Chapter 1

I grew up in Michigan ... summers in Pentwater on Lake Michigan, and school time was Saint Johns. Saint Johns is smack dab in the middle of the Lower and 20 miles due north of the state capitol.

It's an itty bitty town ... five thousand two hundred eighty souls. Denver is a mile high and Saint Johns was a mile of people: Claim to fame is the county seat and the GTRR ... other interesting facts include Glacial Till and gravelpits ... oh ... and spearmint and peppermint oil.

As towns go, it's a good one ... folks left the keys in the ignition and the housedoors unlocked.

School is school ... students are students ... and we all know that tune. May 15th, the bell rang and we were released to our parents custody until the day after Labor Day ... the seventh of September no matter when it fell. Well, except the weekend.

My house is a block and a half from the high school and I set records getting home ... because ... the car was packed and waiting for the drive to Pentwater and the summer cottage.

The summer cottage.

Ten thousand eight hundred square feet ... not including the floored and insulated attic or the twenty by twenty cupola over the southwest front corner. Three stories tall and across the street from the Yacht Club entrance.

The cupola looked straight out the channel that connected the big lake to Pentwater lake ... and this year my dad said I was old enough and experienced enough to work the Chicago to Mackinaw race ... if I could find someone to let me crew.

My sailing experience started in 1950 when I was eight. The classes were Twenty dollars for the summer and the Club supplied the eight foot dinghies called prams. If a student wanted to move up to more competitive classes ... well ... daddy had to supply the boat.

So ... the first day I had to swim fifty feet without a lifejacket ... that was easy. I had to swim because I was one of the gifted unfortunates who CANNOT float. My bones are too thick and heavy. The swimming seemed unfair because the rules clearly stated:

1. At all times students must wear and have secured their Certified U.S.C.G. approved life jackets.

2. There will be no horseplay around equipment and class area. Use of profanity prohibited.

3. If for any reason you are separated from the fleet or cannot sail your boat back to the dock; always stay with your boat. No "on purpose" tip over's allowed unless instructed to do so by your instructor. Never jump out of your boat unless instructed to do so by the instructor. Obey whistle warnings at all times. (Instruction will be given first day of class on whistle meanings.)

4. All students will be required to stay until their boat and equipment is stored or handled as instructed.

5. No jewelry allowed.

6. We Highly recommend wearing water shoes/sandals during class.

7. In case of inclement weather and class is cancelled there will be a notice posted on white dock box next to building. Rain, extremely high winds and temps below 60 degrees are common reasons class is cancelled.

8. A student may be asked to sit out a lesson if behavior warrants it, the parent will be notified. All students must "check out" with instructor before leaving during or at the end of class.

9. MANDATORY CLOTHING AND EQUIPMENT : Certified Coast Guard approved P.F.D. types I-III. We have a few available, but if you have your own it would be best to bring it.

10. No shorts or teeshirts. Deck shoes only.

11. Suggested: Sunscreen, towel, sunglasses and hat.

12. Students should also dress appropriately for weather: i.e. on cool days students may want to bring a hooded sweatshirt. Please bring an extra set of clothes so the student can change if their sailing clothing gets wet.

The unfairness of it all is that rule number one; At all times students must wear and have secured their Certified U.S.C.G. approved life jackets. I mean ... if I have to wear the damn lifejacket all the time ... why learn to swim? But I did it last summer at the community pool ... first thing in the morning ... when the water was a few degrees below freezing. I noticed that the instructors stayed out of the pool and taught from the deck.

Rule number one pissed my sister off beyond belief ... she can't swim. Grace never learned to sail because of rule number one. Suited me just fine.

The Optimist Pram is a fairly new boat. Designed to be built outta three sheets of plywood and gaff rigged it was a single hander and slow as molasses in February.

When we ... mom and I ... signed me up for lessons, the club youth director said, "We'll see how he does. But if he's like most of our junior sailors he'll want his own boat. Mrs. Austin! There's no need for the look, I'm just saying what history has proven true."

"I don't want him out on the water at all. It's dangerous. But Charles has spoken and he's here." She gave me a little cuff on the ear. "We're just across the street," she pointed at the early 20th century monstrosity, "So if there's problems..." She stopped there and the director nodded.

"Yes. Ma'am," he said.

The Yacht Club was tiny ... but it had a bar, and a bandstand ... just enough room for an accordion player, a tuba and drums. Dancing Friday and Saturday nights. Right this minute there was an old man teaching a kid smaller than me how to assemble the jig ... he said it ... I had no idea, the jig the club used to make sure all the Optimist prams were exactly the same.

"Hi Artie, whatchadoin'?"

"Building a boat for next summer."

What does a guy say to that? It was obvious he was doing it.

"The whole thing?"

"Yup ... my grandpa is gonna learn me the tools."

Holy Shit!

The grey headed old guy just nodded his head.

Then I noticed a stack of precut parts, "Yeah Artie ... what's with the already cut parts?"

"I'm building the fleet," said the old guy. "Arthur is going to build his out of those three sheets of four by eight marine ply." He pointed at some very nice but thin mahogany plywood.

Holy Shit! (I believe I thought that earlier.)

The junior director took me up to the bar, sat me on a stool and gave me a test. I had been studying for this test all winter ... TERMS and TERMINOLOGY.

Seagoing stuff: lines and cables and halyards and stoppers and winches and standing rigging, running rigging, leeches, battens, booms, yards, masts, dagger boards, outhauls, downhauls, rudders. I had to show him on a model and drawings. I passed.

He finished checking my work ... took off his pants, shoes and shirt and took me by the collar and out the door. He had swimming trunks on under his clothes

Then he took me to the dock and threw me in the lake. I had to swim to the other end of the dock and climb up the ladder ... and go home.

Evidently, mom knew I was coming because she was standing on the porch with the hose and a pile of towels and dry clothes. I was already soaked ... she just made me wetter. First time I saw her laugh.

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / mt/ft / Teenagers / Horror / Slow / School /