Zepherine McLaren and Mermaid.

Shot Feb. 2014.

Boat Building at Windward. Shot Feb. 2014.

Sea and Ships

Zepherine McLaren and ‘Mermaid’.

It seems appropriate that I should be writing this now as I just heard the other day that Zepherine McLaren passed away on Dec 29th 2009. This was incredibly sad news for all who knew him. He takes with him a wealth of knowledge and expertise about vernacular boat building techniques used in Carriacou. His vessels still sail the Caribbean and he has left many wonderful memories for those who knew him. He will be sadly missed.

The photos I have put up show the stages of construction in Zeph’s most famous sloop, ‘The Mermaid of Carriacou’. I reckon most people know the story of Linton Rigg’s inspired idea to build a sloop and set out a bet of $500EC to any locally built boat that could beat her. His intention was to revive the flagging boat building industry of Carriacou and that’s exactly what happened.

Zeph constructed a ‘sloop’ of stylish proportions and sleek lines. It took a number of years before anyone managed to build a boat to beat ‘Mermaid’ in the ‘large working boat’ class and by that time the industry had revived and Carriacou regatta had become a regular annual event.

Mermaid was purchased and restored by Capt John Smith in the 1970’s. She is still his permanent floating home and he and ‘Winger’(his dog) continue to brave wind and tide in the southern Caribbean. John is currently holed up in Punta de Toro in Panama. His latest expedition without engine or mechanical aids took him 22 days. During the voyage ‘Winger’ fell overboard and John had to launch the skiff to rescue him.

‘Mermaid’ is a testament to Zeph’s boat building skills and John’s determination to keep on sailing and keep ‘Mermaid’ afloat.

The following text appears on a plaque above the hatch on Mermaid:

‘God does not deduct from our allotted life-span, the time spent sailing.’


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19 Responses to Zepherine McLaren and Mermaid.

  1. Olive McLaren says:

    Dear Bill

    Thank you for all your amazing work and kind words about Carriacou and my father, Zepherine McLaren. You have done such a terrific job with all those postings. I don’t know if you remember me but I left home in 1975 and live in Canada.

    Olive McLaren

    • Bill Cameron says:

      Dear Olive,
      Thank you for your comments. Carriacou is, indeed, a very special place and your father was an exceptional man. I have very fond memories of him and your family. I think you know Bill and Jill Clack, am I correct?
      Best Wishes,

  2. Don Hill says:

    I remember the Mermaid as the best vessel of its era. It is great to see the launching. I think it was still under sail in 1999 when I was in Carriacou for a visit.

    • Bill Cameron says:

      Thank you Don. Mermaid is still being sailed by Capt. John Smith. He is, at present, sailing out of Bocas del Toro, Panama and is seeking to replace his old sails which have pretty well blown out. He completed the sail to Bocas in 25 days, solo without an engine and with only Winger, his dog, for company……..which I think is pretty amazing.

    • Bill Cameron says:

      Thanks Don. See my reply to your other Mermaid comment. Thank you.

  3. John Smith says:

    Wonderfull photos Bill… I am still in Panama.. and with the way this huracan season is building up mighty for it too.. Got the new mainsail, it was built by the crew and cadets aboard the barque Picton Castle.. I paid for the material and mermaid has a new sail and picton Castle has done it’s part to keep some old skills alive.. I was 22 days at sea from Arub to here.. becalmed for 15 of them.. and yep it took atoll on my last mainsail..Winger fell overboard on the 17th day and i dumped all sail and launched the kayak to recover him. Last hauled Mermaid in Aruba.. now leaking about 1 gallon every 24 hours.. replaced over 35 planks including the stem, transom and garboards… i have also replaced the steel standing rigging with 3/4 inch polyester rope which is almost as strong and a heck of a lot easier to work with and inspect…counting my blessings I remain.. John Smith.. proud to have known uncle Zeph and to be keeping the Mermaid afloat!

    • Bill Cameron says:

      Hi John,
      Good to hear from you. I’ve been following you on faceache and was pleased to hear Mermaid made that long journey safely. Glad to hear Winger survived his swim. Keep in touch it’s always good to hear your news. Panama in general and Bocas in particular, look like the bees knees and a great place to have ended up. We may try to make it over to C’cou some time next year.

  4. Claudette Mclaren Alicea says:

    Hi Bill,
    I hope you remember me. I think I was in Bishop’s College when you came to Carriacou. I am Zeph’s daughter the one before Olive. I definitely remember you. It brings a tear to my eye every time I read all the wonderful comments you made about daddy and home. I have been living in New York since May of 1975 but I try to go back home every year or two. It was a big loss for us when daddy died but thanks to you, John Smith and a few others, his legacy remains. Whenever I want to see daddy all I have to do is click on the web. How cool is that. We are all grateful to know that wonderful people like you took such interest in our dad. I am also thrilled to know that John still has the Mermaid, keeping daddy’s memory alive. I hope that one year when I am in Carriacou, he might just happen to b sailing by. Thank you again and God bless.

    • Bill Cameron says:

      Thank you for your kind words Claudette. It is exteremely heartening to know that my small tribute to Zeph has been such a blessing to you. Your dad was an extremely talented and wonderful human being. It was a great privilage to have known him. John continues to sail Mermaid and Zeph’s memory lives on.
      I feel I am due a trip back to Carriacou.
      I think we may try and get there next year. I really miss the place and my friends.

