Patrick’s Post: My 1st Sailing Experience

by Patrick (This story begins with This Post)
This guy is me the year I had my first sailing trip
It was a cold day in March of 1982 when my family started an earnest search for a sailing vessel. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my dad pouring over the latest classified ads he hand copied at the library from various newspapers around the country. Fair warning to those who are not inclined to nautical terminology. The remainder of this post has a lot of it.
It wasn’t too long before my dad had generated a list of things that he deemed necessary in the selection of the appropriate vessel. The list was, of course, amended and approved by my mother. The criteria we ended up settling on were, in no particular order:
  • A fixed keel with significant enough ballast to be seaworthy in weather.
  • Ability to sleep four people in the event that we decided to stay the night on the river or lake.
  • A kitchen in which we could cook food for the 6:00 dinner.
  • Classic lines that ‘looked’ appealing to the eye.
  • A head in which one could relieve themselves in the event you stayed out on the water past four cocktails of time passing by.
And that’s about it. It was quite the intensive search, but didn’t take all that long. Mostly it was my dad and I going to look at boats, taking notes, and coming home to pass them on to my mom.
In the end we found a boat in Chicago that met all the requirements. She was called the Etesian (a name meaning the warm annual northerly winds in the Mediterranean), and was – if I remember correctly – a 1937 classic wooden sailing boat. She was 28’ long with a 7’ beam, had a fixed keel with 3000 lbs of lead as ballast, with a four foot draft and a one lung diesel motor from who knows when that sort of ran. There were four bunks, including the forward v-berth and the table that collapsed and sat between the benches of the ‘salon’ to make a second double bed athwartship. The head was located at the wide end of the V-berth, which meant that if you slept with your feet at the narrow end of the forward v-berth your head was immediately next to… well… the head. Need to go potty in the middle of the night? Forget it. Go outside. The ‘kitchen’ consisted of a cooler mounted under one of the cockpit seats, a small sink with a foot pump, and a single burner propane cooktop.
It’s not like my parents couldn’t have afforded a much larger and well appointed vessel. After all, ‘middle class’ in 1982 meant something significantly different than it does now. With the wisdom and perspective that history provides, I strongly suspect that my mother was intentionally limiting the vessel selection to ones that she deemed unlivable for extended voyages. Just as a contingency, mind you.
Over the course of a couple of months we made several trips to the boatyard where Etesian was on the hard, sanded and painted her top to bottom, and refit those components that seemed to need it. My dad had someone come in and give the motor a good once over, and then she was ready to go.
There was just one problem. We lived in Iowa, 30 miles from the Mississippi river (where we intended to sail her), and she was in Chicago. Fortunately there is a navigable passage between the two called the Illinois Waterway. It’s a combination of river passages, locks, and man made canals that connects the Great Lakes system to the mighty Mississippi. It’s 336 miles long and meets Old Man River just north of St. Louis. The plan was to put her in the water, sail down the Illinois waterway from Chicago, and then up the Mississippi to Burlington, IA where we would keep her at a marina.
Thus was born my first experience on a sailboat. Not that it was actually a sail boat at this time. The mast had not yet been stepped when we set out from the boatyard, as there were numerous bridges on the Illinois Waterway at the time under which we would not have been able to pass with our rigging in place. Se we fired up the tiny little diesel and on our way we went.

I must confess at this point that I really don’t remember much of that first voyage on a boat. Perhaps it has something to do with my age at the time. Perhaps it is related to the fact that we weren’t really sailing, but motoring along at a stately 4-5 knots. More likely it had to do with the fact that we stopped every couple of hours to let my mom ashore at a bathroom, and moored to a dock every night to go stay in a clean, cozy hotel room. After a few days she had had enough, but I’ll give her credit for sticking it out.

We eventually met the Mississippi and turned north towards home, only this time dad had to really open up the little trusty motor to make any headway at all. The Mississippi regularly runs with two to three knots or more of current. I think we were able to make about two to three knots forward motion. It was a few really long days before we finally reached our home marina and were able to turn off the motor. I still remember hearing the thump-thump-thump-thump-thump of the motor for a week after it was shut off. Consider yourself lucky if you’ve never had the misfortune of being subjected to the incessant thumping of a single cylinder diesel motor for a week and a half.

Mom was elated to be home. I was less than convinced that she would ever consent to stepping aboard any vessel ever again. Dad was elated as well. He’d done it. There was a boat, HIS boat, moored on the Mississippi. The Etesian had found a new port.  NEXT POST

If anyone reading this happens to know what happened to a classic 28’ wooden sailing boat in Sarasota, Florida after 1985 I’d dearly love to hear from you. She saved my life once upon a time, and if she’s not being well loved at the moment and is in need of saving that’s a favor I would love to return. That’s a story for another day.



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