirut.”
The union was unhappy. Her mother made the best of it, eventually accomplishing much in her own right. WWII trapped Eve’s father in West Africa, primarily in Lagos, Nigeria, running the southern hemisphere portion of his shipping business. There was no one to run the U.K. business, so Eve’s Mother took over.
“She had to do it all. Unusual for a woman of that generation and one who’d been as privileged as she.”
His return after the war was difficult.
“My mother had gained much independence and sovereignty,” reflects Eve, who learned by example to cultivate the same for herself.
The joys of experiencing a new way of life – being in America, or spending time in Gloucester – endure. Eve and Derek tested their feelings on the matter this last June, returning to England for her granddaughter’s wedding. It was their first visit since they embarked in 2013.
“It was funny going back. I was dreading it, but the visit turned out to be just lovely,” Eve says. “But, I wouldn’t consider going back for good. We really don’t like the weather. This,” she says sweeping her arm before her, as if to embrace the whole of the Inner Harbor, “is living.”
And then the wisp of a lady, with more than her share of pluck asks, “Do you know, I got to go up in a glider, in Franconia, this summer?”
About the 2017 Race
Principles placed first in her class of mid-size schooners and second overall, behind the world-class contender Columbia, who dwarfs Principles, in size only. Eve’s and Derek’s Gloucester friends comprised the bulk of the enthusiastic crew, who brought her victoriously through the race.
Holly Clay is settled in Gloucester after many years of living overseas and in Washington, D.C. Holly is a member of the Gloucester Historical Commission and the Annisquam Historical Society. With a background in education and writing, her professional energies are currently devoted to studying and teaching yoga and meditation.