Following is an excerpt from chapter 1 of “Emerging Son.” Another excerpt will be posted tomorrow. See the end of the December 14 post for information about ordering your copy of this engaging memoir.
We opened the sailing season that year like we had before – in the community room at one of the city parks. Early each spring, the Minneapolis Park Board conducted a lottery for the buoys on the lakes. During the winter, sailboat owners registered with the Park Board to get in on the drawing. As the names were pulled from a hat, boat owners got to choose the buoy they wanted for the summer. If you didn’t show up for the drawing, the Park Board gave you whatever buoy was left over at the end of the lottery. These were the worst buoys on the lake, the ones farthest from the sailing dock requiring the longest tender boat ride. Dad and I considered the acquisition of a well-placed buoy to be absolutely essential to having a good summer. Attendance at the lottery was very important and we prayed for weeks leading up to the event that our names would be drawn early. On our way to the lottery that evening, neither of us said a word. Our fate lay before us and there was nothing we could do about it.
We arrived to a crowded room and the drawing soon began. The first name was announced and it was not ours. The winner leapt out of his chair and raced up to the map displayed at the front of the room. The lucky sailor drove a pin through the best buoy on the lake – No. 1, located only a few feet from the sailing dock. His summer in paradise was set; he’d get all the benefits of a city lake mooring without much of the work. More names were drawn and happy boat owners eagerly claimed their prize positions on the lake. Sometimes the moderator drew the name of a no-show. “He’ll be sorry,” my dad muttered just loud enough for me to hear.
Finally the man drawing the names called “Frank Bengtson.” Dad and I rushed to the front of the room and selected a buoy in the middle of the pack. The one we got was far enough from shore that we wouldn’t have to worry about fishermen casting into our boat, yet close enough to the dock that we wouldn’t wear ourselves out rowing to and from our boat. With a decent buoy placement, I figured we could have a pretty good summer.
The Rose Anne proved easy to sail and like Myron’s boat, it was designed to heel. On a good run, the high side of the hull would rise out of the water and the boat would pick up speed. I learned just how far I could push the Rose Anne before she would begin to lose speed and even tip over. In fact, I eventually learned to tip the boat on purpose and right it by myself without getting wet. As the boat was going over, I’d climb over the high side of the hull and stand on the sideboard. My weight would reverse the momentum of the boat and she would begin to right. As the mast came up out of the water, I’d climb back into the cockpit, my foot leaving the sideboard just as the hull would come crashing back on top of the water. Dad was so impressed by this little maneuver that he asked me to do it in front of the sailing dock where he captured it on film with his Super-8 movie camera.
Sailing brought me life. The sound and smell of the lake water mixed with the warmth of the sun on my lean teenage body and made me high. A city lake is a wonderful place for a teen to be in the summer. How many people were watching the Rose Anne from shore, perhaps a little jealous? How many were looking at me, this kid who happened to be lucky enough to have a dad bit by the sailing bug? Maybe no one, in fact, but in my mind it was everyone and I liked the celebrity status. I liked that I could sail the boat by myself. I wasn’t dependent upon someone else.
Melanie, my high school sweetheart, came from a sailing family, her father keeping a boat on a large lake west of the cities. The first time I took her sailing on Lake Nokomis she wore a yellow, two-piece bathing suit. She knew how to sail, moving from one side of the boat to the other, depending on the wind. Another time, Melanie and her parents took me sailing on their lake. I would hate to have to choose between a girlfriend and a sailboat but that summer I had both and it seemed like heaven.
Myron and I would sometimes race, as the Calypso and the Rose Anne were evenly matched. The Calypso had a jib but the Rose Anne had a slightly bigger mainsail. Myron and I would sail along, our boats only a foot or two apart. The upwind boat had a slight advantage if it was positioned directly in the path of the wind for the other boat. If you could steal the wind from the downwind boat, it would lose speed and the upwind boat could race ahead. Sometimes we devised a racecourse made up of several legs. The trick was to figure out how to complete the course with as few tacks as possible. While Myron and I might start out with our boats a few feet apart, we often ended up on opposite sides of the lake by the middle of the race depending on where each of us decided to turn for a new tack.
Although a sailor is completely dependent upon the wind, I found that a good afternoon of sailing actually has very little to do with the wind. I had fun regardless of whether the wind was whistling at 15 miles an hour or barely stirring. Apparently, it’s not so much the power of the wind that matters but what you do with it.
I don’t know if Dad ever realized how much his investment in a sailboat paid off for me. Sailing taught me lessons at a young age that I have carried with me all my life. You can’t control the wind, and the best sailors don’t complain about it. They focus on the things they can control, making adjustments that help make the most of their situation. Sometimes, a sailor encounters an unexpected shift in the wind that other sailors avoid. Yet, if you react to the shift correctly, it doesn’t always slow you down. It may, in fact, prove to be just what you need.
tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.
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