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They met on a love boat

He watched with annoyance as the four women boarded his ship. They were bringing with them huge trunks, carpet rolls, furniture and even a piano. Besides all their baggage, the ladies themselves took up plenty of room with those silly hoop skirts. As captain, he had enough responsibilities transporting cargo between New York, California and Hawaii without having to play genial host to these unwanted and unexpected passengers. He wasn’t a particularly sociable man and this was going to be a long voyage.

In this moment of irritation, John Cavarly didn’t realize that his clipper ship, the Anglo-Saxon, was now the Love Boat.

Elizabeth Bolles and her daughters, Annie, Julia and Mary, had trepidations of their own. They’d said goodbye, possibly forever, to their friends in New London. Now they were traveling many months and thousands of miles to join Benjamin Franklin Bolles in Hawaii. Benjamin had owned a chandlery in New London before moving his business to Hawaii to sell nautical necessities to the hundreds of whalers that stopped there. Now that he was successfully established, the family could relocate there permanently, thus all the trunks and paraphernalia.

John Cavarly grew up on a farm on Cohanzie Road (now Vauxhall Street Extension) in Waterford, but ran away from home as a teenager to follow the sea. When he first met the Bolles in 1859, he was a newly minted captain. His recent promotion had been the reward for some masterful seamanship. He’d been the first mate on the Anglo-Saxon’s previous voyage when the captain fell dangerously ill. John commanded the ship on a breakneck race to New York, where medical attention saved the man’s life.

John wanted his first voyage as captain to be uncomplicated but when he welcomed the women aboard and looked into 19-year-old Annie Bolles’ lovely face, he was a goner.

Annie was instantly smitten, too, but for the first week, seasickness trumped lovesickness. After Annie got her sea legs, their romance advanced rapidly. By the time they’d reached Cape Horn, John had proposed. The couple planned to wait until John could meet Annie’s father and formally ask for her hand, but new orders diverted the Anglo-Saxon to England so the couple got married aboard ship in San Francisco harbor. John left for Europe a week later while Annie and the Bolles transferred to a different vessel heading for the islands. It was the first of many long separations.

Annie hoped to accompany her husband on some of his voyages, but on their first one as man and wife, a mid-Atlantic hurricane severely pummeled the ship. Annie was flung about the cabin and suffered a miscarriage; doctors advised her to forgo future trips while she tried to start a family. From then on, she lived primarily in San Francisco. The Cavarlys sometimes spent more than a year apart, making their reunions especially emotional. Often when John sailed into home port, a pink or blue quilt would be fluttering from their apartment window, heralding the birth of another baby.

Besides loneliness, John’s career imposed other challenges. During the Civil War, the Confederacy captured many Union ships, making international trade nearly impossible and extremely dangerous. John was adept at evading the predators on his transatlantic runs, but one day the rebels seized the Anglo-Saxon. He had to watch helplessly while this symbol of his professional and personal passions burned to the waterline.

With the end of the war and the clipper ship era, John transitioned to commanding side-wheelers and steamships, delivering mail and merchandise on coastal routes and around the Pacific Rim.

In 1890 when it became clear that Annie was very ill, John vowed to retire and take her on a trip around the world; she died before that dream could come true. Still, on balance, they’d been lucky. While they’d endured periods of profound loneliness, their marriage had been blessed by lasting love.

(This column was inspired by my mother’s records and by the novel “Annie’s Captain,” written by the Cavarlys’ granddaughter, Kathryn Hume, who based her book on family documents.)


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