  5. John A. Smith says:

    Hello to all from the deck of Mermaid.. presently anchored off of Utila,Bay Islands, Honduras after one month on the hard in the La Ceiba shipyard..my 35th haul out since i have been aboard.. now 35 years. 17 days offshore with one crew..8 of which left us becalmed and drifting.. but i was able to catch several Dorado with my spinfishing gear. later boated a 30 pound yellowfin tuna. Very remeniscent of carriacou here, but after being in rainy Panama for 2 years seeing the sun daily is a true pleasure. dexter Leggard sent to me a 5 foot long grenada flag which Mermaid proudly flies from her gaff. She looking and sailing good!..Uncle Zeph would I believe be pleased…an honor to keep this great old ship alive…hoping to see you all in Carriacou…I remain …..capt john

    • Bill Cameron says:

      Happy 35th birthday John. Careful how you go when you finally come ashore :). As you probably know Alexis is finishing off the film. It promises to be a ‘belter'(as we say in our local vernacular!!!). Great to hear you are still sailing Mermaid and that you are both in good trim. I look forward to the photos on facebook. Fi and I are just back from Canada exploring the BC coast. Fabulous area. Best, Bill

  6. John A\Smith says:

    Ahoy Bill and Friends! Mermaid is in the Bay Islands of Honduras. I am busy re-building my gaff and strengthening the bulwark rails and changing all running rigging.. hundreds of feet of line on these gaffers! I have also changed most of the iron gear and blocks readying the old girl for the 3500 mile cruise around the bahamas and back to a ‘civilized rum sho_’. little by little….. my shi_ is slow but the sea is _atient!.
    looking forward to tacking north and south on the lee side of Carriacou towing my fish baits!

    • Bill Cameron says:

      Hi John,
      Great to hear from you. Please keep in touch as you make your way round. I’d be over the moon to get one or two log reports now and again. I shall keep a track of your Caribbean perambulations ole boy 🙂 You mus’ be fitter than a butcher’s dog!!!!! You taking anyone with you or are you going solo again? We had a very stormy Summer over here which has degenerated into an even wetter Winter. Fi and I headed to Vancouver for July and had a great time exploring BC and Van Island with Fi’s bro and sister in law. My sailing buddy soloed across to France in his 21 foot Corribee with only a binnacle compass and a wing and a prayer. The weather was most unpleasant. Art is on the way to publishing his bio of Lynton. Alexis is finishing off his film about boat building in Carriacou, but I expect you know all that. Fi and I would like to get to Carriacou some time next year but not sure when. In the meantime have a great 2013 and enjoy your expedition.

  7. stephen Gordon says:

    So, Captain John,
    Where are you these days? Still sailing I hope. After we last sailed together, I went home and designed and built a 20’ft boat with spritsail and jib then sailed it
    down through the Sea of Cortez and then again over into the Bahamas. I loved the Bahamas so much I purchased a 25 ft. Albin motorsailor and tricked it out with a new Yanmar diesel, autohelm, and watermaker, then headed for the Bahamas which I cruised for most of the next dozen years. Now I’m land locked again (hate it), and looking for a way back to the sea. Where are you now? Still on Mermaid, I hope. You got any contact info?
    Best regards,
    Stephen Gordon

    Original comment posted on 27.11.2013

  8. Wolfgang says:

    I was still a little boy in shirttails; but I foundly remembered those moments in time helping to build those sloops; everyone had a signature piece in building such wonderful sloops. The Maclaren’s of Carriacou are a great shipwright family and I believe that they are related to the Formula-1 Mclaren family. My uncle Mr. Roberts who lived next door to the Mclaren family had a sloop called “Yankee Girl” I believe gave Mermaid a couple of licks during regatta; other great sloops if my memory serves me right were Jupiter, Compa-nero, Mary-Stella which was a very, very fast sloop. God bless.

    Original comment posted on 01.05.2014

  9. Art Ross says:

    Ahoy Bill and Mates;
    It’s been a few years since I visited your pictures Bill, or at least a year. They are such a historical reference, it’s like a museum visit for me. I should get to Carriacou this year, but I say that every year and end up languishing on a beach in Bequea to numb to catch a sail to Carriacou, though this year the odds are better as those travelers I hang with are suggesting we take a ferry there and thats a good idea now that they have ‘fast’ ferries.
    I see Capt John allot on FaceBook and know he’s working hard on Mermaid.
    Thank you Bill for being the glue that holds so much of this history together, it makes a difference, and your work from then as now is wonderful to enjoy, a very special talent!

    • Bill Cameron says:

      Thanks Art. Your comments are much appreciated. Fi and I are talking about a visit early next year. It’s in the discussion stage but it would be nice to think we can make the trip. Keep in touch.

  10. Roberto Paz says:

    Cap. Jonh A. Smith, is still sailing the beautiful Mermaid. I met him today 9 of june 2019 on the shipyard of La Ceiba, Honduras, Central América. Just finishing Major works on the ribs of the Ship. Pretends to Sail maybe the 15 of june to the island of Guanaja part of “Bay island” Honduras. The Mermaid of Carriacou from the island of Grenada and his history still alive

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