*A new location for past due news!
I had a buddy with a fishing boat, and one afternoon towards the end of August he let me go with him and some friends for a ride on Lake Superior. We went out from the Wisconsin side of Lake Superior and when we got to deep enough water he started to set up fishing lines. Catching a Lake Superior fish was still on my bucket list and, even though I hate to admit it, there wouldn’t have been any better fisherman to know how to catch one than Jason. In fact, before he even had all of his lines set, one of the poles had a fish on!
Jason looked at me steering the boat and pointed to the rod saying, “Reel ‘er in.”
One of the other gals stood up and said, “I’ll steer! You can catch the fish!”
To my own surprise I shook my head and laughed, “Nah. You guys catch the fish.”
“Come on, this is your fish!” he encouraged while I kept shaking my head. Still pointing at the bouncing rod his tone became annoyed, “This is exactly what you wanted.''
I wanted to catch a fish, not reel in someone else’s fish. It felt like cheating, and the thought of catching his fish was even worse. So, another friend caught what turned out to be a twenty-six inch lake trout! She reeled, and when the fish got close enough to the boat he scooped it into the net. They landed ‘er on the back of the boat and we all laughed in excitement. I decided that the experience was close enough to catching a Lake Superior fish for my bucket list standards, which meant I only had one thing left to do: sailing.
Being out on the great wide endlessness of the Lake was surreal, like being inside of a painting and wondering how the artist could make it look so lifelike. Looking South I could see the familiar Wisconsin shoreline, but the trees that towered over me when we stood beside one another looked like little toys. To the North I saw the water spill out across the horizon for miles until it met the sky and I just kept thinking, “this can’t be real.” As the sun creeped closer and closer to the West, it beamed down and stretched across the top of the still water. Only a few white clouds offered an accent to the blue sky above us. It was beautiful, and I told my fishing boat mates that being out on Lake Superior would be the perfect place to watch the sunset. When you’re in Duluth, the sunsets over a hill covered by buildings and roads, and when you’re in the forest, the sun sets somewhere behind all of the trees where you can’t see. On the water, however, I imagined that we could have actually watched the sun fall entirely behind the horizon with no interruptions: a real sunset.
We boated back into the marina to clean their catch. Raising the palm of my hand to the sky I estimated there would be about an hour until sunset. Being that it was about an hour drive back home, I decided I would start driving and watch it set from the beach before settling in for the night myself.
I gathered my things and started saying my goodbyes when a man came charging down the dock and climbed onto a sailboat in the slip across from ours! The hustle and bustle of his demeanor was sporadic but purposeful and it reminded me of the Madhatter! He hurried back to his car, grabbing things quickly from the backseat and quickly carrying them back to the sailboat. He changed from day pants into cargo pants and put on a sweatshirt. Again he raced back to the vehicle for things I assume he had forgotten and then again back to the boat. He was a madman on a mission, and naturally I was curious.
“Are you going sail boating right now?” I shout to him from across the dock.
“Yeah!” He shouted back excitedly without looking up from his hurry.
With exaggerated and indirect interest I shouted back, “Oh! Wow! That’s gotta be SO much fun!”
“Yeah! Sure is!”
I went back and forth as to whether I should invite myself to go with him or just keep hoping that he’d invite me himself, which in hindsight is crazy because what stranger is going to invite another stranger to go sailing on their boat? The “what-ifs” began to accumulate, but in a moment my endless internal conflict rested, and my heart and brain and all my bones agreed that this was my chance to go sailing.
I bit my lip and shouted, “Are you going out for a few days? Or overnight? Or what?” I trailed off.
"No, just to watch the sunset!” He stopped the hurrying for a second and looked to the West briefly before getting back to work, “Did you feel the wind just pick up? It’s going to be a perfect sunset sail!” He shouted without ever stopping to really look at who he was talking to.
A perfect sunset sail? Yes, a perfect sunset sail! I grabbed my chest and looked at my friend's wide eyes before shouting back to the sailor, “You wouldn’t want any company on your sunset sail, would you?”
For the first time since this man arrived at the marina he stopped, turned around and looked at me surrounded by five other people on our buddy’s boat. I assume that he was trying to figure out how he could possibly fit six of us on his modest vessel and asked with hesitation, “You guys, erm- you want to go sailing?”
Instantly I shouted back, “No! They don’t want to go. I do! I would really like to go sail boating!”
He adjusted his hat and itched his head in thought. Then he opened his arms in a “why-not?” type of gesture and shrugged his shoulders, “Yeah, let’s go!”
I frantically gave my boatmates a round of excited hugs and ran to the sailboat. The sailor told me we had to move fast because we there wasn’t much time before sunset. He also told me to not get too excited because the weeds had grown over so thick by the dock and we might not even get out of the marina.
I stood on the dock next to the sail boat and nodded understandably before I told him with confidence, “I’m kind of a rookie sailor myself, so I can help! What can I do to help?”
Surprised, he asked, “You’ve been sailing before?”
“Erm - no, but I learn quickly!” I assured him.
