Today's lake level: 1071.64
Your complete online news, information, and recreation guide to Lake Lanier
Jun. 17, 2019
7:29 pm
Currently

Humidity:
Forecast

Vinnie Mendes On the Water

An immigrant's odyssey

My Armenian grandfather was born in Constantinople (now Istanbul), Turkey in the 1870s. When he was about 14 years old, the Turks were systematically eliminating the Armenian population by killing off all the men and boys and selling the women into harems (yeah, it really happened, check it out!). 
 
Papa and a friend were hanging around the docks one day when suddenly some Turkish cops approached wanting to “talk” to them. They escaped on foot and after a chase ran up the gangway of an English ship, hoping for sanctuary. The Turks wanted to come and take the boys, but the British captain would not allow them on board. The cops went back for reinforcements and the captain simply cast off the dock lines and put to sea! 
 
In the 1880s there was no such thing as radio or modern patrol boats to chase them. Haik and his friend thanked their rescuers and became part of the crew. They assumed that they were going to England on the “Boyd of London.” To their surprise, they were headed to New York. They were put to work in the galley and peeled so many potatoes that Papa swore he’d never eat one again!
 
The first stop was Gibraltar and the ship’s Purser jumped ship as soon as they docked. The Captain asked Papa if he could do “cyphers” (arithmetic) and he said “of course.” Papa had been educated in a German Military Academy, so he was good at math, and spoke several languages. He gladly left the potato peels and became the new Purser. 
 
When the ship docked in Brooklyn several weeks later, he was listed as “ship’s crew” rather than “immigrant” and thus he never came through Ellis Island. He decided to stay on in New York City. He got a job and became a US Citizen.
 
Men worked six days and got Sunday off back then. Each Sunday, Papa would take a street car out to the shore and hang out at a yacht club in Brooklyn. There happened to be a sunken boat in one of the slips, and someone said “Hey Haik, you want a boat? Get this thing to float and it’s yours.” Taking the challenge, he got his buddies together and raised the old skiff off the bottom!
 
He gradually disassembled the engine and smuggled it piece by piece back to his rooming house in a suitcase. Over the winter he rebuilt the engine. The following summer after work every Saturday, Haik and his crew would motor his boat 15 miles across lower New York Bay and up the Shrewsbury River to camp out on the beach.
 
As they passed by the hills of Highlands, NJ, he would point up to them and tell his friends how they reminded him of his family home on the Bosporus in Constantinople. He said that one day he would own a house on top of the hill with property running all the way down to the river. They all scoffed at him for having such an unattainable dream, but they enjoyed the weekend trips down to the shore.
 
Papa worked in a new science/art called Photo Engraving in its earliest days. In the 1880s this was tantamount to designing computers in the 1960s. He gradually worked his way up and wound up owning the company and starting up several other businesses. Eventually he built his “house on top of the hill with property running all the way down to the river.” This is where my mother was born, and I was raised.
 
Papa died at age 102. He was sitting at his desk giving dictation to his secretary with a cigar in his hand. It slumped down on his lap and his secretary thought he had fallen asleep. She took the cigar out of his hand and realized that he was dead. Papa had outlived three wives. He had five children, and countless grand, great-grand and great-great-grandchildren. He left $25,000 to each of his kids, $5,000 to each of the rest of us and $21 million to the Armenian church! Now this was the 1970s, when $21 million was real money! 
 
When my mother and all her brothers and sisters wanted to contest the will, I asked her, “Mom, how much money you got? The Armenian Church has $21 million to hire the best lawyers in New York, and you want to fight that?” Papa was totally lucid up to the very end and he knew exactly what he was doing. What he left us is in our genes, not in a bank account. I’m just happy to be remembered and all I’ve got to say is “Thank you, Papa.”
 
I think of him often especially when I’m out at sea or on the lake, using the natural motion of the wind and water to get me where I want to go. We all have to play the cards that we’re dealt and make the best of it.
 
