The problem of writing a day-before post for the website, is that you’re committed. I said I’d be on Pushaw on Saturday, but at 7AM, in bed, thinking of the -20 degree windchill, I had that strong mammalian instinct to scootch over next to another warmblood and wait ’til spring. Bill often says that iceboating is our job. We’ve just gotta do it. He’s trying to squeeze a little umph from the Protestant work ethic, I guess. So I geared up, drove up, put on everything I owned even before opening the car door, and walked 300 yards out onto un-inspiring ice. Then drove to two other landings on the lake: each perfect for crash-bang iceboating. Sadly, I drove home only to hear from Bob Lombardo that these were exactly the three points where “knuckleheads” messed up Pushaw’s amazing ice with their machines.
But it was fitting that this beautiful 6-mile-long lake, so vivid in our happy memories, should treat us to spring ice at its best two days later. I arrived at 915 to an amazing sight: I think there were 6 Whizzes—count em!—setting up. I recognized Steve Lamb’s son and Denis of course, but many of the others were newish to me. I made a little mental note of what lay ahead: These guys rarely get together. You won’t see much of them, as they goad each other towards Mach 1. Still there were slower boats. Kate was there with her lovely BDX, a boat both enclosed and comfortable, says covetous I who hasn’t evolved comfort in my mini-skeeter as yet. Also Rambling Roger, Jim G, Chris, Guy, and Curtis–hardly a slowpoke—and perhaps others. The wind was NW, variable in speed, perhaps 5-10 knots, the sun was bright; and you felt that deep honor to be in such a environment. Life had again given you a priceless gift!
The whizzes zoomed past me as we tacked the long beat to the north. I lost a clevis pin–as usual–for the steering cables and found myself out of control in the strong wind. This is one of the wonderful advantages of the free-standing rig: The sail is never limited by shrouds. You don’t put a stopper-knot in the sheet, and, no matter what the boat’s course, let the sail sheet out to a total luff. You can even approach a pressure ridge lying downwind.
Eventually I got to that enormous and wild wetland at the North end of the lake. The Whizzes had already disappeared South, but Guy Polyblank had stayed behind, lulled by the beauty perhaps, and soon Curtis joined us for a gab. Then with the Northwest wind still strong, we stitched in company those beautiful 6 miles, exploring the northern bays, and the lee side of Twin Islands at the half-way point. Back at the Ranch, warming in my car, one of those precious little jewel experiences happened. Both Guy and I had singlehanded the Atlantic; Curtis is a lifetime sailor. We three went at it, full tilt, telling yarns to true believers. Usually impatient, I was in no hurry to leave that car.
But the best of the day was yet to come. Though the wind was moderating, Guy, against all odds, headed North again. Bloody hell, I mused. If he’s going, I’m going. At the half-way point, frequently becalmed, I shouted across, “Shall we risk this?”. His excited pantomime was crystal clear, so we continued; often finding mini-blasts of wind which boosted us a full mile on an ever-so-close port tack. Up in the swamp, we explored some beaver-lodge like structures, and then wisely remembered the very iffy down-wind-light-air roulette wheel that lay ahead.
But here was exactly what I’ve always needed: Match racing a seasoned sailor downwind in the school of light air. I learned and learned! Sometimes Guy would be moving full-tilt North, winding it up, while I was blasting South but slowing. Boat speed was always the paramount concern; orientation was secondary. In that encounter, Guy, heading away from the destination was ahead of me heading toward it. He was soon to peel and head South; I was soon to gybe and wind up to the North. Each gybe was way overcompensated, into a beat. I found that each time I “peeled off” after winding up, I would have to rivet my eyes to the tell-tales, as the speed lessoned, to keep that airfoil from stalling. More than an hour later, within seconds of each other, we arrived at the pits, excitedly shaking hands, giggling, comparing notes. Everyone except Roger–still rambling somewhere– was fully packed up, as we two faced that eternal problem: how to leave such beauty behind. We couldn’t! Forget the trip home. We spent another hour enjoying our sport at its best, even evangelizing a father-son team on ice bikes.
Who knows what lays ahead? Never say never. But if this is truly our season’s close, what a fantastic final scene it was!
Post Script: Sailing well downwind is to shift thinking from the external (boat orientation and destination) to the internal (immediate boat performance and fun). One really forgets about the destination and asks, “am I having fun right now?”. If my situation is ‘wound up’, the destination will take care of itself. Is this perhaps a life parable? I’m presently at another decision point in my long dance with cancer, and have chosen to stay ‘wound up’, wether the destination be near or far. There’s a smile on my face–albeit tinged with sadness–which is deeply content.