Blue Water Cowboys

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Many people dream of the Pacific Ocean with its picturesque and countless island chains and atolls, but the reality of sailing is tough. So most people keep their boat aspirations in their minds or stuck at a pier. Few people can claim to have been at sea for months or even years.

Even fewer have spent decades at sea.

Nancy Griffith, Terry Causey, and Steve and Cheryl Kornberg have. For the past fifty years or so, they’ve sailed around the Pacific Ocean and the world, testing the limits of their boats, of sailing and of themselves.

In the 1950s, Nancy Griffith was sailing for the first time and loving it. She was enrolled at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in Honolulu, Hawaii, going out on a few sailing trips with peers. Meanwhile, in California, where Steve Kornberg and Terry Causey were born, in 1946 and 1950 respectively, the two were separately experiencing the ocean for the first time and discovering their love for sailing. Also in California, at the same time, was Nancy’s future husband Bob Griffith, who decided to quit his stressful job as a veterinarian to sail full time. In 1960, when Bob sailed into port in Hawaii, Nancy fell in love with him and his fifty-three-foot cutter cruising yacht, Awahnee. They married a year later, and began sailing all around the world, completing three circumnavigations, including a record-breaking trip around Antarctica. The Griffiths, with their son Reid, were the first to ever complete an Antarctic circumnavigation in a sailing ship. They were some of the best sailors around, relying exclusively on a sextant, a chronometer and celestial navigation for their wayfinding.

By the mid-1970s, Nancy and Bob began spending less time on the sea and more time at their home in Hawaii. The couple had two young children, Robert (Teno) and Fiona, who were too young to sail. Nancy’s son Reid had died tragically in a hunting accident in Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas Islands, in 1975. Then, in 1979, tragedy struck again when Bob died of a heart attack. Losing Bob didn’t slow Nancy down from sailing, but it motivated her to find a way to make a viable income for herself and her children through the sailing life. After Bob’s death, Nancy partnered with her friend Steve Kornberg to launch Blue Water Marine. The company was designed to teach kids how to sail, but it also provided charter cruises throughout Hawaii and to the Line Islands, part of the nation of Kiribati. The Line Islands are 1300 miles from Hawaii – the closest international port. Nancy sailed her forty-two foot wooden ketch the Nellie Bly and Steve sailed his Lapworth 32 wooden sloop, Gershon I.

Nancy was teaching celestial navigation when Terry Causey arrived in Hawaii in 1980, and he signed up for her class. Eventually Terry was invited to crew for her and Steve on various Blue Water Marine charters, marking the beginning of a long friendship between the three of them. In 1983, Terry and Nancy bought Goodewind, a fifty foot steel ketch that they used for scientific charters in the Pacific. Originally a German spy boat built in the late 1920s, the Goodewind was captured off the coast of Scotland in World War II. It was then sold to an Australian dentist, and eventually sailed to Hawaii where they purchased it.

Then in 1984,  Steve and Terry met Bruno Delala, a Frenchman, who at the time was living on Fanning Island in the Line Islands. Bruno had overstayed his legal welcome and the locals urged Steve and Terry to take him aboard to keep him from running into trouble with the law. They obliged, and he quickly became good friends with the Steve Terry and soon Nancy, and sailed with the three of them over many years. He still lives on Fanning Island in he Line Islands, and runs a guesthouse. One of his guest huts is named for Nancy.

On the other side of the world in the Atlantic Ocean, a man named Brad Ives was operating a cargo shipping line between Surinam in South America and the US Virgin Islands. He was sailing a cargo ship, the Edna –  a gorgeous 130 foot topsail ketch built in 1916.

In 1987, Nancy purchased the Edna from Brad. He sailed it from the Caribbean to Hawaii by way of the Panama Canal. Nancy’s plan was to begin trading goods throughout the Pacific, primarily in the Cook Islands and the Line Islands.While Nancy didn’t make a huge profit from this trading ship, she was successful in other ways. After many years of sailing through the Pacific, Nancy had created strong relationships with so many Pacific islanders. So she was more than happy to create a shipping line that could connect these islands to the rest of the Pacific bringing them desperately needed cargo. And in the process, she was able to eke out a living.  

Sadly the beautiful Edna sank in a storm when anchored off Atiu Island in the Cook Islands in 1991. Nancy quickly replaced the trading boat with the Avatapu, a 177 foot converted longliner from Yokohama, Japan. Avatapu ran cargo in the Line Islands and the Cook Islands until its demise in 1997 when it caught fire while anchored off Atiu Island, northwest of Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands. In 2006 Brad Ives ( who had originally sold the Edna to Nancy) and his wife, April Fountain, bought the sailing cargo ship, the SV Kwai, and took over the route that Nancy had established with the Edna. The Kwai has been working the northern Cook Islands and the Line Islands in Kiribati  ever since.