 
 
 
Mendes has been sailing all his life and on Lake Lanier for the past 25 years. His family owns a marina/bar/restaurant so he has plenty of real life experiences to draw from. His favorite line: “You can’t make this stuff up.”





May 2019 column

On the lake, there be dragons!

I love to volunteer. It makes me feel good, and it’s a lot of fun. You never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll encounter that wouldn’t ordinarily cross your path.
 
One of my regular “gigs” is driving a referee boat or safety boat at the Olympic Rowing Venue in Gainesville. I arrive at 6 a.m. to be out on the water by 6:30, and usually work until after 6 at night. It’s really exciting to be “up close and personal” with all of these Olympic class athletes at their National Championship Qualifying Competition. The boats range from the one-person canoe, kayak or racing shell, to the 40-foot long eight-person shell, which can achieve speeds upward of 15 mph. 
 
The course runs for about three miles up a narrow part of the lake, with eight narrow lanes, sort of like a swim meet but much longer. The lanes are separated by small orange buoys every 20 yards or so. When viewed looking directly down the course as from Clarks Bridge, they look like airplane runway landing lights. It takes a lot of concentration to chase a bunch of boats down the course while maintaining a safe distance and staying in my lane. It’s hard to imagine the concentration required by the rowers and cox’n!
 
The venue itself is set up with bleachers allowing spectators to see the entire race course with the finish line directly in front of them. There are no “bad” seats here.
 
One of the most interesting events I’ve volunteered for are the Dragon Boats. These are 40-foot-long replicas of oriental war canoes decorated in bright colors with a dragon’s head at the bow and tail at the stern. They require a crew of 22, made up of 20 paddlers, one steer’s-person with an oar and a drummer to beat the cadence on a large bass drum.
 
It’s really exciting to see a whole line of these coming down the course neck and neck. You hear the crowd cheering and the drums beating “BOOM, BOOM, BOOM,” faster and faster as they approach the finish line. You could be on a movie set in the South Sea Islands with Clark Gable.
 
Now, a canoe is sort of a tippy boat anyway but try putting 22 people including a drummer in one and add all of the adrenalin of racing! Every once in awhile after a boat crosses the finish line in a really close race, the entire crew will stand up in the winning boat and it will capsize putting everyone in the water! (This is one of the reasons why they are all required to wear life preservers).
 
Dragon boating is purportedly the second largest sport in the world, with events held on all the continents except Antarctica. Last year the Dragon Boat Worlds were held right here in Gainesville. Among this diverse group of athletes are the members of Dragon Boat Atlanta. (Check out dragonboatatlanta.org or on Facebook) These are Breast Cancer Survivors who compete regularly all around the world. Within the past year they have competed in places such as Florence, Italy.
 
The local organization was started several years ago, modeled after other clubs around the country. Their goal is to help women move from merely surviving to thriving through support, friendship, laughter and exercise. They also increase community awareness of breast cancer issues and of the important role of exercise in maximizing quality of life after breast cancer.
 
It seems the exercise you get while paddling is not only beneficial all around, but extremely good for the muscles affected by breast cancer and members of the club have had much lower recurrence of the disease.
 
Its encounters like these that make it so much fun volunteering. Sometimes it is hard work and time consuming, but you never know what interesting people and unexpected adventures you’ll run into.
 


April 2019 column

A tugboat's odyssey

Several years ago, at my brother’s marina, Teddy, one of the regulars at the bar, came up with a scheme to outwit his three ex-wives. They were always after him for money and the instant he bought anything, (house/car/whatever), one of them would put a lien on it. 
 
He found an old wooden tugboat that had been converted into a yacht in the 1960s. She was 85 feet long and had plenty of room for living, recreation, parties etc. Teddy planned to put it into his mother’s name, moor it in the river in front of her house and live on it. It sure beat the dumpy apartment he was living in. Now Teddy ran a motorcycle shop and had a rudimentary knowledge of outboards, but knew very little about sailing, navigating and virtually nothing about big boats.
 
