On board classic schooner Eros with owner and lifelong sailor Cameron Riddell

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Credit: Mark Krasnow

On board classic schooner Eros with lifelong sailor Cameron Riddell

15 February 2023• Written by Elaine Bunting

The owner of 35-metre classic schooner Eros tells Elaine Bunting the story of his adventurous childhood that sparked a lifelong romance with sailing.

You might say Cameron Riddell was destined to be a sailor before he was even born. His parents’ romance was kindled on the ocean and they married after sailing a yacht across the Pacific in the 1950s, in an era when such an adventure was something of a moonshot.

Riddell’s outlook, his spirit of adventure and his lifelong passion for sailing and classic yachts all make sense if you know this extraordinary story. It starts with a young man sitting with friends in a waterfront bar in Vancouver. There is a 16-metre steel ketch named Romayne lying nearby with a “for sale” sign hanging on the bow. His friends egg him on: “Let’s buy that boat and sail round the world.”

Eros underwent a comprehensive refit when Cameron Riddell bought her in 2016
Credit: Billy Black

“My father, Stuart Riddell, had inherited some money from his mother, so he bought the yacht,” says Cameron. “It’s kind of crazy when you think about it. He never sailed before, none of them had, but when he told all his friends that he had bought the yacht, they all agreed to go. The seller of the boat agreed to teach them all to sail, and he did, and they went off into the Pacific.”

They sailed to Sausalito, where they spent a few months working on Romayne. When they finally left to cross the Pacific, they dismasted less than 160 kilometres out of the Golden Gate. While waiting for a replacement spar to be built, Stuart Riddell went to a party and met Emily, a young woman fresh out of college in Northern California. She had a boyfriend, but Stuart was undeterred. “He told some friends, ‘I’m going to marry her,’ and he even wrote on the back of a magazine ‘Will you marry me?’” says his son. “He offered to buy her an airline ticket to Tahiti and invited her join him there. And she did. They zigzagged their way through the South Pacific, ultimately making it to Auckland, New Zealand, where they were married in 1960.”

Cameron Riddell on board Eros

The newlyweds and their crew sailed all the way back to Vancouver, where Romayne was sold and they moved ashore. After settling in Canada, Stuart and Emily Riddell started a family, but they vowed to return to the sea when their children were old enough. When Cameron was eight and his sister Romayne –named after the boat, of course – six, Stuart quit his job as a real-estate salesman and “they literally stuck with their commitment, sold our house in California and all our stuff and we went to England. It was 1970.”

Gay Vandra was a 13-metre wooden double-ended cutter built in 1953 at David Hillyard’s boatyard in Littlehampton. Stuart Riddell had planned to buy a steel yacht, bulletproof and practical for their plan to sail around the world. Ever the romantic, when he saw the classic-looking Gay Vandra, he fell in love with her.

Eros is launched from Lowestoft, Suffolk, in 1938
Credit: Cameron Riddell

She was sturdy, “tough and unique, a kind of go-anywhere boat that would handle crazy storms to get to the North Sea and the Mediterranean but was roomy, beamy and comfortable for a family of four to live on”, Riddell says. They spent their first summer cruising the North Sea, visiting Germany, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Belgium. For the winter they went up the Thames and tied up at a boatyard in the London suburb of Twickenham, where he and his sister walked to Archdeacon Cambridge’s Church of England Primary School in Twickenham. “That was the first time I ever wore a coat and tie,” he recalls.

The following spring they headed south, through the French canals and into the Med, roaming from the French Riviera to Italy and onwards to Greece, where the two children were enrolled at a British embassy school in Kifissia. This was the second year of what turned into a six-year odyssey.

Cameron Riddell grew up around boats and enjoyed building them to
Credit: Emily Riddell

Riddell remembers it as a time of wonderful freedom. “Life was very social. There were always dinners and parties on other people’s boats, and lots of families and kids to make friends with. We would go exploring, I’d make a friend and we’d ride our bikes all over town in Greece or Malta or Italy or wherever for hours on end and go home for dinner. No one ever seemed worried about us. We got to visit historical sites before they got really touristy, not just the Parthenon but Greek islands full of ruins that you could walk around on your own without anyone trying to sell you a ticket.”

This chapter came to an end when Cameron was 14 and his parents returned to the US and moved ashore. “I went to high school there and we lived in a house. I think my parents were happy to have more space – my dad became a yacht surveyor.”

After such a free-range childhood, Riddell was perhaps unlikely to follow a conventional path, and he hasn’t. After college in California, he started and built up a highly successful business making bird-deterrent products for the pest-control industry and contractors, and even boats.

