In Our Waters
Huddled together, the two men could do little but make light of their situation. “It could be worse,” the one man mentioned “At least it is not the dead of winter.” His companion for the day-trip turned nightmare, a writer from Southport, Connecticut named William Ballows laughed and then offered a verbal reply. “You are right my friend,” he paused. “We could be sinking faster.” Ballows stood up, his feet sloshing about in the rising waters and grabbed for the hand-pump. “It is my turn.” Ballows worked the bellows as water swished overboard into the waters of the Long Island Sound. Ballows looked through the darkness and recalled how the day had started out. He, at the bequest of his friend, had started out from Stamford bound for Glen Cove, New York aboard the yacht Lancer.
After taking on another friend they headed to the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island. Upon the completion of a hearty afternoon meal, Ballows and his host set out to return to Stamford. The weather was a little hazy and the winds increased as the yacht navigated eastward. The day-trip quickly deteriorated when the host offered the helm to his friend. He wanted to fetch something from below. As he stepped down the ladder, he realized that the yacht was taking on water. Despite the efforts of the two men, water continued to pour into the Lancer. The men alternated taking turns with the hand-pump to stem the tide of the Sound. The engine, flooded by the rising waters, suddenly sputtered and then went deathly silent. The men scurried to drop anchor to slow their drift but the anchor would not catch bottom. The Lancer drifted aimlessly with the tides. The sun dipped into the shadows of the Western sky as Ballows and his host, Mr. Henry G. Fownes, contemplated their next move.
Hours later, Mrs. Fownes paced to and fro upon the lush linens of the imported rug. The lavishly designed rug’s tightly bound strands mirrored her physical state of strained emotions. She nervously pulled her cigarette holder from her lips and transferred it to her other hand. The grandfather clock toned the passing of the hour. She looked up and noted the stroke of midnight. She audibly huffed and rolled her eyes in a mixture of anger and anxiety. She reached down and picked up the receiver of the phone. She immediately asked for the operator. She was quickly transferred to police headquarters and she related her concern. Her husband, she explained to the officer, had set out earlier in the day and had promised to return to their home for a late evening meal.
The Stamford police took down the information and quickly relayed the details of the overdue boat to the United States Coast Guard. As both police and Coast Guard patrol boat crews cast off their lines to set out into the early morning, Mrs. Fownes, a newlywed of only seven months, was phoned and informed of the actions being taken to search for her husband. They also informed her that several aircraft would be launching into the dawn at first light to search for the missing boat and yachtsmen. Mrs. Fownes thanked the policeman for the update. She anxiously reached for another cigarette from the holder on the desk and slid it in the length of the black sheath. With the holder clenched between her teeth, she lit the tip with the desk lighter and quickly inhaled. A blue sheen of smoke filtered toward the ceiling of the salon of their home as she sat down on the settee and awaited news of the search. The minutes swept moved forward as did the hands on the grandfather clock. Despite her worry, her eyes finally drew heavier. Soon after, as she fell into an uncomfortable sleep, her arm went limp, ashes of her now extinguished cigarette cascading in wisps of gray onto the expensive floor covering.
Meanwhile, Ballows and Fownes continued to take turns fighting the rising waters. When not pumping, they would take a few moments to stare into the darkness with a hope for the sight of a passing boat or lights along the shore. Though lights flickered in the distance, Fownes believed they were too far from shore to effectively utilize their distress signals. Unbeknownst to the two men, as they dewatered and watched for other maritime traffic, a rescue had been launched. The night seemed as if to last forever as the men went about their dreary and monotonous duties. Even with the day’s first light, little respite had been provided and the hours adrift continue with the morning slowly turning into the afternoon. Still, the men continued about their drudgery as it was the only task of which they had relative control over under the circumstances. Finally, at two o’clock in the afternoon, the yacht had finally drifted closer to shore. Fownes and Ballows agreed, as they strained their eyes to the residence on the bluff, that they saw men looking out to the water. Fownes and Ballows began jumping up and down and frantically waved their arms to try and gain their attention. Finally, the figures along the bluff appeared to be waving back to them. Fownes and Ballows began jumping up and down and waving their arms again.
