TALES OF JOHANNE REGINA: In Andorra With Tom Cunliffe and Clare and Edward Allcard

Johanne under sail

Sorry the blog’s been dark so long! But I do have an excuse. I’m in France right now, having come by way of Ireland (where I was visiting family for Easter) and Barcelona and then Andorra, where I stopped in for a few days to visit Clare and Edward Allcard, the well-known liveaboard cruiser-authors who wandered far wide for many years on an old 90-ton Baltic ketch named Johanne Regina (see Clare’s books A Gypsy Life and The Intricate Art of Living Afloat). Johanne has since been adopted by a Catalonian non-profit group, has been rechristened Ciutat Badalona (after the Catalonian municipality of the same name), and is now flawlessly maintained (see photo up top).

But it wasn’t always so. If you’ve ever read A Gypsy Life, you’ll recall that the Allcards’ two decades of ownership of Johanne was an unrelenting maintenance nightmare and the boat was never really ever close to being “finished.” Coincidentally, during my visit they were also visited by British sailing author and TV personality (and erstwhile SAIL contributor) Tom Cunliffe, his wife Ros, and his old mate John Lovell, who had come to share some even grimmer tales of Johanne’s pre-Allcard days.

 It just so happens that Johanne was the boat that led Tom Cunliffe into his life as a roaming sailor. He had given up studying the law and was driving trucks to make ends meet when in late 1965 he answered an ad, full of hope, and joined the crew of Johanne, which then was totally derelict and lying in the mud of the River Hamble in England. Over the course of three cold winter months, Tom and six other characters–including John Lovell, the acting first mate; a difficult owner; an ex-Royal Navy man named Bob who had a gambling problem and was on the run from an Aussie mobster called Joe Bananas; plus one Peter, who couldn’t afford shoes and instead wore plastic bags and socks on his feet–worked feverishly to rehabilitate the boat before sailing it south.

Tom had collected some old photos and had prepared a special presentation of his tale, which he was scheduled to deliver to the folks in Badalona who now own and operate the boat. But first he wanted to try it out on the Allcards, whom he had never met before.

Allcards and Cunliffe

That’s Tom on the left regaling Clare (center) and Edward (to the right)

One nice highlight featured the installation of Johanne’s ballast, which consisted of iron pigs pilfered from a nearby wreck. After the crew slaved with chisels and hammers to chip the pigs into the proper shapes and sizes, they were hastily set in concrete in the old ketch’s bilge on New Year’s Eve. Clare became quite demonstrative on hearing about this, as she spent many hours about a decade later laboring to chip all that concrete out again.

Another great highlight: it was during this time that Tom first met his wife-to-be Roz, who was brought to the boat by Shoeless Peter in mid-refit after he encountered her and a girlfriend in a nearby pub.

Johanne without rig

Johanne in the early-stages of her refit, sans rig


Getting set to install parrels on the gaff sails

Volund engine

When Cunliffe and company worked on her Johanne was equipped with an ancient two-cylinder Volund engine similar to this one. By the time the Allcards got their hands on her she had a GM diesel. The Volund was started with compressed air. If all went well the engine compressed air for its next start while running. If it didn’t, the air had to be compressed with a manual pump, which as Tom tells it was a most onerous chore indeed

Johanne rigged

Johanne post refit, almost ready to sail south


Crossing the Bay of Biscay. Inevitably a fierce gale was encountered and Johanne started taking on large amounts of water. This was blocked from reaching the bilge pumps by the ballast-encapsulating concrete, portions of which had to be removed forcibly with pick-axes in mid-gale

Tom and Ros

A fairytale ending. Tom jumped ship in Madeira and ran off to rejoin Ros, and they eventually acquired their own antique craft (a 32-foot Colin Archer pilot cutter, Saari, seen here) aboard which they began their own series of adventures. John Lovell meanwhile stayed aboard Johanne and saw her safely over to the West Indies, where she was eventually found by the Allcards

Yet another highlight, which I feel I must include, as Tom referenced it at least three times during the one evening and morning I spent with him. That difficult owner, who apparently kept his crew on tight rations of gruel and one Mars bar a week. Eventually Gambler Bob (who each week partitioned his Mars bar into seven daily portions) tried to brain him with an anchor, but Tom saved Bob from completing this mutinous act by hitting him hard in the back of the knees and knocking him down.

