DEAD GUY: Charles “May I Cast Off Now?” Lassen


Oct. 9/2020:  Oh dear. I’ve seen this one coming for some months now, and it does not mitigate the loss. For it is my sad duty to report that my good friend, co-conspirator, and stalwart shipmate Charles Lassen passed away yesterday, a victim of prostate cancer run amok.

Charles has often been lionized, ridiculed, referenced, and cross-referenced in these blog posts, indeed ever since I first launched the blog back in 2009. He was among the first of many sailing compadres I found here Portsmouth, NH, when I first moved here in 2005, and was a partner-in-crime in countless ventures. With Phil Cavanaugh and I he helped to found Portsmouth’s most elite sailing club, the South End Men’s Ocean Sailing Association (SEMOSA), in the dining room of the Commissioner’s House at the Royal Naval Dockyard on Bermuda in 2008. A couple of years later Charles founded Portsmouth’s annual Round Island Regatta, which continues to thrive to this day. We crewed together in many round-the-buoy races in the local Tuesday night series aboard Phil’s Baltic 35 Alida and he joined me many times on ocean passages and Caribbean cruises.

He was a cantankerous character, fond of bad jokes, full of good cheer, with a restless spirit. He was famous for not being able to sit still and was always eager to move on to the next project. He earned his SEMOSA nickname, the one you see in the headline up top, on an early Caribbean cruise he made with Phil and I aboard my previous Lunacy. While Phil and I hustled about loading provisions on to the boat as she lay tied to a dock in St. Martin, and then rushed to put them all away, Charles stood by impatiently, hovering anxiously over a cleat on shore, asking repeatedly, as though it were a mantra: “May I cast off now?”

My very favorite memory of Charles was of a passage we shared in 2014, sailing doublehanded on Lunacy across the Gulf of Maine from Portland to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. All the way over, for a full day and a half, we were wrapped in fog, eyes glued to the AIS and radar screens sailing in light to moderate conditions, until finally in the middle of one of my watches the second night out, the fog dissipated as we approached Cape Sable.

Suddenly the dark sky was crystal clear and there were lights everywhere. Stars blazed overhead, the distant lights on shore twinkled away, and in the water all around the boat and for as far as the eye could see the bioluminescence was so intense that every single wave in sight was capped with a brilliant light of its own. There were so many lights shining, above and below, it was impossible to say where the horizon was, as though we were magically suspended in a black globe filled with vivid fireflies.

I marveled at this for some time alone, and finally Charles came up to relieve me.

“How’s it going?” he asked.

“It’s been the best watch of my life,” I answered.

And he looked around, and his eyes filled with wonder, like a child’s, and we sat there side by side for some time, awestruck, silently drinking it in together.

Some more visual memories of Charles:

Charles takes a shot at painting my daughter Lucy’s toenails (at her request) during a visit aboard Lunacy and is proud of his handiwork


Charles attempts to break into the ruin of Fort Cunningham, on Paget Island in Bermuda


Charles (on the right) running the race committee during the Round Island Regatta in Portsmouth


Charles, in characteristic garb, getting into all sorts of trouble on St. Martin


Lounging on Lunacy’s foredeck with a book during a spinnaker run


Lunacy at anchor in St. George’s, Bermuda, flying the SEMOSA flag, which Charles designed


Fooling around with firearms on Statia


Presenting Phil with SEMOSA’s Most Improved Person Award in 2010


Sharing his opinion of things while hanging with Phil and I just a month before he died


One of Charles’s favorite pronouncements, uttered often it seemed entirely at random, was that his doctor had once told him he had the body of a 40-year-old. Which was certainly true for most of the time I knew him. I used to marvel as I watched him sometimes hauling 50-pound bags of soil out to tiny Round Island, where he lived with his wife Sooky, so as to transform it into his own personal terrarium.

But as will happen with all of us in the end, his body finally betrayed him.

He will be sorely missed.


RIP: Charles Lassen,  June 22, 1940 – October 8, 2020

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4 Responses
  1. Terence Collier

    Dear Charles…we met in Bermuda in 2017 and had a brief exchange of stories about our dear, mutual friend Charles. Elizabeth and I are saddened by his
    departure, which to us came as a complete surprise. Our daughter Allie, one of his godchildren, is staying with us and mourns his loss with her brother Julian, who was in Bermuda but did not have the opportunity of meeting you. It was dinghy sailing in Cold Spring Harbour with Alexander and Hugh, with Captain Larsen firmly in command, that set Julian on his sailing path, now out of Annapolis. We cannot find details of funeral arrangements. If you have any information and can pass it along, it would be greatly appreciated.
    With sadness, but with happiness for a life fully lived,
    Terence Collier

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