Ted Kennedy in Glimpses

If I mention I am from Cape Cod sooner or later someone asks if I know the Kennedy’s. Not really, I say. My family was a bunch of crabby Cape Cod Protestant Lincoln Republicans who viewed anyone with a summer house as an intruder. Anti-Kennedy sentiment fell on tender toddler ears. But interestingly enough, over time the orbits crossed and for me they crossed because of a simple wooden sailboat called a Wianno Senior. So yes, I met Ted Kennedy, a couple times in fact. I thought he was a good guy. With the flag in the Cotuit park at half-mast, here at random is where Ted and I collided over time:

1969, Edgartown Yacht Club Regatta: I am eleven years old and sent over to Martha’s Vineyard with the yachtsman Marvin Green, a childhood friend of my father’s, to keep his son Sandy Terry company. Terry and I bring bicycles over on the Green’s yawl and ride around Edgartown and Chappaquiddick in the midst of the regatta chaos. Then there is the morning of July 18th and we see lots of police and ambulances crossing the channel on the On Time, the Chappaquiddick ferry. We ride our bikes out to the eastern side of the island in time to see a car pulled out of the water by a tow truck. We aren’t told who the car belongs to, but we are told that a woman is dead. I am frightened by this and steal a long splinter of wood from the Dyke Bridge as a souvenir. I lost the splinter before returning home two days later.

Mid-1970s, Edgartown Yacht Club Regatta: A leeward start on a very windy day. I am sailing our Wianno Senior, the yellow Snafu III, and manage a good start with a smart spinnaker set right at the gun. It’s a very crowded starting line, with a fleet of forty sloops careening just feet apart from each other as they race towards a mark downwind to the north. To leeward of us, being incredibly aggressive and announcing his intention to exercise his right of way, is Teddy Kennedy, Jr. in the Kennedy’s boat the Victura. Maintaining control is nearly impossible as the boats start to death roll in the building swells. As I get ready to douse our spinnaker and avoid the crazed Kennedy boat their spinnaker explodes with a satisfying pop!, and for one magical second the tatters fly forward like a hundred pennants, held out in perfect outline by the tapes along the parachute sail’s leeches and foot. We sail on as they fall behind.

Early 1980s, Andover, Massachusetts: as the resident geek in the newsroom of the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune I am told to cover the opening of a new high tech company called Symbolics (makers of a LISP processing workstation). I get to the scene and see in the lobby the office developer, Wianno Senior sailor and Ted Kennedy friend Jack Fallon (also developer of the Prudential Center) and Senator Ted Kennedy. Both make remarks, and afterwards, not sure of what in the world to ask them directly, I start talking Wianno Seniors with them (Wianno Seniors are the totems of the Cape Cod sailing class. JFK’s boat sits, in silent homage, outside of the Kennedy Library in Dorchester and can be seen from the air as one lands to the north at Logan) and the discussion gets very animated, to the exclusion of the other reporters and Symbolics staff, none of whom have the faintest idea of what we are talking about when we get into a discussion about that year’s new jib from the Hood sail loft.

The front porch, Cotuit, Massachusetts: the old Cotuit Inn, now demolished and turned into a plastic hive of condominiums, had a wonderful little bar run by Hack Daniels. It was a nice quiet place to have a drink or two, and usually closed when Hack ran out of ice. One night some associates left the bar and saw on the porch of the inn a small igloo cooler with the words “Rose Kennedy Cottage” written on the lid. Inside were the makings for additional cocktails. The cooler was pilfered and brought to the Churbuck porch where the party continued. An hour later the senior senator stood on the steps demanding his cooler be returned for his boat ride back to Hyannisport. He chided us not by name but by our boat’s sail number, “140.”

He was meekly obliged and Hack banned us from the bar for a while.

1984, Lawrence EagleTribune: The democratic primary was in full force in New Hampshire and Ted Kennedy dropped by the newsroom. As political editor (at the sage age of 26) I am called in to record the Senator’s remarks. Massachusetts politics are chaotic. The junior senator, Paul Tsongas is retiring due to cancer (opening the seat to John F. Kerry). Walter Mondale and Gary Hart are battling it out in the Granite State. The Carter legacy has opened the door for the Reagan Revolution. And the Grand Lion of the Democratic Party is in the conference room holding forth. I can’t stop staring at his face. Ted looks terribly tired. Painfully so. It was, in retrospect, a low point for him. Little did I know.

