Thursday, June 2, 2011


Yesterday I said that every sailor sets out standing one the shoulders of those who have gone before.

A few of those in my life:

I already mentioned my uncle. Officer in the German army in WWII. Hated the Germans, even before his legs were blown off by a landmine, and moved to Switzerland where he redefined the concept of disabled by eliminating the “dis.” He defied cripples, he denied he was one, and refused to live in a wheel chair, even though walking with a simple, elegant cane meant he couldn’t walk much more than a hundred meters.

Sailing saved him. It gave him a sport he could enjoy and it returned to him the respect he imagined he had lost along with his legs. In return, he decided to save others with sailing. He wanted to start the first-ever sailing school for the disabled. The yacht clubs on Lake Constance all got together and blocked his efforts. They didn’t like the image of wheelchairs and crutches raining on their privileged parade. He took the case to court and eventually won.

The sailor before him was his grandfather, who drowned when his boat got into bad weather while sailing in the Baltic sea. He had his son (my uncle’s uncle) with him at the time and he drowned too. My great-grandfather was 62 and my grand uncle was 26 when they drowned. That numerological fact is inscribed on their gravestone in northern Germany.

Yes, it has occurred to me that when I am 62 my daughter Zoe will be 26. Should we avoid sailing together that year? Or by avoiding fate, do we tempt it to find other creative means to impose its will? (Zoe, you have another decade to think about that one.)

Other influences: In my twenties, my friend Joel, whose super power is to get people to do what they want, finagled me into buying a wooden lightening. A few years later, he lured me into becoming a deckhand on a windjammer in Maine.

My brother Roland is a master maneuverer. He lives in Germany and keeps his boat in Holland. He sails and motors the Jssel Sea and the canals. The canals force you to turn on dime, hold your exact position in wind while waiting for a lock, and dock with along a sea wall with barely enough room for your boat but not enough for your bowsprit so you gently place it over your neighbor’s transom, nary touching their precious vessel.

Roland taught me the tricks of maneuvering. Though the lesson was too short and once I’m over in the Med, I’ll need him back aboard to show me more.

There is one more significant persona (and he truly deserves that extra “a”) but this is long enough for now. I’ll write about him tomorrow.

Today we awoke in once wonderful, but now woeful Whitehall, NY. Yes, it still proudly pronounces to the birthplace of the US Navy, but these days you can tell that there are just a few nostaglic souls trying to keep the town alive with some planted annuals in the park which is otherwise surrounded by dilapidated and empty brick buildings. There is a laundromat, a few antique stores which sell anything from VCRs to phone chargers, but nothing the only antiques are the rusty hinges on the doors, and plastic blinders which are hanging crooked and battered.

We walked about a mile to a store to buy four gallon-jugs of water.

I lowered our stern-post which holds our radar and wind-generator because the bridges on the canal are so low.

And then I worked on our engine problem again, eliminating a loop in the fuel line which was probably trapping air and stalling our engine. We bled the engine and were ready to cast off.

Jennifer prematurely wrote 13:20 as the time. Even at the time, I told her, “It is never good to tempt the gods.” (See earlier reference.) But indeed we cast off within ten minutes, exactly at 13:20.

Only to have the motor stall out completely just as we entered the canal. A few moments of quick action and some raised heart rates later, we were able to direct our drift back to the dock and got back to work on the engine. A more serious, extended bleeding of the fuel lines was in order.

So the gods smiled when we had to amend our cast-off time to 15:50.

But it was all good. We motored by the next few hours, getting through four locks and sidled up the municipal wall in Fort Edwards.

We came for the showers. But they were shuttered. Blimey!

Maybe we finally get to shower in Albany tomorrow evening.

(Jennifer read this and says it's too much personal stuff and not enough trip. "So add some trip," I say. "Um, yeah, I'm busy right now.")

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