Sailing was not James Graham’s first love. In fact, he didn’t fall in love with the activity until he was an adult and moved to Wilmette, Ill., on the lake front of Chicago. There, he started out at the beach for small boats. But now he cruises into the harbor where the larger boats sail, with his 24-foot Rainbow Class sailboat the Venturous. From the water, he can see the Chicago skyline in the distance. He tries to get out at least once a week.
Around the same time Mr. Graham first realized his love for sailing, he took a trip to Boston and visited the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. There, he laid eyes on a special ship. It was a 25-foot one-design sailboat called the Victura, a boat given to John F. Kennedy by his father in 1932 for his 15th birthday.
That boat has now become the central component of Mr. Graham’s first book, The Victura: The Kennedys, a Sailboat, and the Sea. Published in April, the story chronicles the Kennedy family’s deep connection to the Victura and the lessons that sailing taught many members of the Kennedy family about how to stay grounded and resilient in the midst of great responsibilities.
Mr. Graham will be visiting Bunch of Grapes Bookstore on Wednesday, July 9, at 7 p.m. to speak about his book.
It was the death of Ted Kennedy in 2009 that inspired Mr. Graham to tell the story. Mr. Graham has had a career of over 30 years in communications and public affairs, but had been looking to take on a book-length project for some time. He was just waiting to find the right topic.
When Ted Kennedy died, Mr. Graham noticed that all of the people who eulogized Mr. Kennedy spoke about their own experiences of sailing with him on the Victura. He found this unusual, given Mr. Kennedy’s remarkable professional career.
“Here’s a man that had been in the U.S. Senate for 47 years, one of the longest serving U.S. senators in history and one with a career filled with accomplishments, and yet people who knew him best felt that they could really capture his essence by telling stories about sailing with him on the Victura,” said Mr. Graham.
“That told me that there was a story there beyond what most people knew and as I looked into it, I found that to be true,” he added.
In writing about the Kennedy family, Mr. Graham faced the challenge of finding something fresh about a family that has been written about many times before. But Mr. Graham knew his perspective would be a unique one, and his book has indeed received much praise from critics for its originality.
“Anyone who takes a look at the book I’ve created will see some new and different things that they have never read before,” said Mr. Graham. “This story of the relationship of a family over multiple generations to a single kind of sailboat and a single activity together is something that has not been told before.”
As Mr. Graham researched the Victura and the Kennedy’s relationship with sailing, he learned just how much the boat meant to the Kennedy’s lives.
“I think that what made it special over time was the shared experience that they had sailing it,” said Mr. Graham. “And I think that really contributed to the bonds between brother and sister, father and son and daughter, uncle, nephew and niece. They found that this experience of sailing together really strengthened them as a family.”
The Kennedys passed the Victura down from one generation to the next. If it was not the original Victura herself, then it was her name or her style of ship. After the Victura was donated to the JFK Presidential Museum and Library, the Kennedys bought another boat and also named it Victura. For years, Robert and Ethel Kennedy sailed a boat identical to the Victura so they could compete equally against her. The great-grandchildren of the “famous generation” of Kennedys now also sail a boat identical to the Victura.
While researching his book, Mr. Graham had the opportunity to speak with several members of the Kennedy family. Chris Kennedy, who lives near Mr. Graham in the Chicago area, took Mr. Graham out for a sail with his mother Ethel, cousin Ted Jr. and brother Max, along with other members of the family. On this trip, Mr. Graham was able to capture some of the most valuable stories for his text.
In the stories he heard, two themes in particular stood out to Mr. Graham. The first was the Victura’s role as a grounding force and a way to put life in perspective for the Kennedy family.
“They used [their shared experience of sailing together] as a means of staying together as a family and getting away from it all and growing closer.”
The other theme Mr. Graham noticed and describes in his book is the “idea of members of the family coming from behind to win and never giving up.”
“I think that’s one thing that they learned from that experience of racing against one another is that even when a race looks lost, don’t give up because you still have a chance,” said Mr. Graham.
James Graham will discuss The Victura: The Kennedys, a Sailboat, and the Sea at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, 44 Main street, Vineyard Haven, on Wednesday, July 9, at 7 p.m.