Sailing around world brings Port Townsend man closer to coping with PTSD

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — George Maynard served in the Navy during the Cold War and has spent the intervening years recovering from the experience.

“A lot of people saw what I saw and did what I did,” said Maynard, 74, a Port Townsend resident.

“Some people were able to deal with it, and a lot of us didn’t do so well.

“I had a bad time and got so screwed up I could barely talk.”

During his time as a submariner, Maynard participated in nuclear tests, culminating in one in which his submarine dispatched a torpedo that he said sent a sub full of Russian mariners to a watery grave.

When he returned to the United States, Maynard spent time in a psychiatric hospital, attempting to deal with the impact of the occurrence.

But he got little substantial help, he said. Every time he attempted to discuss the incident, his therapist would change the subject.

Maynard didn’t know what was happening to him. No one would clue him in.

It wasn’t until years later that his ailment was given a name — post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

PTSD — suffered by some 25 percent of those treated at Jefferson County Mental Health — can be successfully treated using diagnostic guidelines, said Ru Kirk, a supervisor at the agency.

[Peninsula Behavioral Health in Port Angeles did not respond to calls requesting quantification of its PTSD treatment.]

But in Maynard’s day, he was left to fend for himself.

He designed his own therapy.

He built a boat, sailed it around the world with his family and wrote an autobiography.

The book, Scudding, was released in 2012. It includes a parallel narrative of his times on the sea and his life in the military, along with the accompanying distress.

Upon his release from the hospital, Maynard got a job in a Navy yard, but left after determining that the worst thing for his stress was to have a constant reminder of those terrifying times.

After a period adrift, he learned woodcarving. He’d carve all day after delivering newspapers in the early morning.

“I don’t know when I slept,” he said.

After building his wooden sailboat from scratch in his Connecticut back yard, he sailed The Scud around the world with his first wife and his three children in an expedition of personal and geographical discovery that lasted five years as they took extended stays in various ports.

“We wanted to start before the kids became teenagers,” he said, since teens wouldn’t want to spend all their time on a boat.

“They need places to go,” Maynard said.

Maynard doesn’t see a lot of his children, who are now all in their 50s. But he believes the voyage changed their lives for the better.

“It gave them confidence and put them in positions of authority and responsibility,” he said.

“It did a lot for their self-confidence and gave them the ability to go out into the world and tackle whatever they needed to tackle. They aren’t driven by fear.”

The Scud had no engine. It ran on wind power, and was in service well before the age of automation; there was no GPS or email on board.

Reliance on the new machines can be a drawback, Maynard believes. People can sail into a harbor while watching a GPS screen — and end up on the rocks.

“When the chips are down, the machines don’t always work,” he said.

“A lot of the data in the GPS system is based on what was done with sextants many years ago, and isn’t always accurate.”

Maynard said writing the book was a cathartic experience that was a long time coming.

He began Scudding in the 1990s, and saw it generate some interest among publishers.

But the memoir needed too much work, “and I put it down for a while.”

15 years later

When he restarted the project 15 years later, he did so “because I didn’t want to go to my grave without telling the story.”

He chose an alternating narrative — a chapter about the trip followed by accounts of his Navy service — for a sense of variety and because he thought it would soften the military chapters.

Maynard did all of the editing and the marketing himself, choosing to publish the book through Amazon’s CreateSpace instead of attempting to find a traditional publishing house.

He’s sold about 400 copies of Scudding. But the important part, he said, was getting it written. Sales numbers don’t mean all that much to him.

“It was really hard to write. I cried every day for nine months,” he said. “But I’ve gotten some really good reviews and I’ve gotten letters from people that I’ve never met.”

Maynard says he can recognize PTSD in other people, and he always offers an ear in case the sufferer wants to talk. This offer isn’t well-received every time, he added.

“These guys aren’t getting any help,” he said. “They are trained as killers and then are turned loose in society.”

Maynard is not one to ever attempt a solo trip.

“Sailing alone is not something I ever wanted to do. The whole idea was to share it with someone else,” he said.

“I’ve met a lot of solo sailors, and a lot of them ended up talking to themselves all of the time and got a little strange.”

Maynard calls the sea “the last untamed wilderness.”

“Sailing provides you with a lot of freedom but it’s freedom with limits,” he said.

“There is no more undiscovered land but there is still lots of ocean.”

Maynard said he’s finished with sailing, as it is a vocation better suited for people who are young and strong.

“A lot of old people have this dream to go out sailing,” but may not be physically fit enough, he says.

“Older people who go sailing are either gutsy or crazy,” and might not realize how demanding it is to live on a boat.

Yet Maynard hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for building things, out of wood and with his hands. He’s living on wooded land in a crafted house with lots of nooks and crannies.

He shares the house with his second wife, Julia Maynard, who owns a business in the Port Townsend Boat Haven.

Maynard is building a second house on a lot down the road, too, and when it’s done, he plans to sell his current home.

“Building my first boat was a big mystery, and so was my first house,” he said.

“But the second time, you know more about what you are doing.”

________

Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 08. 2013 6:02PM
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