The only problem was the boat was located in Booth Bay Harbor, Maine, and this was November, and he had to get her down to New Jersey. Nothing insurmountable. Since there is very little to do around the marina in the winter time in NJ, my brother Hank and I decided to go on a road trip and sail her on down. Teddy also enlisted Andy, another of the regulars to come with us. I was not too confident in him as he tended to drink a bit too much but figured we could use an extra pair of hands. So, one cold November morning the four of us headed north in a rental car ready for a two-week adventure. Eight hours later, we turned in our rental car at the harbor and inspected the boat thoroughly. She was everything claimed, old but well maintained and seaworthy. 
 
We set sail the next morning and for a few days things went fairly smoothly. When we pulled into Gloucester, Mass, the harbor was very crowded. We asked a local fisherman where we could safely anchor. He directed us to a mooring and told us we could tie up there because it belonged to a “big” fishing trawler that would be out to sea for several days. We tied up and just to be on the safe side, set an anchor watch since the harbor was so crowded and the wind was picking up.
 
Andy had the four hour watch from eight to midnight. When I came to relieve him, I found him dozing in the pilothouse! While he was passed out, we had dragged the mooring half way across the harbor!
I woke my brother and we started the engine and between the two of us kept this 85-foot “battering ram” from drifting into any other boats or obstacles for the rest of the night. Of course, Teddy slept through it all! At the crack of dawn, we cast off the mooring and headed out of the harbor, hoping that the fellows who owned the “big” fishing trawler could find their mooring when they returned. (She was probably all of 40 feet long.)
 
Nothing remarkable occurred for the next two days until we got through the Cape Cod canal and entered Buzzard’s Bay. Now you must realize that this was long before GPS and other fancy navigational aids and we were navigating using a compass, binoculars and most important, a chart! The chart comes in what is called a “Chartkit” which is a soft cover book about twice the size of a loose-leaf binder. It has about 20 miles of coastline on each page with channel markers, water depths, and landmarks such as smokestacks, steeples etc. Basically, all the information you need to safely navigate from point A to point B.
 
We asked Teddy to give us the Chartkit for Buzzards Bay and South, and he said, “Oh, I didn’t get one. You guys sail around this area, so I figured you don’t need it.” Hank and I had a s*#t fit! We had sailed extensively around there with the help of a local chart! Especially since the sea bottom in New England is not the “forgiving” mud and sand we have in New Jersey. Up there you have big hard rocks! Fortunately I happened to have an Exxon road map of Rhode Island, which we used to navigate by “Braille” down to Newport, the closest place with a marine store where we could get a Chartkit!
 
Everything went smoothly after that and once we were safely tied up in our own marina, we went into the bar to celebrate. That very night, Teddy met a United Airline stewardess (yes, they preferred to be called “stewardesses” back then). She just “loved tugboats” and thought they were “so romantic” and “couldn’t wait to see it” and “couldn’t wait to go out on it” and “would love to live on one” ad nauseum!
Six weeks later they were married and as soon as that ring was on her finger, there was no way in the world she was going to set foot on that damp, smelly thing! 
 
The upshot was that Teddy moved into her condo and had to sell the boat. He made a deal with my brother to keep the tug at the marina and pay the slip fee from the proceeds once it was sold. Meanwhile we could use it whenever we pleased, just pay for the fuel! We had her for about three years and a bunch of good stories came out of her.
 
Oh, by the way, wife number four lasted about a year and then headed for greener pastures.


March 2019 column

Things are not always what they seem

Back in the mid 1980s I was living in New Jersey and sailing as much as I could both on my own boat and as crew on a J-24 with my buddy Chris and an Ericson 39. Donald Trump had just opened his “Trump Marina Casino” in Atlantic City and was sponsoring the J-24 Nationals, a major sailboat race.

It was a good deal, with the entry fee including free launching of the boat, a slip right in front of the hotel plus as many crew rooms as we wanted with a great view of the marina and bay beyond. The only down side was you had to walk all the way through the casino floor the get to your room. This would be tempting for someone with a gambling addiction but we just enjoyed the gongs and flashing lights for free.
 