Credit: Emily Riddell

“I didn’t get a job out of college; I wanted to do my own thing,” he reflects. “It would be easy to look back and say that was my plan all along, but at the time I was just winging it. I’d think, ‘This seems interesting, I’ll give it a try.’ Some things worked and some things didn’t. Every day I got up and kept going and made things happen.”

Children who grow up on boats living closely with their parents and other adults are often exceptionally resourceful and free-thinking. Could this be a factor in his success?

“I don’t want to take any credit – my parents deserve all the credit for creating a wonderful life for my sister and me,” he says. “But I think there’s something to that for sure. My sister has also taken a different path; she started a California high school and has done a lot of really wonderful things in her own right, as well as raising two kids. So both of us are entrepreneurial.”

While raising a family and building his business, boats and sailing “took a back seat”, Riddell says. “Occasionally I’d do a bareboat charter or sail with some friends, and because my father was surveying boats, I would stay in touch with them.”

The Riddell family spent time sailing around the French Riviera;
Credit: Emily Riddell

Among the friends the Riddell family kept in contact with from their days in the Med were Bill and Grace Bodle from Berkeley, who had previously owned large schooners such as Grace and Panda, and had undertaken a major refit of their classic schooner, Eros.

The 35 metre was built in 1938 in Lowestoft, for a wealthy American who died during the Second World War. She was then bought by shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos, who named her Eros after the Greek goddess of love. Among other illustrious guests, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain honeymooned on board. She had passed through just two other owners since.

Riddell heard that the owners wanted to sell Eros and in 2016, together with a friend, decided to buy her. Like his parents before him, Cameron Riddell has a love of classic wooden sailing yachts. “They have so much character and so much history. They are something that needs to be kept alive,” he says.

Eros is beautiful, an absolute classic with a long and glamorous history. We love her and spend as much time with her as we can. Having grown up working on boats, I felt qualified to take on this project. I knew that I could probably figure out a way to make it work without spending a million dollars every time we visited the shipyard.

Credit: Billy Black

“A boat of that age and that vintage does require a great deal of knowledge and a particular set of skills to run it. I have some of those skills myself, but really rely on our captain and crew, who have serious wooden boat skills and love Eros as much as we do.”

Eros is enjoyed by both owners, and chartered so others can also enjoy her. “She doesn’t just sit at the dock; we sail thousands of miles a year,” says Riddell. “We are generally in the Caribbean in the winter and New England in the summer.”

This summer, Eros will sail back to the Med for the first time in around 40 years. “She spent the 30 years she was owned by Niarchos in the Mediterranean and we think it would be very special for her to return to Greece and visit some of her old haunts,” says Riddell.

Cameron Riddell with his father Stuart and mother Emily
Credit: Cameron Riddell

What will make this even more special is that it was in Greece that Riddell first set eyes on Eros. He never forgot the elegant yacht, with her air of sophistication, “but I never dreamed that one day I would own her”.

After 30 years building up his business, Riddell now finds himself able to take more time away to go sailing and reflect on his unique upbringing. “I think one of the reasons we bought Eros is because I wanted my children to experience some of what I was lucky enough to experience growing up. I wasn’t prepared to sell everything and move on to a boat like my parents did, but I did want them to really enjoy time on the water, visiting beautiful places from the sea, and they’ve embraced it.

“My wife and kids love Eros, and they love our vacations together or with another family sailing, exploring and hiking. I think an important part of this is getting the kids away from their phones and their home and experience something different together. Even though they’re at college, we look forward to the holidays. If we can make it to the Mediterranean this summer, I’ll take them back to some of my childhood haunts.”

Eros under full sail in Antigua
Credit: Mark Krasnow

Riddell also sees Eros as a new chapter of his own sailing life. “I just turned 60, so I’m looking forward to enjoying my best sailing years. Do I see Eros as a forever yacht? Absolutely. Who knows what the future will bring, but she’s capable of going anywhere in the world. She was designed as an ocean-crossing cruising vessel that can sail around the world.”

That begs the question of whether Eros might ever head for the Pacific, where his parents learned their love of adventure under sail. “My partner and I will definitely discuss going to the South Pacific. Visiting the Cook Islands, Australia and New Zealand would be amazing. There are so many beautiful places to explore.”

Credit: Jeanna Shepard

Stuart Riddell died a few years ago at the age of 89. He and Emily had been married for 58 years. Their adventures together kept the family close and give his son a strong feeling of pride.  “I would really like to honour my parents,” Cameron says. “They were a perfect couple. My dad was a bit of a Renaissance man and I’ve obviously been very inspired by him. And to be honest, my mother was a huge factor in this adventure happening at all.

“They were the genesis of how sailing and these different boating experiences passed down from one generation to the next, and they gave my sister and me a remarkable life.” For more information about Eros, visit sy-eros.com

First published in the March 2023 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.

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