Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Vana Vana Society

A curious report in the February 3, 1936 issue of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune tells of a mysterious group of nudists who encountered problems just outside of Tampa's Hillsborough Bay. Their craft, the Fleetwood, ran aground on a reef and damaged its engine. The next day, the New York Post reported the ship was fixed and on its way.

The group called themselves The Vana Vana Society, and consisted of one Maurice Allard, his wife, son, and two daughters. They had no navigator among them, and while in Florida Mr. Allard made inquiries to find one to join them. But as the newspaper article waggishly states, all the local seafarers were too fond of wearing trousers to sign up for the post.

Despite lacking someone on board who could navigate, the Vana Vana Society were sailing to the Virgin Islands, where they had a 1000-acre tract on St. John's Island. Here, the paper says, the family intended to establish a "nudist-socialistic utopia". Refreshingly, the paper made no editorial effort to mock, sensationalize, or judge the group - hell, they didn't even make any bad puns.

But did the family complete their journey? I do not know, but I wouldn't bet the nudist farm on it. The only thing that comes up in a Google search for the Vana Vana Society is a handful of newspaper articles about their Florida mishaps. A story dated Feb. 25 in the St. Petersburg Times says that their journey experience more problems after their Feb. 4 sendoff - they had three separate mishaps before finally setting off, noting that they'd be stopping in Key West to stock up on provisions. They also apparently managed to lure a navigator named Johan Johanson into their ranks.

Weeks passed. Then came the appearance of the article "Queer tales of nudist ship: Captain goes mad and runs amok" in the Straits Times, May 3, 1936. The article's anonymous suthor seems to be blurring some of the facts as reported by the previous papers, and so casts a shadow of doubt on the sensationalist tone of the story. It claims here that Johanson was already helming the ship when the original Feb. 6 accident occurred, and blames that disaster on Johanson's mental instability. It accuses him of chasing the female nudists around and letting the ship go in circles unmanned, and that he finally had to be restrained and tied up.

This piece notes two additional passengers not mentioned in any of the other newspapers: a New York artist named Ross Dodd and a 19-year-old Denver girl named Lucille Robinson.

And then the story goes cold. We're left to only guess what became of this ill-fated cruise to "nudetopia" and if they even made it out of Florida waters at all. Drop me a line if you know more, won't you?

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