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Trip of a Lifetime

Stepping the Mast

By Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest

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 big—and very busy—body 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

Chapter Sixteen

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 sand.

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.

"Hey, hey…," 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 sailboat—a Parrett flatner—bobbed 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 impatience deepened.

Meanwhile, Sonny and Zoe's twin sister Abby were in the boathouse, getting the Marcos' Adirondack guideboat ready for its first outing of the season.

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 your crutches!"

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 gear—sail (brailed around the nearly twelve-foot-long sprit), paddles, oars, life-vests, flotation cushions, rucksacks, bailer—Ed 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 schoolkid!

"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 following seas.

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 day—sunny 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 wind—tack and tack again—and it's an even longer row.".

"You've got a point," Ed said, and he nudged Brenna. "Ready to go about!"

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 relative…." 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 faltboot—I think this is "foldboat" in English, yes?"

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 wife—I am Dieter Vogel—and 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 splashed ashore.

"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 replied tentatively.

"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 asked.

"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 louder—Ed 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…in spirit, yes?"

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, and—well, 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 discovery!"

To be continued…

Adirondack Lake

Copyright 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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