Suddenly the figures on shore appeared racing for a boat tied up on the property’s dock. The little figures grew larger in scale as the boat neared. With the passing of a line, the yacht Lancer was quickly taken in tow and her two occupants, writer Ballows and her skipper Fownes were on their way to the estate and to safety. Mrs. Fownes, after learning of her husband’s rescue, made arrangements to ride with the Stamford Chief of Police, John B. Brennan to Smithtown to rendezvous with her husband and his companion. For the skipper of the Lancer, he was down but certainly not out. His luck, with boating and other aspects of his life, would continue on a similar path of misfortune.
His wife, Mrs. Marie Martin Fownes, had rushed to his rescue on that mid-October 1935 day but after several years of marriage, her rushing to his side had been replaced to ensuring a substantive judgment of divorce. On December 26th, 1940, Mrs. Fownes filed suit against her husband of less than five years on charges and allegations of cruelty. In addition to filing the divorce writs, her attorney had also requested an injunction to restrain Mr. Fownes from liquidating any of his assets. It appeared, according to the suit, that Mr. Fownes had informed, prior to her filings for divorce, that he was going to move to Florida and file for a divorce against her. Mrs. Fownes had apparently been quicker to the legal draw and Mr. Fownes, with an estimated annual income of over fifty-thousand dollars, financial holdings of over one million dollars, and property in Connecticut valued at nearly a quarter of million dollars, would be bound to the tenet tentacles of the divorce court and state law.
Months later and after of the terms of the divorce were summarily determined, Fownes relented that he had certainly encountered worse. He reflected back upon the twenty-two hours adrift without food or drink aboard the Lancer in 1935. He laughed to himself as he sat back in his chair and took a sip of his cocktail. In ’34, he recalled, he had survived with six others when their airplane had been forced down when it ran out of fuel off of Newport, Rhode Island. He then realized, as he looked back even further in his life, that he had also encountered some heady times during the First World War when he served as a Captain in the United States Army. Yes, he realized, it certainly could have been worse. With his financial affairs with his third ex-wife now completed he could finally move forward. Despite the ugly affairs of the courts, he was still a millionaire. Maybe his fourth wife, if he was to be so fortunate, would be his charm. Being a millionaire, he quipped, allowed such things to evolve.
And while that most likely would have evolved, it would be sidelined during the Second World War. Always up for adventure, the former U.S. Army Captain and now accomplished yachtsman, wanted action and to support the war effort. His wish was granted and during the Second World War, Fownes served as a lieutenant commander aboard the battleship U.S.S. Tennessee in the United States Navy. With the cessation of hostilities in 1945, Fownes was honorably discharged and returned to his civilian lifestyle as a millionaire. The peacetime waters of dating and boating quickly provided a siren’s call. He quickly found love in the eyes of Mrs. Edith C. Forrest, twenty-two years his junior, and in the sleek lines of a seventy-three foot houseboat/cruiser/luxury yacht that needed a new name.
On November 27, 1948, the yacht Tennessee, her name christened after the battleship which he had served upon during the war, was off of the famous Atlantic City Steel Pier, steaming southward to Cape May, New Jersey from Brielle, amidst a terrible swell and a driving icy rain. Fownes had foretold and promised a wintry escape to the Caribbean to his younger female friend, two guests and his hired crew. As the rain pelted the portholes of the luxury yacht, one of the crew noticed a flicker of flame stemming from the yacht’s stack. Sounding the alarm, all of those aboard emerged to the main deck to answer the hail for help. Fownes, alongside the yacht’s skipper, Captain Edward H. Williams, crewman George Mann, and guests Edward Duprey and Michael Tanch, fought valiantly with fire-fighting equipment, to extinguish the quickly spreading flames. Their efforts were in vane and Captain Williams issued an SOS over the radio.
Moments earlier, a diligent United States Coastguardsmen at Station Atlantic City on watch, noticed the black putrid smoke in the distance. As he alerted his fellow guardsmen, the crackle of the SOS message, blasted through the speakers of the radio room. Immediately, the coastguardsmen sprang into action to affect a rescue. A picket boat, a motor lifeboat, and a LCVP were launched to the rescue. The radio call, picked up by several other stations, also served as a catalyst for a crew from the United States Coast Guard Station at Ocean City, to respond to the scene.
