Boat Owners

Monday, September 26, 2016

Roland and I became boat owners in May 1992. After we looked at several used sailboats with my two requirements (an enclosed head and a galley), we had almost decided to buy a 23 foot 1987 Beneteau First 236. It had all of the special sails in addition to the basic ones but was missing a ship-to-shore radio and a compass. Caroline and John loved it because it had an AM radio and tape deck. Before making an offer, however, we wanted my brother to look at it and give us his opinion. And while we were waiting for Donald to come up from Nashville, the owner succumbed to the beautiful weather and seller’s remorse and took the boat off the market.

That turned out to be a good thing. The broker received another 1987 Beneteau First 236, and it was offered at a lower price. It had fewer sails—just a main and a jib—but it did have the ship-to-shore radio and compass. The children were happy because it also had an AM radio and tape deck. So we bought the second boat, named her Das Zeltlagermanie (Camp Mania), and rented a slip at the Hammond Marina.

Das Zeltlagermanie was a fairly basic boat. It didn’t have either a wheel or roller furling. For those of you who don’t know anything about sailboats, that means we steered with a tiller and had to leave the cockpit to put the sails up and down. Steering was Roland’s job.

Putting the sails up, trimming them, and taking them down again was my job. The mainsail remained attached to the boom all summer but had to be raised by hand while standing at the mast. Although the boat came with a jib, we had to purchase a genoa, which is a larger headsail for lighter winds. We would choose either the jib or the genoa depending on the weather, and I would attach it before we left the marina. Then I had to go forward and raise it after raising the main. The picture shows me getting ready to raise the headsail. If you look on the right, you can see that the main is already up.

After spending about four hours on our boat with a private instructor, we felt ready to go out on our own. The first year, however, we didn’t attempt any overnight trips.

That came the following year, in August 1993. We planned to sail up to Holland, Michigan where my parents lived. Roland and the children were going to leave on Thursday and I would take the train to Michigan City after work and meet them there. However, thunderstorms prevented them from leaving on Thursday, so we all left together on Friday. That day had heavy fog and no wind, so we mostly motored to Michigan City. With less fog but still no wind on Saturday, we only made it as far as St. Joseph, Michigan, and called my parents to pick us up. After our visit, we returned to the boat and headed home.

The weather indications were deceptive on the way to Michigan City, so we kept changing sails from the genoa to the jib and back again before we finally decided that there wasn’t even enough wind for the genoa. It was our first experience changing headsails while under way, and we discovered that we were pretty good at it. In fact, I missed that job when we moved up to a boat with roller furling. Raising the sails was easier on Freizeit but not nearly as much fun.

We finally managed to get a good sail in the last day of our trip as we went from Michigan City to Hammond.

By 1995, we were ready to take a longer trip. But that’s a story for next time.

A Windless Day

Monday, September 19, 2016

The “sail” that hooked us on sailing wasn’t a sail at all. It was a very long, windless day on Lake Superior with five adults and four children crammed into my brother’s 18-foot Precision sailboat, Scheherezade.

We had joined up with my parents, brothers, sister-in-law, niece, and nephew to visit Washburn, Wisconsin, where my father grew up. They stayed in a motel, but we camped at the nearby Red Cliff Indian Reservation. We soon discovered that my first-cousin-once-removed Mike Keur and his family happened to be camping there, too. Mike’s daughters surrounded Caroline in age (one a year older and one a year younger), and Caroline and John enjoyed playing with them.

My older brother, Donald, had brought his sailboat, and he offered to take the Camps and the Keurs sailing around the Apostle Islands. It sounded good to us, so five adults and four children crammed into his 18-foot boat and took off.

There was very little wind when we left. We tried putting the sails up, but they didn’t do us any good. Although Donald hadn’t topped off his gas tank, he thought he had plenty because the wind was sure to come up in the afternoon. This was Lake Superior, after all. So we motored to Oak Island, where we ate our lunch and “mountain” climbed up a short cliff using a rope that was there for the purpose. The children had a great time. But when we got back on the boat, there was still no wind.

Donald was confident that the wind would blow later in the afternoon, so we motored to Raspberry Island and visited the old lighthouse there. Then we headed for home. Still no wind, and Donald had to motor very slowly to make the most of the little gas remaining. We had eaten all the food on board long before, and we were all hungry. Donald had a port-a-potty but no place to put it except in the cabin. Although we promised we wouldn’t look, the girls were too embarrassed to use it.

We were running on fumes by the time we found a yacht club with a gas pump and a restroom. Unfortunately, the facilities were only open to yacht club members. When they saw the children, however, they took pity on us and let us get gas and use the toilet.

Those needs had been met, but we were still hungry. It was 9:00 p.m. by the time we got back, and we all headed to town for pizza.

Then Roland said he wanted to buy a sailboat. I had two conditions: that it have an enclosed head and a galley where we could keep extra food in case we got caught out on the water at mealtime.