Meanwhile, Steve bought Gershon II, a fifty foot steel cutter,  in 1990, and a group of people went to Honolulu to get it. The hull was empty and there was no way to get into it, so they lashed a ladder down into it, lay some futons down and added a Coleman stove. Using a handheld compass they hopped on board and sailed her back to Kona. Thinking back on that time in their lives, Terry reflected “Not too many people get to experience that much freedom, self reliance and self determination.”

In 1991 Steve finished renovating Gershon II, and they set sail on her for the first time, and in 1992, Steve and Terry sailed to Raratonga. As they passed Fanning Island, they picked up a voice over their single side band radio reporting that their old friend Bruno had been shipwrecked on Washington Island. They diverted their route east a hundred miles to rescue him. Since there is no anchorage near Washington, Steve stayed on board and Terry went ashore, where he found Bruno with his new wife and adopted son. It turns out that Bruno had sailed to Washington to get married there, since it was the home of his new wife. But in the process he crashed his boat on the treacherous reef that surrounds the island. Steve and Terry helped Bruno salvage his boat, loading all the salvage into a twenty foot longboat with an engine borrowed from one of the churches. With the longboat loaded up, sitting on the sand, the whole village came out to say goodbye.

The waves crash endlessly onto the shore of Washington, making it appear entirely impossible to penetrate the surf with a boat. But for the islanders, who watch the surf every day, their eyes are attuned to the sea and all her variations. So to launch the longboat safely back out to sea, one person watched the sets of swells crashing to shore, shouting as soon as he saw a break in the waves. At his cue, every single other person from the village shoved the loaded longboat, with all its passengers, through the waves and back out to sea, where the Gershon II awaited, finally sailing back to Fanning with the new family on board.

After leaving Bruno behind on Fanning, Terry and Steve went on to Penryn Island in the northern Cook Islands, and sailed all the way to Raratonga, the capital of the Cook Islands. From Raratonga, Terry flew to Mangaia, also in the Cook Islands, to meet Nancy, who was arriving there on the Avatapu. When they arrived, Terry and Nancy started shuttling goods on board. Terry sailed with Nancy and the Avatapu to Atiu Island and then back to Raratonga to meet the Gershon II.

Sometime in the mid-90s Steve’s friend Alex Jacubenko got involved with another serious sailing boat of a completely different variety – the Hokule’a, and through Alex, Steve also became a part of the Hokule’a’s voyaging. The Hokule’a is a Hawaiian sailing canoe designed as a replica of traditional Pollynesian sailing canoes,  built to prove that the Polynesians who settled Hawai’i and other islands throughout the Pacific did so intentionally, and were highly skilled navigators and boat builders. The Hokule’a started to sail around the Pacific, gathering admirers as it went. It soon chartered Steve and the Gershon 2 as an escort boat since their trips were becoming more and more daring. Around this time Steve met his wife, Cheryl Prichard and they married in 1995. She began living with him on Gershon II when they weren’t back home in Hawaii.

This same year, in 1995, Steve and the Gershon 2 escorted the Hokule’a again, and Terry escorted Hokule’a’s sister ship Makali’i with the Goodewind. Alex Jacobenko and his boat the Kamahele escorted the Hawai’i Loa. Nancy, Terry, Steve and Cheryl and Nancy continued sailing together over the next decade. Their last passage all together occurred in 2004, to Australia, Lord Howe Island and Russell Island, a trip that took them across the Tasman Sea.


Outer Voices chartered the Gershon II in 2006 to travel to the Solomon Islands and Terry came along as crew. After this voyage, Terry stopped sailing for several years to be able to take care of his mother June, who died in 2010.


Terry’s last sail with Nancy was on an old schooner in New York Harbor, accompanied by family and friends. After that Nancy retired from sailing due to knee problems. She dedicated herself to her Kona, Hawaii coffee farm, where she lived until she passed away at the age of 79 in 2013. In homage to Nancy and Bob Griffith’s own circumnavigation of Antarctica, Terry, Steve and Cheryl travelled there together in 2014.

Now, as ever, Terry,  Steve and Cheryl remain integral in the sailing community. Terry is working with the Educational Tall Ship, in San Francisco, headed by Alan Olson, which is building the Matthew Turner, a 132 foot brigantine – a teaching vessel for bay area kids to learn about the marine environment that surrounds them, and to learn how to sail. The Matthew Turner is expecting her maiden voyage in early 2017.

At this writing, Steve and Cheryl and the Gershon II are once again working with Hokule’a as the escort boat for their round the world voyage, Malama Honua, which translates loosely as “healing the earth”.

May their voyages continue for many years to come.

Stephanie Guyer-Stevens, producer

Matt Mahoney, intern

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