Trip of a Lifetime
Stepping the Mast
Tamia Nelson and
A Note to the Reader
A reminder: From now until November, a new chapter in Trip of a
Lifetime, our paddlesport novel-in-progress, will appear on
the first Tuesday of each month. If you've missed a chapter, or if
you're joining us for the first time and you want to catch up, just
use the hot-linked title to go to the In the Same Boat
Archives. It's all there.
With the fireside interlude of the "Three
Sisters" behind them, the gang's traveled to Lake George to test
the big canoe's new sail rig. Time is short, and Ed and Brenna are
anxious to get started on their Trip of a Lifetime.
WARNING This is a work of fiction. It's NOT a cruising
guide. Lake George is beautiful, but it's also a bigand very
busybody of water. If you're planning on a paddling holiday on
the lake, be sure to consult a good guidebook first.
Our story continues
June 5, 2001
A brisk southwesterly breeze kicked up
two-foot-high waves out in the middle of Lake George. Ed stood at the
tip of Marco Point, his feet planted wide and his hands thrust deep
into wrinkled chinos. An unusually warm May sun rose over the
mountains behind him, while shadows of puffy cumulus clouds chased
each other across the flanks of the hills to the west and north. In
the pines that dotted the point, chickadees flitted from branch to
branch in search of breakfast, their cheerful calls expressing
unalloyed joy at having survived another winter.
Ed squinted out across the deep blue, sun-dappled waves to scan
hillsides painted every imaginable shade of green. New leaves were
just emerging on the maples, he noticed. A huge grin split his bearded
face. He breathed deeply. The air smelled faintly of pine sap.
"Yo, dreamer!" Brenna called good-naturedly from the beach, "You
gonna laze around all day and let me do all the hard work?" She stood
next to their big canoe, hands on hips, her wellies covered with wet
Still grinning, Ed turned toward his wife's voice. "Sorry," he
said, and jogged toward her on a springy carpet of pine needles. A
startled red squirrel shot up one of the pines, stopping at a side
branch to scold the heavy-footed intruder. Reaching the beach, Ed
wrapped Brenna up in his arms, swung her round, and kissed her.
"Jeeze, Ed!" Brenna stammered, after he released her. "Aren't we
just full of the joys of spring today?" She, too, was grinning.
," a raspy voice growled from the deck of the
cottage belonging to Sonny Marco's parents, a log chalet standing on a
slight slope, overlooking the beach. Zoe Hatch Zelinsky Grimes shouted
down at the beaming couple below her: "None of that stuff! My little
brother might be watching! Don't want to give the boy any ideas now,
do we?" She winked broadly to be sure Ed and Brenna got the joke. Then
she turned her attention back to the large mug of coffee in her hand,
pausing now and again to take deep drags on her hand-rolled cigarette.
"You want a refill, Max?" she yelled, holding her mug high and
pointing to it with her cigarette.
"No thanks!" Max Grainger replied from the dock. He shifted his
pipe from one side of his mouth to the other, drew on it, and realized
it had gone out. "Damn obstinate thing," he grumbled, groping for his
lighter. A small, open sailboata Parrett flatnerbobbed in
the water beside him, chafing silently against three rope fenders. The
gold-leaf letters on her bow, identifying her as the Lou
Grainger, flashed in the morning sun.
Jack Van Dorn hovered anxiously around Ed and Brenna's beamy Old
Town XL Tripper, looking for all the world like a midwife at a
difficult birth. He was itching to get started clamping the frame of
their new sail rig to the big boat's gunwales, but he resisted the
temptation. "They won't learn how, 'less they do it themselves," he
muttered, more for his own sake than anyone else's.
He couldn't help dancing with impatience, though. How he wished
they'd get a move on! It was an unlikely-looking rig, and he was
mighty curious to see how it worked. He'd cut and stitched the sail
himself, and he'd helped build the frame and assemble the odd tripod
mast, as well. He hadn't done that kind of work since he'd been a boy
on a Labrador schooner, more than half a century ago, and he was
overjoyed to see that his old skills hadn't left him.
Jack looked out over the lake. To the north, a wooded ridge ran
right down to the water. Between the ridge and the rocky point to the
south, the cottage and its beach were protected from the full force of
both northerly and southerly gales. There were no gales blowing today,
though. Just a steady, freshening breeze. Perfect weather! And not
another boat in sight. This couldn't last, Jack knew, and his
Meanwhile, Sonny and Zoe's twin sister Abby were in the boathouse,
getting the Marcos' Adirondack guideboat ready for its first outing of
Ken Grimes joined Zoe on the deck. "Hey, you guys!" he yelled to Ed
and Brenna. "When are we going to see if this Rube Goldberg
contraption of yours works?" He laughed and leaned on the deck
railing, his plaster-encased leg sticking out between the railing
supports. He wiggled his bare toes in the warm breeze and scratched
absent-mindedly under the cast with a long stick.
