I’m a Boomer, and the first movie I remember seeing (in 1959) was the Cine-Miracle documentary Windjammer, which I saw at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. It made an impression that lasted all my life, that of ships and the sea. I bought a sailboat for my 50th birthday. It was actually a fit of pique that led to it.
My wife and a friend announced they were going to an open house at a local yacht club, because the friend’s boyfriend was a member. I bristled. I had learned to sail at school, fancied myself the old salt, not my wife. While she and her friend were gone, I went online and found a 22 foot mini-cruiser with a drop-keel for $5000. I’d bought it before they came home.
I joined the yacht club they had visited, and went down the lake 30 miles to pick up my new purchase. I had learned to sail on a relatively small lake, and Lake Ontario is rather a large lake, but that didn’t stop me. Youngest brother and I drove down the coast with two five gallon containers of gas, and picked up the boat. We then proceeded to motor off to Toronto, 30 miles as the crow flies, at about 4 knots, with a 9 horsepower motor we were completely unfamiliar with, in a 30 year old boat we didn’t know. Years later, I thought I’d never do that again if I know what I know now about what can go wrong on the water. A few years after that, I did it again, only on a much grander scale.
I kept that boat, the Katherine Rose, for 7 years. It slept 4, but that meant one adult and 3 kids. I slept on it occasionally, but it was mostly used for day-sailing, and I did that a lot. In season, I’d go out about three times a week, far more often than the big expensive yachts that surrounded me in the anchorage. I had a succession of crew. Cameron used to come after his afternoon shift as a restaurant manager, then he got too busy. I met a wonderful man on Facebook called Patrick, the most polite person I’ve ever encountered. We sailed for two years. He was the perfect crew. He was mostly unemployed, all he wanted to do was sail, and I could turn the tiller over to him with confidence, because he was a much better sailor than I. He let me do what I liked best, which was to let someone else do the sailing while I enjoyed the view.
Patrick died after two years, of stomach cancer. We had his memorial at the yacht club, and a few weeks later, in the early spring, we sailed out and sprinkled his ashes on the lake he loved so much. He had done a very fancy ropework handle for the ship’s bell, and I had that to remember him by, but his wife gave me a small portion of his ashes to bury in the keel of the Katherine Rose, so he’d always be with the boat.
My friend Jamie started to ride his motorcycle in from Niagara to crew with me. He loves two things, riding his motorcycle on the highway and sailing, so the combination was perfect for him. We sailed two or three times a week and had some adventures. We got caught out in a line squall that laid her over on her beam ends then rocketed her to 6.3 knots by the GPS, the highest speed she ever achieved. We got squeezed coming into harbour by a big steel schooner, which was on our weather beam and kept pushing us to leeward into the seawall. The skipper sat on top of the wheelhouse laughing at us. We played dodge’em with the ferries in the Inner Harbour.
Jamie and I settled into a routine that lasted several years. Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sail off the mooring (never using the motor unless absolutely necessary), sail out into the wind on a close reach, turn around after an hour and a half, sail back with the wind on a broad reach, and sail to the mooring, no motor. “Rubber band” sailors, out and back. We had, improbably, turned a passion into a routine and a routine into a rut. Time for a change….