I was to help Chris trail his boat down to Atlantic City and serve as winch grinder and tactician in his crew of four hard partying sailors. We set out on the 75-mile drive down the Garden State Parkway in a two-vehicle caravan with him towing the boat in the lead and me following behind in my car.
 
About a half hour into the trip, it began to look like the boat was getting closer and closer to me. I signaled him to pull over and as I had suspected, the boat had shifted back about two feet on the trailer and was in danger of falling off entirely! He did not know that someone had borrowed his trailer and reset the jacks that support the boat without telling him. We were miles away from any crane that could lift the J-24 back where it belonged. So we tied a line between each winch and the front of the trailer, tightening them as much as possible and cranking up on the rear jacks as hard as we could. I followed at a distance as he drove a few miles down the road. We pulled over to check and as we had hoped, the boat had moved forward a couple of inches. We repeated the procedure every few miles until the boat was back where she belonged and then continued safely down to A/C.
 
The racing was uneventful until the third day when we had 8 to 10 knots of breeze and a light chop. The best way to sail in those conditions was to get all the available weight sitting down on the cabin sole right on top of the keel. We did this and were doing quite well when the skipper (viewing the mass of humanity) mentioned that he was worried that we might be over the weight limit. He made sure that each time we sailed past the Race Committee boat everyone was down below leaving only him on deck as he “sucked in his gut.” We finished in second place and knew we would be challenged, so as soon as we hit the dock everyone disappeared except for the skipper who hired a couple of kids to wash down the boat as he put her away. As it was, no one challenged us on weight and we actually got away with it!
 
The wife of one of the crew members was planning to come down that night and the crew member asked me where to take her for dinner. I knew the area quite well as I had worked for a company located nearby. There is no really nice place to eat in Atlantic City so we’d take all our important clients to a four-star restaurant a few miles out of town. He made a reservation and had quite an experience. Out on the water next day all he would talk about was the amazing time they’d had last night. He gushed about the delicious food and halfway through dinner “who came and sat at the table right next too theirs but Joan Rivers and her entire entourage! She was so witty and she was so glamorous and she was so funny and she was so beautiful and he really wanted to get her autograph but didn’t have the guts to ask her ... ,” etc. This went on all afternoon until we were all happy to get off the boat, so we didn’t have to hear any more of it.
 
A week later I was on the road. I checked into my motel room and flipped on the tube. A talk show host was interviewing a bunch of female impersonators. There were Cher and Barbara Streisand and Madonna and Joan Rivers! They were all doing a gig in Atlantic City! They explained that they were paid a ridiculous amount of money to cavort around on stage in drag. They had some funny stories about going out on the town in costume after the show and how people would react. I never told my friend.
 
Why shatter his illusion?


February 2019 column

Memories of ice boating (aka hard water sailing)

Ice boats have been around for about 200 years. No one knows the name of the Dutchman who first thought of putting a sail on a set of runners on a frozen canal in Holland, but it wasn’t much of a stretch up from ice skates. The sport came to this country with the Dutch settlement in New York and worked its way up the Hudson River as a method of moving cargo and passengers when the river was frozen.

As people gradually got more free time, the commercial aspect gave way to recreation, even President Franklin D. Roosevelt had an ice boat he used to sail up and down the Hudson, racing the railroad trains whose tracks ran parallel to the shore. It is still on display in the FDR Museum in Hyde Park, NY. The upstate cities such as Albany and Utica have switched their winter heating fuel from train delivered coal to tanker delivered oil, so, unfortunately for ice boaters, the Coast Guard breaks up the ice on the Hudson River.
 
One of the exciting things about sailing on ice is that there is very little resistance to forward motion. The faster you go into the wind, the faster the wind comes at you so the faster you go etc. Last time I checked the world speed record for an iceboat was 147 mph! 
 