"Rube Goldberg?" Brenna shouted back in mock outrage. "This
finely-crafted sailing vessel? Watch what you say, Ken, or I'll swipe
Ed paid no attention to the banter. Goaded by Jack's increasingly
impatient glances and muttered imprecations, he'd started bolting and
lashing the frame in place. It was going well. After a few minutes, he
handed the rest of the job over to Brenna, while he began to fit the
tripod mast. A few minutes more, and he was done. All that remained
was to bend the spritsail to the mast and slide the leeboard down.
Jack looked Ed and Brenna's handiwork over carefully, testing the
security of the lashings that held the mast and leeboard clamps
together. He walked around the canoe, tugging in one place and prying
with thick, yellowed nails in another. Then he straightened up,
smiled, and pronounced his blessing: "Pretty fair job, I'd say."
By now, Sonny and Abby had rowed over to where the XL Tripper lay.
They both got out just before the guideboat grounded and then carried
it carefully up onto the beach. Max, too, joined the party. "So you've
stepped the mast at last, eh?" he said, while tendrils of pipe smoke
enveloped his tweed hat. "The rig looks real good. Yes, sir, real good
indeed. Sam Manning would be right pleased to see what you've done
with his design, I'm guessing."
Finishing a mental inventory of gearsail (brailed around the
nearly twelve-foot-long sprit), paddles, oars, life-vests, flotation
cushions, rucksacks, bailerEd and Brenna realized that the time
had come to launch Leviathan on her maiden voyage under canvas.
Rejecting all offers of help, they lifted the heavy boat and staggered
the few feet to the water. In seconds, their canoe was afloat. Ed held
the gunwale while Brenna climbed aboard. Her first thought was to take
her usual place on the stern seat, but then she remembered that things
were going to be different today, and knelt amidships next to the
prop-pole for the leeboard. With the center thwart gone, the middle of
the big boat seemed surprisingly roomy.
As soon as she'd settled down, Ed followed her, shaking as much
water off his wellies as he could before getting in. He, too, had to
resist the temptation to go forward and take his customary place in
the bow. Joining Brenna amidships, they both donned life-vests. Then,
when Brenna had sculled them out into deeper water, Ed dropped the
leeboard in place and lashed it down. The canoe now had a three-foot
deep keel, and Ed realized with sudden force that this was going to
take some getting used to.
Making sure that Brenna had her paddle in the water, Ed stood
cautiously. He snaked the sprit carefully out from under the thwarts
and located the sail's tack and throat. Next, he loosed the end of the
halyard from the pin that held it in readiness and bent it on.
Securing the tack, he hauled on the line until the throat was tight
against the beehole in the central mast. After making the halyard fast
and checking to see that the sprit hadn't come free from the peak, he
slipped the long spar's lower end into the eye of the snotter,
admiring Jack's tidy splices yet again.
Finally, leaving the snotter slack, Ed levered the sprit up until
it lay alongside the mast. After tying three temporary brails around
sprit and mast, he slipped off the lashings holding the body of the
sail to the sprit. When all was in readiness, he hunkered down
amidships again, passing the mainsheet to Brenna, who threaded it
through the traveler on the aft sheet horse.
Seating herself on the bottom of the canoe, opposite the leeboard,
Brenna called out across the water: "Ready to get under way, Jack!" Ed
couldn't help noticing that her voice cracked as she shouted. Not for
the first time, he realized how different this odd-looking rig was
from the Snipe he'd served his sailing apprenticeship in, many long
years ago. There was no rudder, for one thing. And that was a mighty
important thing, in Ed's estimation. Well, St. Lawrence skiffs
and sailboards got along fine without rudders. But would it work for
them? Were they really ready? They'd gone through the drill several
times back home in Fort Hudson, but Ed still had his doubts. He kept
them to himself, though.
Looking to see that Brenna had the mainsheet in hand and that the
boat's bow was pointing dead to windward, Ed stood again, pulled the
brails off the sprit and hauled the snotter up with all his might. The
sail's green canvas quadrilateral became taut, and then began to flap.
