Archive for June, 2009


Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

A headwind is not so bothersome when there is plenty of room, plenty of time and the wind is warm, so it is when I leave the Detroit River for Toledo Beach, MI.  I practice my tacks purposely making little mistakes to learn which one puts me “in irons”, that is, stops my forward motion and starts the vessel sailing backward.  If not corrected, the vessel then comes back onto the tack it started on.  In tight quarters, this is not good.  In open water it can lose very quickly any progress the vessel has made to windward.  To a sailor, “in irons” conjures up terror, “Master-at-arms, clap that man in irons!” few landsmen would ever know.  To the captain, “Sir, the ship is caught in iron!” was no less terrifying.  I practice.

So the ways of doing things aboard ship become tradition and the traditions became the way to teach those who could not read or write.  Oh, they were smart, these seamen, they were talented beyond comprehension.  They could do things with their hands and their minds, their courage and there cunning that always left the landsman passenger staggered with disbelief.  For the most part, they just couldn’t read or write.  No one had taught them.  I never take literacy for granted.

Winding the chronometer everyday at the same time and reporting it to the Captain just before noon was a tradition born of necessity to have accurate time.  Accurate time meant accurate longitude!  Removing one’s hat before entering the mess deck, born form respect for those shipmates injured in battle on deck, who died laid out on the tables of the mess.

I tack my way to Toledo Beach MI to observe the time honored tradition of “Christening”.    True, christenings usually happen at the launching of vessels, but circumstances have changed detail and there are some things more important than that detail.  My course has brought me close enough to have The Captain’s youngest daughter come to do the honors.

On May 30, 2009, the little Corsair F-31 is officially christened THE CAPTAIN LEMUEL R BRIGMAN III with a bottle of non-alcoholic sparkling apple cider broken over the bow.  (Non-alcoholic cider instead of Champaign ‘cause both the Captain and I had given up our drinking long ago, both stories for another time and place.)

The same prayer is said over the Cap’n Lem as was said many years ago at the christening of his SCHOONER TONI & DONNA.    This would have pleased Captain Lem.  The afternoon was spent in remembrances of Capt. Lem and friends long ago.  We forging our friendships in good feelings and laughter.  It was the way it should be.

And people came to visit!  Boat People!  Boat people are the friendliest people in the world.  Two boats pass on the lake, one sail, one power, makes no difference, having never seen one another, most likely to never see one another again, they wave.  THE CAP’N LEM and the solo-sail have a way of catching people’s imagination and I love it.  They want to know everything.  Where I’m from…when will I get there… what’s the peat moss on the stern for?   I never tire of the questions they ask or telling the stories of how and why.  It is how I take them with me.   I’m sure I could have even won the Sheriff’s Deputy over given time and a different setting. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, THE CAPTAIN LEMUEL R BRIGMAN III

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, THE CAPTAIN LEMUEL R BRIGMAN III


Monday, June 1st, 2009

Wet again, down the river we went to find anchorage in Lake St. Clair for the night.  I dropped the hook at Lat 42° 35.914’N ~ Lon 082° 46.275W.  Just as I dosed, a Sheriff’s boat comes along side blue lights flashing, loud speaker bawling.  It wasn’t exactly the friendly “whither and whence” questions I’ve become so used to on the trip.  It was more like the Deputy took it as a personal offence that my anchor light had tripped the breaker and gone out and that even though I was in only 5’ of water I had become a menace to navigation and would surely be run down in the night by a Great Laker.  It seemed more than he could comprehend that I would come to Lake St. Clair from Two Harbors MN and be headed for Nome Alaska, so he ran a background check on me.  Thank God I paid that parking ticket down in Santa Fe NM 3 years ago or the trip would be over as I spent the remainder of my days in a Michigan jail.  I pushed a button here and turned a switch there and cleared the fault on the panel, the anchor light came on and the Deputy left somewhat sad he had not discovered evidence of my sorted past.  What can I say; I haven’t had a traffic ticket in 36 years.  I woke up uneasy several times in the night, stuck my head out just to check for the little glow on the top of the mast.  I did not want to be a repeat offender.

May 28, 2009, up and underway in dense fog, as dense as any I’ve encountered.  The lake was glassy smooth so much so my radar picked up geese swimming close by.  The heavy weight of apprehension settles on the boat with the gray mist.  Even the occasional gull flying by has a look of determination to get somewhere out of the fog.  I hunt down one of the entrance buoys to the river to gain a feel of just how far into the mist I can see.  It disappears from the radar in the sea clutter before I see it visually. Very dense fog indeed, but fog is not the danger it once was to the sailor.  Science has given us the depth sounder, the radar, and the GPS and that has given sight to the blind.  I never travel in fog without a deep gratitude for being a sailor now and not the back time.  I wonder at the stark terror fog brought to the sailors of old.  Most of the ships I read about that have sunk on the lakes were sunk not by storm but by another ship traveling in the fog.

I stay well clear of the ship channel.  I check my position often.  I sound my horn.   I watch my radar with intense deliberation.  Two hours pass before a blip grows steady and proves to be another vessel, a power boat, …in a hurry.  I check my position often.  I sound my horn.   I watch my radar with even greater deliberation.

First a rain, then a wind, then the fog just goes.  A shape takes form in the distance and it is the shore.  The tension relaxes.

I enter the Detroit River.  All the water form all the lakes and rivers north and west will find its way through here given time.  The current is strong and meets a headwind building a chop that slows progress.  I make cell phone contact with Paul K.  He welcomes me to Detroit and comes to Belle Isle to wave and take pictures of the little boat with a long way to go.  I forget about the Deputy for a while.

I alter my course to take me close by the beautiful River Boat Detroit Princess.  I was told she came here from Texas!  What an adventure that must have been and I try to imagine her at sea.  The current took me past far too fast.

When times get tough, the tough go fishing.  From Clinton River down through the Detroit River, the banks were lined with fishermen.  I’m often asked if I will fish along the way.  I won’t.  There are too many laws concerning fishing and I’m a bad fisherman anyway.   I’ve modified the old saying, you know the one, “if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day…” to go like this… “But if you give a man a can-opener he eats for a lifetime!”  Oh yes, and this, my favorite variation, “If you give a man a can of tunafish he eats for a day, but if you teach a man to can tunafish he can get a job at the tunafish cannery …and will never eat tuna again.”

I find a little cove toward end of the river and anchor in 4’ of water at Lat. 42° 06.870’N ~ Long. 083° 07.242’W.