In wintertime around my brother’s marina there was very little to do once all the boats have been hauled out and winterized. So many years ago a few friends and I pooled our spare change and bought an old wooden ice boat. She was built around 1900 and was 26 feet long, with a 30-foot mast and could seat several people. Her name was “Fleetwood.” We spent the late fall restoring her varnish and mending the sails and rigging. 
 
When the river finally froze, we assembled her and went out for the maiden voyage. We were running along nicely at about 20 mph with no sound but the hiss of the runners on the ice and the groaning of the old hemp ropes in the rigging. Suddenly, a puff of wind came along and instantly shredded the old cotton sail. Within a week we had recut an old Dacron sail that came off an “E” Scow and were back on the ice.
 
So once again as we silently sailed along, another puff came, and the old wooden mast exploded into a million toothpicks! I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be doing 20 mph across the ice trying to kill speed by going around in circles while leaving a trail of splinters and dragging the remnants of your mast and sail behind you! 
 
It’s fortunate to have a brother with a marina because he happened to have a 35-foot aluminum mast that had tangled with a bridge. We hacksawed the bent end off, spray painted it brown and while the paint was still wet, we dragged crumpled newspapers along to give it a wood grain look. We transferred the rigging and were good to go!
 
Another memorable incident happened several years later when a winter storm deposited six inches of snow on top of the ice. It was the week before the town was going to have their Winter Carnival with ice skating and hockey competitions, ice sculptures, and basically anything concerned with winter sports. The ice under the snow was 21 inches thick, more than enough to support the town’s snow plows. They cleared an area a mile wide and several miles long down the middle of the river and the carnival went ahead as scheduled. 
 
A few weeks later we had a thaw and although the ice was still plenty thick, there was about an eighth of an inch of water on top of it. We were cruising along at a good clip with me at the tiller and a nice stretch of clear ice in front of us when suddenly a couple of kids skated right out in our path. I quickly changed course to avoid hitting them and the starboard runner hit a frozen pile of snow left behind by the plows and stopped! I had been hanging onto the tiller with one hand and the handrail that ran down the center of the cockpit with the other. My hand was suddenly jerked free of the tiller, and the handrail I was gripping snapped as I went flying across the ice on my back for several hundred yards.

When I finally came to a stop, I was soaking wet and still clutching the piece of broken handrail! I got no sympathy from my friends who were all laughing their heads off, telling me how I looked flying across the ice leaving a rooster tail! All I could say was “You should have seen it from this side!”


January 2019 column

Sailing into the new year

I spent the early part of my life up north on the coast of New Jersey. There the sailers cherished the months between April, when with luck you could put your boat in the water, and October, when you had to haul her out. The winter was a dismal time when we thought about getting ready for the next sailing season. If we were lucky, the river would freeze over hard enough to get some ice boating in, but that only happened every other year.
 
When we moved down here about 25 years ago due to a job transfer, we had some friends who had moved from Cape Cod the year before, after selling their Island Packet 33. They told us that “There’s no sailing in Atlanta, there’s only one tiny little lake and there’s no wind and its wall to wall power boats.” They retired from sailing and got into “lawn maintenance” i.e. gardening, then moved up the line to head of the Homeowner’s Association!
 
I had reluctantly left my Tartan 36 One Ton racing sailboat at my brother’s marina and came down to check the area out. My wife’s older brother, an Atlanta native, showed me around Lake Lanier in January – I thought I had died and gone to Heaven! That afternoon, I arranged to have my Tartan hauled down here and then started looking for a place to live. (A guy must have his priorities!) It turns out that there are at least five sailing/yacht clubs on the lake with racing every weekend, and several evenings during the week in the summer. The first race is New Years Day and the last is the Saturday between Christmas and New Years.
 
My Tartan is a One Ton Ocean Racer designed to race long distances in the open ocean – with a crew of 13. (The “One Ton” refers to a mathematical formula taking into account the overall length, waterline length, beam, displacement and sail area yielding a final figure that comes out in tons. The number has little to do with what she actually weighs.) Before I acquired her, she had sailed on the SORC and competed twice in the Newport to Bermuda Race. Needless to say, she was not a perfect lake boat but we did campaign her for several years on Lake Lanier and won our share of trophies.
 