While the flames spread across the decks and through the compartments of the one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollar luxury yacht, Fownes and the crewmen knew that time was of the essence. The yacht would soon be completely engulfed in flames. He quickly launched a dingy. Mrs. Edith Forrest, clutching several outfits and Fownes’ dog Tenny, also named after his time aboard the war-time battlewagon, were placed aboard. As the wooden superstructure continued to crackle under the ravaging fire, Fownes jumped into the dinghy to escape the lapping licks of flame. Captain Williams, crewman Mann and guests DuPrey and Tanch, quickly followed suit and leapt into the chilly waters. Swimming to the dinghy, they all held onto the sides of the raft and watched as the yacht succumbed to her fiery fate. Various vessels of the United States Coast Guard quickly arrived on scene and, after pulling Fownes, Mrs. Forrest, who was introduced as his fiancée, and his dog from the dinghy and of course the captain and crew from the icy waters, took the burning yacht in tow. Despite the efforts by the arriving assets, the Tennessee continued to burn, and after being towed into the shallows, sank a total wreck.
While many life and death experiences seal the fate of lovers, it would not be the case for Mrs. Edith Clark Forrest Fownes. Wed in 1949, less than a year into their marriage, she filed for divorce charging “intolerable cruelty and habitual intemperance.” Mrs. Fownes recounted to the judge during testimony, that while the couple was living in Easton, Connecticut, Mr. Fownes had instructed her, while he attended to business in New York City, to take care of his pet woodchuck that had fallen ill. Upon Mr. Fownes’ return from his trip a few days later, he “flew into a rage” when she admitted that she had forgotten to assist the ailing “pet” in his absence. Mr. Fownes exclaimed, as he rushed to the animal’s pen, “If that woodchuck is dead, you’re going to sleep with it.” Mr. Fownes, upon going to the woodchuck’s side, quickly realized that the animal had passed. Mrs. Fownes, fearful of her husband’s wrath, fled the home and spent the evening with a neighbor. The woodchuck’s death however, was not the final note in the story. The following day, she found what appeared to be hair, woodchuck hair, in her bed. Though the incident had shaken her and she had found the nerve to file for divorce, she relented in her pursuits against her less than one year husband and the lovers reconciled.
Despite a period of calm between them - the woodchuck’s passing possibly an agreed upon taboo subject at the breakfast table for both – sadly reached a zenith of disagreement and despair within five years. In 1955 she had once again filed for divorce. On January 4, 1956, their second divorce proceeding was finally settled with the rapping of the judge’s gavel on the bench of the Newton, Connecticut courthouse. Fownes, now aged sixty-five, was officially single again. The fourth marriage, he realized as he left the courthouse with this attorney, had not been a charm after all. Providing a lump sum of thirty-thousand dollars and a monthly alimony payment of two hundred dollars was all he had to show for his latest attempt at wedded bliss.
Though Henry Gaither Fownes did not have the best of luck at love – whether it was his fault or the fault of those with whom he married – matters little as he certainly lived a life of myriad adventures. A veteran of the United States Army in World War One, a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy in World War Two, and thrice wrecked - once pulled from the waters after his plane was forced down without fuel in the waters off of Rhode Island, once left drifting on a sinking yacht on the Long Island Sound and the victim of a horrific fire aboard his yacht Tennessee off of Atlantic City - and of course, as a fourth-time failure in the affairs of the banded love of matrimony. Though many times millionaire Henry G. Fownes was “down and out,” he never did once succumb to the misfortunes of his marital monstrosities or even his multiple maritime misfortunes in our waters.
1 Fownes followed through with his plans and after spending the night with Colonel and Mrs. Marion Greenberg of Sea Girt, continued on with Mrs. Forrest to Palm Beach, Florida, by train. In addition to the loss of the yacht, which, according to Fownes had been recently refurbished, he had lost several yachting trophies.