October 1, 2011 § 2 Comments
A few years ago in September an old sailboat wedged its long lead keel upon an uncharted rock about 200 yards off of Bradford Beach in Milwaukee with enough force that it couldn’t be unwedged and was left for salvage by its skipper and crew, who reached shore unharmed. The sailboat stayed there for months. At first, and on calm days, she was serenely pretty, heeled over at about 30 degrees looking like she had a place to go. But when the November Nor’easters arrived she was shoved further inshore, fell over hard and took a terrible beating. I would walk to the beach and stand among a half-dozen others in foulies and with cameras to witness her plight. She’d twist in the breakers, and lash back forcefully. I thought I could hear her protesting as her spine was pounded on the rocks below.
A few months prior I had coincidently met her owner, a strong young man with a thick slavic accent, perhaps in his late 20’s, doing glass work in a boatyard that I was passing through. He grinned proudly while explaining that she was a 1957 Chinook 34, the first fiberglass production sailboat. He had plans to leave in the fall for the east coast and then cross the Atlantic Ocean the next spring to be with his new wife who was waiting for him in Europe. Falcon was tough enough, manageable for him to sail alone, and would be a comfortable home for the young reunited couple. He had worked odd jobs to save enough money to buy the boat in the amount of the due storage bill, and to assemble some used tools and a stash of fittings, resin, varnish and paint. When I met him he had months of sweat to give and work left to do.
His dream came to a blunt, tragic ending when Falcon’s keel hit the big rock. It was rumored that he was so distraught at grounding her after just finishing the refit that he bought a one-way ticket home and was not seen again. When the January ice came, salvagers walked out to Falcon and cut her into three pieces small enough to drag ashore with a chain and a pick-up truck.
A sad story, yes. A closer look, however, finds a bigger lesson; that a sailboat built in 1957 might encircle the powerful love of young newlyweds and reflect a man’s grandest aspirations for life and living. This is the true power of the old boat.