When Hollywood Went To Sea

By Ann Dermody

Actress Dixie Carter sits in the captain's chair of her boatWith saltwater in her hair, makeup-free skin, and comfortable clothing, Dixie Carter sits on the captain's chair, looking at the photographer, her husband Hal Holbrook.

She never looked less Hollywood, or more beautiful. The actress, who died at age 70 in April, had a whole other less-glamorous and outdoorsy life, which most of her fans knew little about, far from the smell of the greasepaint and roar of the crowd. Besides each other, Carter and Holbrook had a third member in their marriage for whom they shared a passion, their 42-foot sloop Yankee Tar, the boat that had been there since the beginning of their relationship.

On a personal level, 1980 was a big year for Holbrook. Besides buying Yankee Tar and meeting Carter, the acclaimed actor and seasoned sailor, who'd found global fame a few years earlier as Deep Throat in "All The President's Men," had just completed the adventure of a lifetime, the single-handed Transpac Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Hawaii, an accomplishment that would stay with him forever.

"The experience of being out there on my own, coping with the sea and myself, is a memory which has never grown old," he's said. "Its lessons have come back to me again and again." Lucky to arrive in one piece after a final race night of 40- to 50-knot winds and angry 18-foot seas, Yankee Tar had been slammed for several days, and Holbrook was badly in need of sleep. "I was desperate for even just a five-minute nap. Before lying down, I forced myself to climb up the companionway hatch to take a look around. Before I turned my head more than 90 degrees, a big white light swept across me. It was the Kilauea Light about 20 degrees off my port bow! I'd been on course, but was closer than I thought, and was heading right for the rocks!" Holbrook eventually made it safely into Hanalei, "wet and 20 pounds lighter than when I left California."

Actress Dixie Carter and husband Hal Holbrook

None of that deterred Dixie Carter, a woman Holbrook described as making "every adventure glamorous and [a] great sport." Carter was a well-established TV actress when she arrived, as planned, at the race end to meet Holbrook; he'd invited her to "go cruising" for a couple of weeks. She got off the plane, with a bottle of Dom Perignon, only to be greeted by a rather rangy-looking and exhausted Holbrook. When he saw her, dressed to the nines, he remembered thinking she'd never be up for the boating life, but Carter took her cramped digs and unkempt captain all in stride and the pair went on to have many adventures, taking Yankee Tar to Tahiti, Samoa, and New Zealand, among other places.

The couple's shared love of the sea was so ingrained in Yankee Tar that they donated the boat to The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia, in 2006. Not yet on view to the public, the boat is being prepared as an exhibit in tribute to the couple's sense of adventure, and to the love they had for each other and for the boating life. The museum asked the couple to leave their personal effects on board after they delivered it, so charts, log books, photographs, drawers stuffed with clothes, a pair of Sperry Topsiders in the closet, and cassette tapes of their music are still in place on the boat. Bottles of spice sit on the counter. A kettle rests on the stove. Perhaps the most intimate of their belongings is a plaque they made that still hangs in the boat, bearing a quote from Edna St. Vincent Millay: "Searching my heart for its true sorrow; this is the thing I find to be; That I am weary of words and people; sick of the city, wanting the sea."

Dixie Carter is best remembered for her portrayal of Southerner Julia Sugarbaker in the television comedy "Designing Women" from 1986 to 1993. More recently she starred in "Desperate Housewives" for which she was nominated for an Emmy. Hal Holbrook, who for the past 55 years has been considered one of America's great craftsmen on stage and screen, was nominated for an Academy Award for "Into The Wild" in 2008, but is perhaps best known for his 2,000-plus one-man shows playing Mark Twain, which he still performs, at age 85, to great acclaim across the country. This year happens to be the 100-year anniversary of Samuel Clemens's (aka Mark Twain) death; in tribute, read about how much boaters have in common with Twain's masterpiece Huckleberry Finn in "Great Books of the Sea," page 000.

High-School Sailor Zac Efron

He's a teen heartthrob who made his name in the all-singing, all-dancing "High School Musical" movies, but now, thanks to his first leading-man role, Zac Efron has added sailing to his skill set. The 22-year-old actor says he was fated to play the part of Charlie in the big-screen adaptation of Ben Sherwood's acclaimed second book, Charlie St. Cloud. Unaware that the movie centered on sailing, he read the script by chance while spending the night on a sailboat with his dad.

Actor Zac Efron by sailboat

"I brought one script to read and it just happened to be 'Charlie St. Cloud.' It was surreal. As I read the racing scenes, the wind started to pick up, and the boat started to rock, and I was like, 'Wow, this is ... very obvious.' It felt right."

