Around the Island

The long saga of the Regina Maris


A broken heart sent John Kerr on a 1971 adventure on the Regina Maris, and all these years later he has published a book about the fantastic history of that ship called “Dreamers Before the Mast, The History of the Tall Ship Regina Maris” (published November 10, 2017).

On June 1, John will speak at the Shelter Island Public Library’s Friday Night Dialogues program to share the life story of this 144-foot wooden-hull sailing vessel built in 1908, and his close relationship to her.

Regina Maris (Queen of the Sea) served a myriad of purposes from her maiden launch as a top-sail schooner carrying cargo in the Baltic Sea and fishing for herring and cod off the Grand Banks, to private yacht sailing the Pacific and around Cape Horn, to a cruise ship surviving two hurricanes, and to sailing as an oceanographic research vessel.

There are many stories to tell about this special ship. It is said that she was used to rescue Jews from Denmark in WW II. She retraced the voyage of Captain James Cook’s route of discovery to Australia. During Regina Maris’ career she sailed in tall ship races and was featured in TV programs and movies.

She sank several times and was resurrected, but by 2002 all she had left were her masts and her figurehead.

This story has now been told because John Kerr, who grew up sailing, was jilted by his fiancée in 1971. He ran away and answered an ad for a working passenger on the Regina Maris. For the next three and a half months he sailed the Pacific to Papeete, Tahiti.

When he returned home his luck had changed and he met Penelope Clark, of the “Bass Creek” Clarks of Shelter Island, to whom he is still married. They spent summers on Shelter Island and eventually moved here with their two sons.

In 1991 John was reunited with the Regina Maris after 20 years, when she was one of the tall ships that pulled into Greenport Harbor. He then decided that he wanted to help rescue her and to tell the world about her 78 years of high-seas adventures.

He became co-director with Penny of the non-profit organization, Save the Regina Maris Ltd., and was appointed as the ship’s historian, which led to writing the book. John’s research turned up the hard work and harrowing adventures of Regina’s owners, captains, crew, scientists and students.

He held extensive interviews with them and examined their diaries, journals, letters and the ship’s logs for the details that fully document the book’s content.

Join John Kerr in the library’s Community Room on June 1 at 7 p.m. and be captivated by his true tales of the Regina Maris and the people whose dreams she helped realize. There is no charge for this program; however, donations are always welcome.

— Jody Geist