In recent years we have just sailed her for pleasure and now I crew for other people on their boats to add to my excitement. The one race I do compete in with my boat is the Barefoot Sailing Club’s New Years Day Poker Run. We’ve sailed in that event every year for the past 25 except twice when the wind speed was higher than the temperature and the Race Committee wisely canceled it.
 
The race itself is just a good excuse for a party, and I always have about 15 people aboard, both hardcore sailers and neophytes, and everyone brings eggnog, champagne, beer and of course rum along with more hors d’ouvres than you can possibly imagine. 
 
We sail around collecting cards that had been taped to the buoys to see who can get the highest poker hand and win top prize, which is usually a bottle of champagne. To discourage cheating, the cards are in sealed non-see thru envelopes, and color coded as well as numbered to show which buoy they came from.
 
Afterward at the awards party, the Race Committee opens the envelopes and the suspense adds to the excitement. Finally, the winner is declared and he or she has earned bragging rights for the remainder of the year.
 
In my mind, the best part of the day is starting the year off out on the water with a group of friends. 
Sailing on New Year’s Day sure beats the hell out of sitting on your rear end in front of the TV!


December 2018 column

The great parasail invasion

A parasail is a specially cut parachute that is designed to be towed behind a boat in the fashion of water skis, except instead of being on the surface of the water you’re at the end of a tow rope about 150 feet above it! Back in the early 1980s very few people had seen or even heard about a parasail until one was featured in a James Bond movie. (I may have mentioned that my brother owns a marina and bar on the Jersey Shore that is THE place to go in the summertime and during the winter attracts a faithful gang of locals somewhat similar to the old “Cheers.”) 
 
The gang at the marina saw the movie and we all thought it would be a cool toy to play with. My brother Hank and I were both single at the time, so we thought it would also be a way to attract members of the opposite sex.
 
We located an outfit in California that made parasails and ordered one. It seemed to take forever to arrive and when it finally got there it was the beginning of April and the water was still pretty cold. Since I was the only one with a wetsuit that fit me, I as chosen to take the first flight.
 
Now commercial parasail outfits have specially adapted boats that have a wide platform to stand on during takeoff and landing, and a winch to retrieve the flier (or sailer) at the end of the flight so they never get their feet wet. Since we didn’t have such a vessel, we had to take off from a beach facing directly into the wind, while three people hold the chute open, the tow boat accelerates, and you theoretically take off much like a water skier, except that you’re standing on the beach. At the end of the flight, the boat simply slows and you gently drift down into the water … theoretically.
 
We studied the instruction manual intently, then located a suitable launching site on a nearby island. On a bright Sunday afternoon we all went out to where the great event was going to take place. It took two trips in our 19-foot Boston Whaler since in addition to the launch crew we had about 15 spectators who wanted to be part of the action.
 
On the first attempt I was dragged across the beach stopping just short of the water. On the second try I was dragged into the water (and it WAS cold!) On the third attempt, the tow rope came taut, I took three steps and was airborne! WOW! I shot up into the sky like a rocket! What an ethereal experience! 
 
In total silence I could look down on everything for miles around. I was suspended under the parasail, snugly strapped into the harness, flying above the startled seagulls and I could clearly see the river bottom with the sand bars, seaweed and even an occasional sunken boat below me. Now for the tricky part: the happy landing. As the tow boat decelerated I came gently down into the water and they cast off the tow rope and circled around to pick me up.
 
We went back to the launch site and everyone thought I was a celebrity, however undeserving. After a couple of beers, we decided to take another flight. The takeoff went much more smoothly than the first and I was beginning to feel that we could do this as regular entertainment sending the entire gang aloft once the weather got warmer. As I confidently sailed along 150 feet above the water, I noticed that my brother Tim, driving the boat, was not paying attention to the channel markers and was heading into shallow water. I tried signaling and yelling as loud as I could to no avail and the next thing I knew the boat ran aground stopping instantly.