Actor Zac Efron in a scene for the movie Charlie St. Cloud

The movie is about a talented boy in a small coastal town, who receives a sailing scholarship to Stanford. Just before he leaves, he's involved in a car accident that kills his little brother, and sends him off the rails. He's only redeemed five years later when he falls in love with a girl planning a solo round-the-world sail.

Actor Zac Efron in a scene for the movie Charlie St. Cloud

Efron says he'd admired the beauty of sailing, but this was his first introduction to trying it. "I was in Vancouver two weeks prior to filming and we sailed more or less every day. Initially, it was difficult! There are so many factors that go into it. It's not just wind blowing into a sail and propelling your boat. It's incredibly precise. One mistake, one lapse in judgment on a small boat, and you can very quickly capsize. On the first day of sailing lessons, my instructor made a point of capsizing. I was scared, but I also got it out of my system." According to his instructor, Efron took to the sport like the proverbial duck to water, and now has long-term plans to head off cruising with his father. "I'd like to do some long-distance sailing. I think that would be really fun."

Bronson Arroyo Pitches Into The Boating Zone

Growing up in the Florida Keys, pro baseball star Bronson Arroyo was no stranger to the water. "Both my parents are from Key West so I was around the water most of my childhood, whether on a boat, or fishing off a pier," he says. Arroyo's parents weren't really big boaters, but that didn't stop him from dreaming of one day owning his own. "I remember I'd see all these Sea Rays and I'd tell my family, 'I'm going to buy one of those someday.'" Luckily for Arroyo, thanks to his pitching skills, that dream didn't have to wait long to be realized.

Baseball star pitcher Bronson Arroyo's boat

Currently with the Cincinnati Reds, he made his major-league debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2000, before moving on to the legendary Boston Red Sox in 2003. Three years later, he moved to Cincinnati. That's when he started thinking seriously about buying a boat. "I wanted one I could stay the night on. I never really thought of having an open fisherman because I wanted something that would be comfortable enough to go out and anchor and stay for a couple of days."

Bronson didn't sell himself short with his first boat purchase, buying a 48-foot Sea Ray Sundancer. "People usually ask, how many boats did you have before this," he laughs. "I can handle it, but I have a childhood buddy who grew up with me in the Keys, who captains it for me."

Baseball star pitcher Bronson Arroyo on his boa

Given his day job, and the cold Cincinnati winters, you might think The Nasty Hook is a little-used vessel. "Not so," says Arroyo. "You always hear stories of people buying boats and then they just sit there. I didn't want that to happen. I'm on the road about 80 days a year but I actually do use it a lot. We're in Cincinnati for about 85 days, and I have the boat up there in the summer. After ball games, my buddy will pick me up right outside the stadium. The river goes right by it. There are a bunch of different places you can go around there, little bars and restaurants where you can hang out, on the river."

When the weather gets cooler, the boat moves to Tampa. "In the off-season, I use it a couple of days a week in Tampa and bring out high-school friends and guys from other teams. We'll go out to different islands between there and St. Petersburg. I think boating is always going to be a part of my life now. I just enjoy being out on the water so much. You feel so free out on the ocean. I cook up a couple of hamburgers and it's just so great and peaceful. I don't know when and where, but I'll probably get one more boat at some point, but that could be 10 or 20 years from now."

Darla Bardelli Casts Toward A New Future

"In it to win it" is Darla Bardelli's favorite slogan. Whether she's battling big fish on the end of a line as a professional angler, waging the fight of her life against breast cancer, or presenting her "Outdoors Arizona" weekly radio program, Bardelli isn't one to go quietly. In August 2007, she discovered she had breast cancer, just as her marriage was falling apart.

Darla Bardelli fishing off her boat

Darla Bardelli

While going through six grueling months of chemotherapy, followed by a double mastectomy, and a further two months of radiation, Bardelli was pleased to find various programs to support her on her journey. But she also found a glaring omission. "What about my family?" she asked. "How were they going to deal with me having breast cancer?" What she discovered was very little in the way of information and support, for the men and families of those who had a woman they loved, going through this huge battle. Bardelli also found out a large number of marriages fell apart after a breast cancer diagnosis, so she set about creating her own charity, Anglers Against Breast Cancer. "My goal is educating men and families as co-survivors, and my passion is fishing, so there was no better way to get the word out."

Darla Bardelli's pink powerboat

Though Bardelli divorced in 2008, she's applied what she'd learned from fighting fish in her own personal battles. "When you're diagnosed with cancer, your world kind of spins out, and you have to focus on a goal to make it through the treatments — because they're brutal! Whenever I put on my tournament shirt, it's almost ritualistic. I'm focused and ready to go out and compete. So for the chemo, I put on my tournament shirt, so I could be focused when I went into that room. I was in there for a battle, and I was in there to win." 

— Published: December 2010

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