In spite of the mishaps, we enjoyed the peacefulness that comes with sailing. (And we had gone on a short sail a couple of days earlier where we actually sailed, so we weren’t basing our decision entirely on that one long day.)

So we bought our own boat, and the adventures began.


The first picture shows Donald, the Camps, and the Keurs on Oak Island. The second shows Caroline and John on Scheherezade.

Sell the Boat but Keep the Memories

Monday, September 12, 2016

After 25 years of sailing, Roland and I are headed for dry dock. In other words, we are selling our sailboat with no plans to replace it. For the last few years, we have spent more time maintaining it than sailing it. As we grow older, we are also more uncomfortable sailing in heavy weather (or even lightly heavy weather) than we used to be. So the time has come to sell the boat.

But we are keeping the memories.

Although this is a writing blog, I’m going to detour from writing advice for the next few weeks in favor of those memories. A detour, but not a change in destination. After all, one of the purposes of this blog is to encourage people to write down their memories. Maybe you can get some tips from reading mine.

Listed by year, here are a few of the highlights:

  • 1991—This is the year we “caught the bug” while spending a windless day on Lake Superior in my brother’s sailboat.
  • 1992—We purchased our first boat, a used 23-foot Beneteau First 235, which we named Das Zeltlagermanie (Camp Mania).
  • 1993—Our first overnight sailing trip took us to Michigan.
  • 1995—We drove the boat to DeTour Village, Michigan with a plan to sail the North Channel. The plan didn’t work out, but that’s a story for another post.
  • 2002—Goodbye, Das Zeltlagermanie, hello, Freizeit (Free Time). We moved up to a new 34-foot Beneteau 331.
  • 2003—A trip to Milwaukee inaugurated our new boat.
  • 2007—We finally made it to the North Channel.
  • 2008—Freizeit became our temporary home after the remnants of Hurricane Ike flooded us out of our permanent one.
  • 2011—Our vacation took us sailing up the eastern coast of Lake Michigan. Although we didn’t know it at the time, this turned out to be our last extended trip. We planned another one—twice—but it was cancelled because of equipment failures.
  • 2016—Goodbye, Freizeit.

The boat at the top of the page is Freizeit, and the one at the bottom is Das Zeltlagermanie. Both boats created unforgettable memories.

Next week I’ll talk about the “sail” that started it all.

Foreshadow It

Monday, September 5, 2016

Have you ever read a book where a weapon magically appeared in the protagonist’s hands just when he or she needed it most? That’s okay if the protagonist has been set up as a magician who can create things out of thin air, but it doesn’t work for ordinary men and women.

That’s an extreme example, of course, but less egregious errors abound. A mother goes to the medicine cabinet and takes out an infrequently prescribed medication that just happens to cure her son’s rare disease. Or a seemingly frail and defenseless protagonist saves the day by using karate to disarm the antagonist. These sudden surprises don’t heighten the tension—they simply lessen the scene’s believability.

If a character is going to use a particular object or skill at a crucial point in the book, use foreshadowing to make the scene realistic. Provide a reason for the medication to be in the medicine cabinet. Show us the protagonist earning her black belt. A few words may be enough, but they must be there.

One of my plot twists in Creating Esther involves a fire escape and a canvas bag. When the scene begins, Ishkode grabs the bag and surreptitiously borrows a key to unlock the door to the fire escape. But how does she know where the bag and the key are? This knowledge shouldn’t come out of thin air any more than a weapon should. I solved that problem by providing the answers in advance.

Accounting for the whereabouts of the key was easy. I simply added an earlier scene with a fire drill, where the matron pulls out her key chain and unlocks the door. That scene worked with the story even standing alone because it showed the conditions at the school. But I also used it to foreshadow two separate plot twists.

The canvas bag was more of a problem. I didn’t want Ishkode grabbing a bag that she hadn’t noticed before, and I didn’t want it suddenly appearing in a convenient place, either. So what did I do? I threw a brief mention into an earlier chapter. Ishkode is sweeping a floor when a messenger tells her that a friend is seriously ill and asking for her. This paragraph follows:

In a rush to leave, Ishkode threw the broom into the closet and knocked a canvas bag off a shelf. Not waiting to pick it up, she ran out of the room, then slowed down before entering the infirmary. Aamoo mustn’t know how worried Ishkode was.

That’s the only mention of the canvas bag until the scene where it becomes important. The reader will probably even forget about it in the meantime. But this brief paragraph answers the question of how Ishkode knew where to find the canvas bag when she needed something to hold—

No, I won’t tell you what she put in the bag. That gives away too much of the plot.

If you want to keep your scenes realistic, plant uncommon objects and skills before you need them.

Your readers will appreciate it.


The photograph at the head of this post shows a fire escape at the now abandoned Mount Pleasant Indian Boarding School. I took the picture last year on my research trip to Ojibwe country.