Ed squatted down, levering the leeboard until the blade trailed aft of
midline. He grabbed a paddle and pried the stern around by way of
insurance. The canoe's bow fell off before the wind. Prompted by Ed,
Brenna hauled in on the sheet. Seconds later, the big boat was picking
up speed on a beam reach across the lake, heading toward the western
shore. Cheers came from the beach, but so intent were Ed and Brenna on
sailing, that neither of them heard.
Looking on from shore as the canoe gathered way, Jack found his
heart pounding in his chest. "I'm becomin' a proper soft-headed old
fart," he whispered to himself, shaking his head ruefully. "Imagine
gettin' so worked up over a damn canoe!" Then he remembered. That
wasn't all he was worked up about. He wondered how much happiness a
man could stand. By rights, he should've been dead long ago, and yet
here he was, pushing eighty years old and still acting like a
"A green sail and a green canoe. A green machine!" Zoe giggled,
spitting out a stray crumb of tobacco. "I like it."
Abby, who stood as tall as Jack and who couldn't help looking into
his eyes, noticed his manifest happiness. She threaded her arm through
his and then turned to stare out across the lake.
Max tapped the dottle out of his pipe and shoved it in his pocket.
He looked over at Jack. "Come on, you old salt. I need a crew if I'm
going to keep those two in sight." He paused for effect. "Unless
you've swallowed the anchor, that is!"
Jack blushed and disentangled Abby's arm from his. Together, he and
Max walked toward the dock. Soon the Lou Grainger, too, was
underway, followed at an ever-increasing distance by Sonny and Abby in
the guideboat. While Sonny rowed, Abby experimented with the zoom on
her new camcorder.
Back on shore, Ken and Zoe took in the action from lawn chairs on
the beach, passing Max's old pair of heavy 7 x 50 naval
binoculars back and forth. Zoe had the glasses when the canoe reached
mid-lake. While she watched, she saw it fall off before the wind and
head north toward the Narrows. Suddenly the big sprit swung across the
boat's stern from one side to the other, and the canoe rolled
alarmingly. Zoe let out an involuntary gasp. It looked as if it was
swim time for Ed and Brenna.
It felt that way to Ed, too, but his panic died down when he
realized that they hadn't quite gone over. He'd wanted to head down
the lake. So far, so good. They were sailing downwind, even if the
jibe had caught him by surprise. Still, Leviathan was rolling
alarmingly, taking water in over the gunwales on each roll. Worse
still, she was showing a disconcerting tendency to slide around on the
They were both sitting in water now, and Brenna was bailing.
Something had to be done, fast. Silently, Ed slid his butt aft,
pulling Brenna with him. Then he thrust the mainsheet into her hand,
and got a paddle over the side in lieu of a rudder. As quickly as it
had begun, the rolling stopped. Better yet, the big canoe now held its
downwind course without yawing.
Both of them sighed with relief. Brenna suddenly realized that she
could hear Ed's breathing. She'd been surprised how much noise wind
and water made as they sailed out onto the lake. Now, running before
the wind, it was noticeably quieter. Brenna was the first to speak.
"You plan on doing that sort of thing often?" she asked.
"Not if I can help it," Ed replied, grinning sheepishly. "I'm
afraid the breeze backed a bit and I let it get on the wrong side of
the sail. We're lucky the whole rig didn't come down, particularly now
that we're feeling the full force of the wind."
Brenna looked around her. It was a beautiful daysunny and
warm, with only a few scattered balls of cumulus in the sky. But the
waves were bigger now. Some were nearly three feet high, and
many crests were breaking.
"Do you think the wind's going to get much stronger?" Brenna asked,
apprehension vying with growing delight.
"Don't think so," Ed answered. "Seem's pretty steady. We've just
gotten away from the shelter of hills. Out here, the wind has the full
sweep of the lake."
There didn't seem to be anything else that needed saying. Brenna
bailed out the last of the water and settled back to tend the
mainsheet and enjoy the passing scene. Her fear evaporated. The boat
swept up the lake, while forested hills slid slowly by.
Before long, the Lou Grainger was drawing even with them.
Impelled by some long-dormant competitive instinct, Brenna hardened in
the sheet, hoping to gain a bit of speed. It didn't do any good. Max
and Jack drew steadily ahead.
Ed reassured her. "They've got nearly twice the sail area we have,
Brenn. And downwind isn't Leviathan's best point of sail. I
think we'd better accept defeat gracefully." And he waved to Max and
Jack. "Where are Sonny and Zoe?" he shouted.