Now a parasail is designed to hold a person aloft while being towed forward. When the forward towing force stops, it does not have enough lift to keep the person up and comes down like a stone! This wouldn’t have been a problem if we had been over deep water, but it was my luck to land in 18 inches of water on a top of a sandbar! OOF! I gave it the classic parachute landing hitting with my feet, ankles, knees, hips and shoulders and rolling to absorb the shock, but it still feels like I’m two inches shorter than I used to be!
 
We decided to call it a day and headed back to the launch site to pick up the gang, only to find two Marine Police boats waiting for us. They had gotten about a dozen phone calls from concerned citizens reporting everything from a plane crash to a paratrooper invasion! (This happened to be during the Falkland Islands War when Argentina invaded the British owned islands in the south Atlantic). We told them we weren’t Argentinians, we were Pollocks which seemed to satisfy them, but then they wanted to inspect the boat to see if we had enough life vests. When everyone told them that the gang had been ferried there in two trips they let us alone.
 
Now back to the marina and bar for a handful of Advils washed down with copious amounts of Irish Coffee! 
 


November 2018 column

Being judgemental has consequences

One of my faults (although I prefer to call them “character traits”) is that I’m  prone to prejudge people when I first meet them and therefore probably miss out on a lot.
 
One incident that comes to mind occurred years ago when I owned a 40-foot wooden yawl. She was built of cedar planks over oak ribs in the Lawley yard at Neponset, Mass. in 1916. Of course she required a bit of maintenance and each year spent some time hauled out in the shipyard. During one of these haulouts I was taking a break and sitting around BS-ing with some of the ship’s carpenters, when this one old guy says “I went sailing once and I’ll never do it again.” All I could think of was “Here comes another boring story about how the boat heels too much or it’s too much work or the wind died etc, etc.” 
 
But when he explained that he had gotten a job oystering aboard a 70-foot skipjack in the Chesapeake my ears perked up! As a student at the University of Maryland I had worked oystering on the Chesapeake during one summer “break.” 
 
He said that on his first day on the boat, as they sailed home with a full catch he, “the new kid” was given the helm with the advice “mind the nets.” It seemed simple. You just turn the wheel and the boat goes anywhere you want while the crew adjusts the sails. He didn’t notice any nets around.
 
Now in the shallow areas of the Chesapeake there used to be a lot of what were called “gill nets” or “pound nets,” that is long fishing nets strung between poles driven into the bottom. They had a funnel shaped entrance, so the fish swam into them at high tide and couldn’t find their way out. At low tide, fishermen would come by and simply scoop up the trapped fish. They weren’t very visible at flood high tide. 
 
Since he didn’t know to look out for them, he soon sailed the boat right into the middle of one.  The skipjack came to a sudden stop with a jolt and the splintering of wood! One of the submerged poles had punched up thru the hull amidships!
 
You can imagine how scared the new guy was thinking the boat would sink and it was all his fault. But the rest of the crew sprang into action just like a NASCAR pit crew. They dropped the jib and unsnapped it from the forestay, then two of them hauled it under the bow of the boat pulling it back to where the pole pierced the hull, as a third man kept tension on the jib sheets from the bow, thus keeping the sail taut as it was dragged under the hull.

(The pole was acting as a cork keeping most of the water from rushing in and sinking the boat). Meanwhile the skipper sawed off the protruding end of the pole flush where it came through the hull, then hit it a mighty blow with a sledge hammer which drove it out of the hole, and before much water could rush in, the crew pulled the jib farther aft thus sealing the hole! (His job had been to man the bilge pump.)
 
Then they backed the mainsail and by shifting weight and fending off the rest of the poles they got free of the gill net and sailed home. Needless to say, the next day he was looking for another job that didn’t involve boats or oysters.
 
This is absolutely my favorite “sea disaster” story, heard first hand from a participant, and I had almost missed it! You never know what you can learn by keeping your mouth shut and your ears open!
 
Copyright © 2011 Lakeside News. Internet Marketing Company: Full Media (CS)