Group portrait

Two separate iterations of Johanne’s crew, joined together at last under her old wheel (hanging on the wall there), from left to right: John Lovell, Clare Allcard, Edward Allcard, Tom Cunliffe

Edward older

Edward, who ultimately was the catalyst that brought us all together (in the larger cosmic sense at least), is now 101 years old! And he’s got a postcard from the Queen to prove it

Edward younger

Edward in his prime circa 1958. He was one of a few sailors who embarked on significant singlehanded voyages in the immediate post-war period. The books he wrote recounting his early adventures are: Single-Handed Passage, Temptress Returns, and Voyage Alone. Clare is currently preparing his last book, which tells of his doubling Cape Horn, for publication

BONUS VIDEO! Here’s a nice one of Johanna sailing as Ciutat Badalona:

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8 Responses
  1. Paul Gelder

    Charlie, what a great blog… and a great sailors’ meeting. I have all Edward and Clare’s books, not forgetting yours, of course, plus a few of Cunliffe’s to boot!
    It’s more than 20 years ago that I met Clare in London, at the launch of her book, “A Gypsy Life”! I recall a fascinating chat over a long lunch in the Stockpot bistro, between Haymarket and Leicester Square.
    I’ll pass on your blog to Mark Fishwick, who owns Edward’s 1910 wooden yawl, Temptress, which Mark bought in 1973, never thinking that 43 years later he’d be at the helm for her second century afloat! He’s probably re-fitting her in Falmouth as I write.
    And I’m sure the “ghost” of the beautiful, brave runaway girl, Otilia, who hid on Temptress in the 1950s, still haunts the fo’c’s’le! It’s one of the great stowaway stories. Edward was on passage from New York to Plymouth. Twenty-four hours out of Horta, Otilia appeared in the hatchway. More than 50 years later the Allcards and Otilia met through the internet and discoverd they lived just four hours drive apart!
    Mark wrote a great article celebrating Temptress’s 100th birthday in Yachting Monthly in February 2011. The title: “Seduced by a Temptress”.

  2. Charlie

    @Paul: I should have reckoned you’d like this one. I wish you could have been there. It was a merry gathering indeed. Clare is not only working on Edward’s last book, which will at last take him around Cape Horn on Sea Wanderer, she is also working on sequel to A Gypsy Life. More fodder for your book collection!

  3. Pete Hogan

    Great Blog. Allcard is up there with the best of them. Read his early singlehanded books. Great to hear he is still alive. Cunliffe gave amusing talk in Dublin not so long ago. THose sailing days are gone I am afraid.

  4. Clare Allcard

    Hey Charlie, it was such fun meeting you after all our correspondence, to say nothing of the excellent mental exercise trying to dredge up old memories. Also fascinating to watch your lightning swift editing skills at work. And that evening together with Tom and Ros and John; what a laugh! Living high in the Pyrenees, we seldom have the pleasure of talking boats these days and it brought back so many good memories of evenings spent yarning with cruising folk. By the way, we owned Johanne from 1974 to 2006, so 32 years of non-stop maintenance. Heard from Otilia’s daughter a couple of days ago and she says Otilia is doing OK for her age. Six years ago we drove over and celebrated Edward’s 95th birthday with her. By coincidence, her grandson spends his winters here in Andorra as a ski instructor. And why Andorra after so many years at sea? When asked by Immigration if he wouldn’t miss the sea’s wide horizons, Edward replied “No, it’s all nature. Mountains are just waves standing still.” Once here he took up skiing and only stopped when he was 92.

  5. Frank Gibney

    Charlie — what a remarkable cadre of liberated souls…doubtless only one reason Edward looks so good at 101! Impossible to match his seminal line to the Andorra immigration man asking why move so far from the sea: “Mountains are just waves standing still.” Priceless.

  6. Diane Reece

    Hello Clare and Edward
    I have read your blogs and have fondly remembered on many occasions a chance meeting with Edward many years ago in Seychelles, about 1969 – 1970. I was around 9 – 10 years old at the time and Mum Dad and myself had been cruising the Indian Ocean on a Rival 31 named Wanderobo.
    I met Edward with Mum and Dad at the marina in Mahe, where Edward gave me a Mother of Pearl Shell which he had found himself. I have never forgotten the excitement that I felt at possessing something so beautiful, and the wonder of it all. As you well know there is not much room when cruising to store many luxuries!
    I am now 56 years old, married with a lovely family, and so my husband and our 3 children know this story!
    Sadly my Dad died last year, but we have always and still do reminisce so much especially now, about the wonderful years we had having our adventure in Wandorobo, and I just wanted to let you both know that Edward was part of our adventure that day, in showing such kindness in giving me that beautiful shell…..
    Best regards to you both.
    Diane Reece

  7. Charlie

    @Diane: Hi there! I forwarded your comment to Clare so she’d be sure to see it. I see you didn’t enter your e-mail address when you made your comment. If you want to make another comment and leave your address this time, I’ll forward it to Clare and then you and she can correspond directly and privately. charlie doane

  8. Diane Reece

    Hi Charlie!
    Thank you so much for getting back to me and I really appreciate you forwarding my message to Clare.
    I will complete the box with my email address..
    Kind regards

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