Although I have always loved almost all boats, one thing I never became keen about was sailing. And that continues to puzzle and disappoint me because the concept of travelling on water using only what nature provides — wind, waves, current — meshes with my own philosophy.
I think what might have turned me off sailing at a young age was sitting in the lee side bilge of a leaky old wooden boat bailing frantically to keep her afloat, while my older sister June did the actual sailing, and had all the fun.
After all, the boat had her name painted on the stern: June Bug. And she was the big sister so it was her right. She was the skipper in our weekly races with four or five other boats in the waters around Wahnuhke island, while I soaked in the bilge with a bailing can. Poor me.
June Bug was a 14-foot catboat (no jib sail) with a lovely spoon shaped bow. She and her identical twin Saucy Betsy were thought to have been around 50 years old when Kenneth With and his brother-in-law Hank Hegnauer, at the other end of Wahnuhke, bought them from the hotel at Minnicog Island during its final years before World War 2.
The name on ours was Dad’s pet name for his first-born. Uncle Hank’s was the same: Betsy (see Betsy’s Mysterious Anchor) who, even at that young age, wasn’t shy about making her wishes known.
I think the two men had a couple of sails together in the dinghies before the war broke out, recreation was put aside, and the boats were stored for the duration. June Bug was lucky and survived in a boathouse. The Hegnauers didn’t have a boathouse then, so Saucy Betsy was turned over in the woods and carefully covered, but unfortunately never sailed again.
In those young people’s races the skippers were usually the oldest siblings in each family, so I wasn’t the only hard-done-by junior crew member. But I believe there was only one other boat — the Winlo family’s — as old as June Bug. June herself proved to be a very competent and competitive sailor. If she had been sailing a newer boat she would have given the male skippers of her own age a good run.
As it was, however, before each race the poor old June Bug was patched up, re-caulked where necessary (almost everywhere), and her stays tightened like the dowager she was, before entering the fray. But the strain was too much for her ancient wooden hull. She should have been allowed to retire to sail quietly in gentler breezes just a few more times.
After one of her last races, under the strain of her mast and stays, her deck started to pull away from the sides of the hull. So before the next — and her last — race, a thick wire cable was wrapped right around her hull below the mast to hold the deck, and mast with boom, gaff and sail, in place on the tired old hull while she gave it her best.
Later that year one calm autumn evening, on a low flat rock on the island, June Bug was given a viking’s funeral, joining Saucy Betsy in whatever Valhallah old wooden sailboats reside.