"They stayed inshore," Max yelled. "Probably back in the boathouse
already. Not everyone wants to go swimming in this cold water!"
Brenna and Ed both turned red.
Max looked at his watch and eased his mainsheet to allow the canoe
to come even with him. He caught Ed's eye. "You guys planning to run
all he way down the lake?" he asked. "It'll be a long slog back
against the windtack and tack againand it's an even longer
"You've got a point," Ed said, and he nudged Brenna. "Ready to go
Ed took the mainsheet from Brenna, while she shoved the leeboard
forward. Then he pried the stern around. Both of them slid over to
windward as the breeze heeled the big canoe. Ed hardened-in the sheet
till the sail began to shake, and then eased it ever so slightly. It
was all coming back to him. Before they knew it, they were heading
close-hauled toward the eastern shore. Brenna noticed that the roar of
the wind was back, and that waves were driving spray over the bow.
"We're going a lot faster now, aren't we?" she asked Ed.
"Nope," he replied. "It just seems like it. When we were heading
downwind, we were running off before the waves. Now we're crashing
into them. It's seems like we're going faster, but we're not. It's all
." He hesitated, chuckling. "Funny thing, that. Einstein
was a sailor. He used to spend his summers sailing on some pond in the
Adirondacks. Guy knew a thing or two, I guess!"
They both laughed at that one. With something like astonishment,
Brenna realized that she wasn't at all fearful anymore. In fact, she
was having the time of her life. The wind rushed past her face. The
spray from an occasional wave splashed her. And the effortless upwind
slide continued. She reached out to Ed and squeezed his hand. "I think
I'm going to like this," she confided. That was all she said, but it
was enough for them both.
Back on the beach, Ken and Zoe were deep in conversation with a
couple of kayakers. Ken had spied them first, just as they rounded the
point: a man and woman in a big double kayak made of something that
looked like canvas, heading north along the shore. "That's a real nice
boat you've got there!" he'd shouted to them from his lawn chair,
waving his cast in the air to punctuate his remarks. Then he lurched
to his feet.
"Danke schön!" came the reply. "She is a Klepper. They
are very fine faltbootI think this is "foldboat" in
Ken nodded agreement as the couple brought their boat skillfully up
to the beach. "Come a long way?" he asked.
"About 6,500 kilometers. That's how many
4,000 miles, maybe?
But not all the way in this." He drummed on the deck of his boat with
his hand and smiled. "Today we have come only ten kilometer or so." He
paused, then continued. "I am joking with you. My wifeI am
Dieter Vogeland this is my wife, Helga. I am an electronic
engineer, and we have just moved to New York. We are kayaking as far
along the shore as we can before dinner, and then we will paddle back
to our car. This is a beautiful lake."
"Are you a kayaker, too?" Helga asked Ken. And her eyes moved from
his cast to his face.
"Sure am," Ken replied. "I love kayaking. And canoeing. Whitewater
canoeing. That's how I broke my leg. Canoeing. Stepped into a crack
between two rocks and snapped my leg. Almost drowned, in fact. But my
friends," Ken lifted a crutch to point at Ed and Brenna, just visible
now as they tacked back across to the other side of the lake, "well, I
guess they saved my life."
"Bad luck." Dieter paused, and then hurried on. "About your leg, of
course. It is not bad luck that your life was saved." He giggled
nervously. "English is an awful language to learn. As your Mark Twain
says, but he was not talking about English, I think. If we were to
meet, I would venture to disagree with Mr. Twain about the German
language." He looked across the lake at Ed and Brenna. "We saw your
friends sailing. They are, I think, sailing a canoe?"
"That's right," Ken said. "They built a sail rig for their canoe
from a design in a magazine. This is the first time they've tried it
out." Ken swung back on his crutches as a passing powerboat's wake
"I had hoped to get a closer look and maybe say hello to them,"
said Dieter. "We have often sailed our faltboot, and I would
like to compare notes with your friends."
"Why not stay for lunch?" Zoe interjected. "I'm Zoe Grimes, by the
way, and this is my impolite brother, Ken."
"I'm so sorry!" said Ken, embarrassed. "I should have introduced
myself." Helga and Dieter nodded to Zoe, who repeated her invitation.
"Please do stay. Stay for lunch, I mean. We've got lots of food and
beer. I'm sure Ed and Brenna would like to talk with you. That rig of
theirs seems to be doing fine."
"We would not want to
make a trouble of ourselves," Helga
"Not at all," said Zoe. "We'd be delighted if you could stay. The
more the merrier! Come on. It'll be fun."