He told me to untie the boat and give a “good” push off the dock to get us going, while he would get the little motor started. I untied all the ties and gave a good push off the dock, but we didn’t move. Frantically he was looking down at the weeds in the water and wondered why we weren’t moving. I walked back up the bow of the boat and found a tie that I had missed! I pulled the boat back towards the dock and untied it. I gave yet another good push and we started to move. The weeds weren’t too thick and we were going sailing!
As we drifted slowly away from the dock I took a mental inventory of what had happened over the last few minutes. I invited myself along for a sunset sail, said goodbye to the people I knew, and was floating slowly towards the largest body of freshwater in the entire world at the mercy of a complete stranger. I looked over to the people I knew who were still safe and cozy on their boat and waved an eager goodbye.
“Gonna be okay?” My ice fishing buddy asked with a cringed smile.
“Um”, I swallowed nervously and summoned a tone of confidence that I didn’t quite believe in myself, “yeah, this is great!” I shot them a double peace sign and turned to the sailor and asked, “Um, friend, w-what’s your name?”
“Paul. What’s yours?” He asked in return.
Like the barometric pressure reminding you of an old forgotten fracture, this stranger’s name reminded my heart and me that we’ve been badly wounded in this adventure of life. But his name also reminded my heart that we have a great Hope who can and continues to heal my wounds. With a lump in my throat and tears glossing my eyes, I took a long breath and told him, “Paul, that’s a really nice name. Mine is Freddie-Leigh, like Freddie Mercury and Bruce Lee, but I don’t sing and I can’t do karate. At least not well.”
Paul used the little prop motor to navigate us out of the marina, and as we got closer to the wide open water he taught me how to steer using a long stick that protruded from the floor of the stern forward to about the middle of the boat. It’s called a tiller and you swing it side to side to steer. Paul demonstrated that if I wanted to turn left, I had to push the tiller to the right, and vice versa. I took over the steering so he could unpack the sails. The mainsail is the tall, middle sail that most people draw when they draw a little stick-figure sailboat.
As he unzipped the cover and packed it away, Paul looked at me with excitement and asked amusingly, “Ready, Freddie? Ha! I bet you’ve heard that one before.” He pulled on a rope and all at once the noisy, floppy mainsail snapped to attention creating a constant hum as it cut through the air.
He also opened a second sail, which is commonly forgotten when it comes to stick-figure sailboats, called the jib. It’s slightly smaller and sits forward of the mainsail, towards the bow of the boat. It’s used for.. - Well, I’m not 100% sure what it’s used for exactly, but I do know it’s used for sailing! With both sails up, Paul walked back and shut the little prop motor off before sitting down on his side of the vessel. He pulled some ropes and held the tiller in place with his knee. The wind hummed around us and all else was still.
“We’re sail boating?” I asked in unstifled excitement.
“Yep, we’re sailing!” Paul told me with matched excitement.
I threw my open hands into the air and shouted into the endless emptiness, “Oh my gosh! We’re sailboating!”
Paul chuckled, “Well, most people just say ‘sailing’.”
“Oh, right! We’re sailing!” I corrected.
We sailed North East towards the trees of the Wisconsin shore for a bit while Paul told me about growing up on the water with his dad, and the wholesome tale of how he came to be the captain of Evening Star, the very sailboat we were sailing in. We talked about our jobs and he told me about his kids.
He offered stories about his travels as a younger man, and I told him that treating patients on the ambulance is one of the hardest and most rewarding things I've ever been able to do. I shared with him that we were sailing on the one year anniversary of my moving to Wisconsin and how unreal the whole year felt. How everything I had done after moving was so far from what I’ve always known to be reality that nothing in Wisconsin felt like real life. I told him about the adventures I had taken from cutting down a Christmas tree and going ice skating to all the summer fishing and trail hiking. It had been a wild year to say the least, and the fact that I was sailing on Lake Superior with a stranger named Paul was the cherry on top!
As we talked about the surrealness of life, I drank in the unimaginable beauty of the changing sky and gentle breeze.
He warned me that he was going turnover the jib so that we would start sailing Westward and it might feel like we were tipping, but that we weren’t going to tip. As we turned away from the shoreline towards the open water, the horizon was burning orange and we sat in silence for a few moments as the sun began to disappear. From the time the sun touches the horizon to when it’s completely hidden takes only four minutes, so we sat and enjoyed every second of each minute until it was gone. Then, we started to sail back.
By that time Paul had begun teaching me about pulling the ropes and watching the ribbons on the sails that indicated how well we were using the wind's power to thrust us forward. He explained that the wind is important, but what’s more important is having your sails adjusted properly to generate as much thrust as you can to go where you want to go. I sat in the stern of the vessel and pulled the sails in an attempt to generate thrust.
“You’re a natural! You’re sailing, Freddie.” my captain assured me.
He let me sail the boat back to the entrance of the marina before he took over parking in his slip. We made it back and I stepped onto the dock but rather than walking to my car, I swear I floated because sunset sailing with a total stranger on Lake Superior was pure magic; it was also the last thing on my bucket list.
Well, except for catching a fish, but we'll save that for next time.