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“Dad… awake?”


The door to the hallway was closed, the room was dark. Dad had been tossing and turning so I figured he was having as much luck as I was falling asleep. I had my computer on top of me—if I angled the screen right, it gave off enough glow and I could see the keys. I had just finished typing what GPS stood for.

“When did you buy your first sailboat?”

Dad loved to sail. He was the one who introduced my husband Todd to sailing. Todd and my brother Ed along with their best friend Ray crewed for Dad’s client, Ensie. Dad had met Ensie when he designed Central Methodist. Ensie was the pastor of the church and had a boat named Holy Smoke.

Captain Bill, we called him. Dad sailed like he designed buildings—with great attention to the details and with boldness.

Captain Bill with the kids from Long Island Dr.

Captain Bill with the kids from Long Island Drive, our church neighborhood

“Well….,” he adjusted his mass of blankets. “The first summer after we had moved to Milwaukee we wanted to take a vacation. We still had the farm so we set up our camper behind the barn. It was fun camping on our own land with a beautiful view to the north and the west, protected by the large barn on the south, with a view of Holy Hill in the distance.

During these days, our lives were beginning to focus more on Lake Michigan, the beauty and uniqueness of the Great Lakes, along with the city of Milwaukee. It was Mom who brought up the idea of getting a sailboat. We decided to take a trip to view some of the marinas along Lake Michigan and look for boats.

We eventually settled on a twenty-seven foot Catalina, which had a cabin to sleep six and a thirty HP gasoline engine. We were told that would be adequate to make headway even in a heavy headwind. It was $17,000, and the price included the rental of the slip on the F dock in the McKinley Marina for the rest of the year. It cost as much as our house on Shepard Avenue. We didn’t have the money, so I did what I always did…went to the bank…..” Dad’s voice trailed off then. He was quiet so I turned over and we both must have dosed off.

We couldn’t have been asleep long when I was awakened by Dad’s startled voice. “Oh!” There were two aides standing in the room. “I’ve been waiting to tell you what a great job your kids did singing at church a couple weeks ago!” He said to the one preparing to take his blood pressure.

“Dad,” I squinted through the light. “That’s not Connie,” but she really did have an uncanny resemblance to the director of the children’s choir at church.

“……Well,” he said to me then, “you try waking up thinking you’ve got Connie Hendricks staring in your face….” The aide giggled. “What’s your name again?” he asked her and then thought a moment. “…Dorothy?”

“No, Darlene,” she answered and giggled some more. They’d had this exchange a couple times before.

“Oh, that’s right—Darlene. I’ve been praying for you, Darlene.” Dad said. “You’ve been on my mind.”

It was true. This is the way Dad spent his time laying in a hospital bed—praying for people. I had heard him ask the RN about Darlene earlier in the evening. He asked if she might be able to stop by because he wanted to talk to her. The RN tried to dissuade him and said, “The aides want to leave quickly when their shifts are over.”

“Darlene….?” Dad was preparing to ask her the question that was on his mind. “Do you know Jesus…?”

“What I’ve read about him in the Bible,” She responded as she finished taking his blood pressure. If this had made her uncomfortable, she didn’t show it but I could hear the two aides talking together outside the door.

“What she’s read about Him…….?” He muttered. “Well that’s not good. I have to keep praying for her. So….” He settled back in. “Now where was I? ……We found out about an A-frame cottage on the southern tip of Washington Island. We stayed there and discovered that it had a vacant lot next to it for sale. We thought this would be a perfect place for us to sail the boat to. We could rent a slip in the nearby marina.

I had already completed the coast guard sailor’s course. We thought it would be great to take a cruise up the shore of Lake Michigan, through the ships canal at Sturgeon Bay, over to Green Bay, and up to Washington Island. The boat we bought was originally named C-X-T-C, we changed it to Revelation.

The instrumentation on the boat consisted only of a compass so everything was dead reckoning, working off a chart, estimating wind speed, boat speed, etc. I had a handheld wind speed indicator. I felt comfortable with all this because it was a lot like flying by VFR (visual flight rules).

So we planned our first trip with Revelation.

As we drove to McKinley Marina, I heard the weather forecast on our car radio. It said there was a storm moving across Wisconsin. I figured we could make it as far as Port Washington so we packed up the boat, set off and headed north.

As we were approaching the harbor in Port Washington we were watching for the storm. I remember looking back to this dark cloud which made a wall of rain and storm. I thought we would make the harbor before the storm caught us but we didn’t quite do it. I pulled the sails down and we were motoring towards the harbor. We were close enough to see people standing on the breakwater at the opening to the harbor when the storm hit us.

The wind and storm was so strong that and I had no visibility. The last thing we wanted to do was sail into the breakwater so I sailed out to run with the storm. As I remember, I chose sixty-five degrees for the heading. I told Dolores to take the tiller and be sure to hold sixty-five degrees on the compass (NE) and then I marked the time. It was amazing how easily Dolores took to the tiller. If I gave her a heading, she would hold it based on the compass. I felt comfortable leaving her at the tiller as I went into the cabin to get our storm suits.

Gotta love a good sail

Gotta love a good sail.

The wind was blowing the rain horizontally right through the cabin. I came out with the suits to put on which was kind of silly because we were all wet. We sailed that course until the weather cleared. I had kept track of the number of minutes we were on that heading until the storm passed. Then we reversed course and went back to the harbor. When we motored in and docked, the people said, “Welcome!” They told us they had been so worried about us that they had waited there on the dock when our boat disappeared in the storm to see if we would make it back.

We tied up at the dock and walked up town to get something to eat. Everything was pretty wet that night but the sleeping bag was dry so we slept on the boat.

“Wow, Dad……” I laid there thinking about Mom on that boat. Mother nature is fierce and Lake Michigan is big. Mom had been raised on a farm, far from any large body of water. She never even learned how to swim and Dad had her out on a sailboat in a storm. This was just one of many sailing adventures they shared together.

Todd and I have a Pearson P28-2 sloop rigged sailboat with wheel steering. The last boat we had, had a tiller which required me to move. My idea of sailing is a nice cushion, a good book and a glass of wine. Can someone please tell me what the fascination is with coming about?

“Dad?” I asked as I returned to the reality of the small, stuffy hospital room we were in.

“Yes, Debbie?”

“We don’t have a lot of visibility right now either. Let’s run with the storm……..”

March 12, 2014

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