And that’s it. Booze and boats. I’ll miss the guy. Now for my prediction. Remember Opening Day at Fenway? Ted was there to throw the first pitch with his niece, Caroline. The same Caroline once thought to be a contender to assume Hillary Clinton’s senate seat in New York. My theory? Caroline gets Ted’s seat – this state can’t exist without a Kennedy in office and I imagine Caroline can claim residence in Chilmark. Update: I blew that prediction. Say hello to Scott Brown.


Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

10 thoughts on “Ted Kennedy in Glimpses”

  1. beayoutheeful writing Dave. it’s nice to see a person emerge from behind the legacy of the Kennedy curtain.
    Too bad you lost the splinter from the Dyke bridge, it could bring a fortune on eBay.

    Kudos and torpedoes,

  2. I guess you need to be from Mass. to appreciate him that much…. my recollections will be quite different from your

  3. Who else but you would find himself in Chappaquidick the day after TK ran off the bridge? That’s just incredible. My father and Kennedy were in the same class at Harvard. My father never had much time for him–or any Kennedy for that matter–and always considered TK a blowhard, a drunk and a cheat. TK did, however, play on the football team with my godfather and he gave one of the eulogies at my godfather’s memorial at the Memorial Church a few years back. Unsurprisingly, it was terrific. Funny, endearing, sentimental and true. It touched me that he would make the effort. He wasn’t there to be the big man or win votes. These were his old classmates, most of whom had led very successful careers of their own. He just did it because my godfather was a great guy and they had been friends. I am sure there will be many eulogies given for Kennedy. I hope they will be as good as the one he gave my godfather.

  4. David:

    Beautiful writing – brings me back to my (infrequent) visits to MV – and amazing that you were standing there on the public dock in Edgartown as the Ontime hauls the tow trucks and ambulance across. History witnessed.


  5. Very cool. Immediately after graduating from high school I spent several months living on the beach at Gannon & Benjamin Shipyard in Vineyard Haven, Martha’s Vineyard. We we restoring the wooden 52′ S&S yawl I was born and lived on for the first decade of my life. For anyone who knows Vineyard Haven, the ferries come in and out, ruthlessly, with little patience or care for the many pleasure craft that crowd the harbor….EXCEPT for Mya, Ted Kennedy’s schooner (http://www.catboat.com/images/Mya_Ted.jpg). While the ferries would practically run everyone else, they always would always drop their rigid schedule to give way to Ted.

  6. I don’t see Caroline taking his seat. Her kids talked her out of Hillary’s. Her speeches in NY didn’t seem to impress anyone.

  7. I remember the laughs that would be generated at Crosby’s when talk of the Kennedy’s sailing would come up.

    I spent quite a bit of time in Hyannis Port in the 70’s but my stories will have to wait until more time has passed. There were many adventures with the various cousins that are not ready for publication.

    Most of the stories of Ted involve him getting sloshed and hitting on waitresses at Up the Creek.

    The Cape can be a crazy place.

  8. I was w/ you in that Edgartown Regatta race & I remember our ‘salty’ exchanges w/ the leeward boat & I do remember seeing him hold down a table @ “Hack’s Bar & ‘Joe’s Twin Villa’ in O’ville. Although I wasn’t a personal fan, the guy did know how to have fun & I respect that…

  9. I enjoyed the story and would like to make two corrections. First, my son’s name is Terry, and second, I had at that point a Ketch (Swan 65). I went on to build a Maxi which couldn’t get into Cotuit harbour (she drew 13.5 feet).

    Also, I would like to comment on Ted Kennedy, a friend for many years. No one could say he didn’t enjoy life to the fullest (and then some), but he was one of the most loyal, delightful and charming friends I’ve ever had or will have.

    And finally, your father Tony, also a wonderful friend, could hoist a drink with the best of them.

  10. I remember the day post chapaquidik well. It was a beautiful day and there were numerous people using their keys or anthing the could find to pry up their piece of history. Personally I was a bit confused but what was going on it was just so fresh. I remember my dad being faux appaled at your taking a piece of the bridge and all on board having a good laugh at us. I don’t think we went there as treasure hunters but got caught up in the frenzy.

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