The German couple glanced at each other, and then Dieter said,
"Thank you very much. But I'm afraid we have very little to contribute
to the meal. We did not even bring a bottle of wine."
"Don't worry about it!" Zoe said. "We've got cases of beer and half
a steer to barbecue." She waved her cigarette in the air expressively.
Soon, the four of them were heading toward the cottage, with Dieter
and Helga carrying their Klepper.
In less than a quarter of an hour, the sailors returned to port.
Max brought Lou in to the end of the dock, while Ed and Brenna
sailed right up onto the beach. Considering their uncertain beginning,
it was a virtuoso performance. They approached on a beam reach. Just
before the board touched, Brenna lifted it aft, easing the sheet at
the same time, while Ed slacked off the snotter and brailed up the
sail. The canoe slid effortlessly up on the sand.
"Man, I'm starving!" Brenna rubbed her stomach. "Didn't realize it
till I smelled the steaks."
"I want a beer, myself," Ed exclaimed as he fussed with sail ties
and gathered up stray items of gear.
Max and Jack welcomed them back. "Happy with your new ship?" Max
"She's great!" exclaimed Brenna. "Wish it hadn't taken me so long
to discover sailing."
With surprising formality, Jack shook Ed's hand. Then he shook
Brenna's. "You're sailors now, ya know. There's no goin' back."
The four friends walked up the slope toward the cottage. From
inside came the familiar voices of the Mamas and the Papas belting out
"California Dreamin'." It was obvious that Zoe was giving them more
than a little back-up.
"My God!" said Ed. "It's moldy oldies week."
"I like "California Dreamin'," said Brenna defiantly, as she
climbed the steps to the deck.
"So do I!" Max chimed in. "What can I do to help with lunch?"
Ed had just noticed the Klepper in the shade of the pines. "Where'd
that come from?" he asked, but none of the other three knew. Then
Sonny led Dieter and Helga onto the deck, followed by Abby with a tray
of condensation-bedewed mugs of beer. Sonny made the introductions,
and Dieter and Ed were soon comparing the sailing potential of canoes
and kayaks. Zoe turned the music up even louderEd couldn't help
but notice that they'd gotten to "Creeque Alley"and then she
began to dance around the deck, a ship of the line maneuvering through
a flotilla of lesser craft. Talk became animated and laughter drifted
up into the tree tops. When the sizzling sausages, steaks and grilled
vegetable kebabs were ready, people settled down to serious eating.
Once the edge was off everyone's appetite, conversation resumed.
Dieter and Helga told about exploring Europe's lakes and rivers in
their kayak. They were delighted to learn of Ed and Brenna's plans to
paddle to the Bay. Years ago, they'd taken the Polar Bear Express to
Moosonee, and they were eager to return.
"Next year, maybe, we paddle our kayak down the Moose River,"
Dieter said. "This year, however, we will paddle with you only
Minutes later, Max disappeared. When he returned, he was bearing a
magnum of champagne, which he immediately handed to Sonny, who busied
himself preparing a pyramid of glasses. Then Max signalled for
silence, while Sonny deftly pored the entire contents of the magnum
over the stacked glasses, creating a fountain of champagne which
cascaded from top to bottom until every glass was full.
"I brought the champagne along to wet the baby's head, so to
speak," Max began, nodding toward Leviathan, now drawn up on
the beach, "but you know how it is when old salts get to yarning.
Sometimes they say more than they mean to say." He looked across the
deck toward Jack, a twinkle in his eye. "So, if you'll all take a
glass, I've a toast to propose. Two voyages of discovery begin today.
Ed and Brenna are going to sail and paddle their canoe to James Bay,
andwell, why don't I let Jack tell you the news himself?"
His face scarlet, Jack stammered: "I'm no great hand at speeches.
So I guess the best way to say this is just to say it. I'm getting
married. To Ed and Brenna's friend Molly Saunders."
At first, Ed and Brenna stared open-mouthed at Jack. Then huge
grins spread across their faces. Ed put down his glass, shook Jack's
hand, and pounded him on the back. Brenna hugged him, spilling a few
drops of champagne on his shirt. The others, too, crowded around him,
each anxious to add his or her congratulations.
Max cleared his throat. "Hope you've all got your glasses," he
said. "We've still got a toast to give. Everyone ready?" He looked
round him. "Good! Join me, please, in toasting two voyages of
discovery. May our voyageurs find 'sleep after toil, port after stormy
seas, ease after war, and all things which greatly please.'"
To be continued
Copyright © 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights