Home Made Mistakes

Twelve years ago, as we toured our 100 plus year old home on that fateful day of purchase, we chattered about our plans to mold our vinyl sided first-born into the happy compliant child of our dreams. I was so excited to own dirt to dig in. And my husband had himself some waterfront property. Who needs updated plumbing, electrical wiring, or insulation when you can watch flocks of waterfowl make an impressive landing on the river?

We were naïve first time house parents and our cluelessness thankfully spared us from comprehending all of our house-child’s “little” problems. A couple years into the renovation, I vaguely recalled the look of slight terror on our home inspector’s face. There is a hole in my heart where my sweet naïveté once lived.

With so many choices and so little money, we made some bad choice hum-dooseys. We may have been entitled to make these mistakes however I still search my heart for absolution. The retainer wall building guys and the HVAC installation guy proved that even though people are licensed, show up, give you a good price, and seem socially functional, that cheaper price might be the indication that they don’t value their work either.

It took maybe six months for our costly new retainer wall to herniate. I mentioned the change to my husband but he really didn’t want to know. With one call we discovered the company we’d hired was, not surprisingly, out of business. Maybe because they didn’t know diddle about building a wall that allows the water to flow through without knocking it down? Or someone sued them?

Disaster was our godsend when the century old sycamore tree dropped a giant limb on top of the wall. Insurance money paid for the wall to be rebuilt correctly. Our bad choice was sort of mended when the honest new guy rebuilt the wall. We wished we’d found him first, of course. I wonder what other oopsie choices we’d made since we’d become house parents. Oh right, there was the HVAC guy.

We inherited an air-conditioning system from 1983. My husband and I will tell you those stories about growing up in the steamy summer city. We immediately made repairs and maintained on our precious air conditioning system. This beast spoiled us and then died on the very hottest August day. A nice repair man found a junkyard piece and Frankensteined the unit back to life. That was the beginning of the end.

The breaking point was when our budget bill exceeded $500. Did I mention we still had electric baseboard heating? The ductwork was AC only. I said “uncle” and told my husband to call someone. He called a local guy who walked that walk and talked lots of know-it-all talk. We priced compared and fretted and in the end, my husband proudly chose to support local business guy. And we chose the cheaper bid.

The new air handling units put hot air in our ducts. Some rooms were warmer than ever before. Unfortunately, local HVAC guy was also full of hot air. Shoddy workmanship and short cuts caught up with his fast talking. When our air-conditioning drip pan in the attic wasn’t draining properly a year and a half later, the next guy revealed we’d been taken by the first guy.

New guy said we actually needed new duct work. As he explained all the wrongness and I began to comprehend HVAC air distribution concepts, I knew I didn’t want to know. I wanted my husband to be taking the brunt of all of this. I had a rare moment of rage followed by wanting to cry for the comprehension of all the money we’d thrown away.

Here was another excuse to keep my membership to the know-it-all club. But unless I know retaining wall construction, am HVAC certified, or have my real estate license, I am forced to trust people. But there are ways to hedge your bets. Where time and materials are bad, an estimate and contract are better. If they won’t guarantee their work, run fast the other way. Actually speak to three people they’ve worked for. And prioritize your money over their feelings.

Although Delmarva’s workforce has a reputation for a laid back attitude teetering on lethargy, we’ve had plenty of good experiences as well. The carpenter we hired for our big kitchen remodel and garage door installation had more integrity than any man I’ve ever met. And John the plumber crawled through the funk of ages under our house to install my washer and dryer lines. I’ve been under there. He’s my hero.

Maybe I should have sued somebody for these hack jobs but sometimes your bad choice is still your problem. The maturity date for the house payments is scheduled for 2042. By then, we’re either paid up or we’re out. I suspect the house may still be standing. We’ll see if I am as my house-child or my real child will be the death of me yet.

The Tell-Tale Truck

A half hour into April Fool’s Day, 2012, I was pulled over 100 yards from my exit to home. My dinner party buzz was long gone when Officer Buck-something informed me of my ten mph driving overage. And my blouse was not low enough to keep him from asking if I realized my license had been expired …for over a year and a half. “You’re sh**ing me!” I said as I squinted to see the numbers. As I received a $70 ticket for driving on an expired license and warning for speeding, I thanked him. He laughed as I said I’d probably be the only one thanking him for a ticket this week.
I know what you’re thinking. What about that license renewal notification the DMV sends you? Had I seen this reminder, I’d surely have gone straight to the DMV and renewed the daggone thing. I’m so conscientious, the moment my bank statement comes in the mail, I balance my checkbook.

Early Monday morning, I was walking into Easton’s Department of Motor Vehicles. My non-plan was to just show up and everything would turn out fine. They refer to this as denial. Outside the door, a mockingbird sang loudly in the only bush. Was the bird a symbol of my innocence soon to be crushed into a paste? After I checked in, I turned right back around to go home and fetch all the documentation Mr. Brandon said I actually needed.

See, when your license has been expired for more than a year, you have to take the knowledge and drivers tests over again. And you have to bring and do a lot of stuff for this to happen. As I drove home, I tried to remember the perfect catch phrase the characters on Seinfeld were neurotically screaming at the end of one particular episode.
Back at the DMV, a nice lady named Rochelle said, while I had proven I lived in my house, she still needed my social security card or a recent W-2 form to prove my American citizenship. My tax documents weren’t acceptable. My Social Security card had been stolen with my wallet 10 years prior and I don’t work. Cue my first teary moment. It was then that I remembered the catchphrase: Serenity Now! Serenity Now! She kindly told me where the Social Security Administration was.

I found it behind the Wal-mart 20 further miles Southeast in Cambridge. After my half hour wait accompanied by an older gentleman from Church Creek who showed me a booby picture on his phone, a nice young lady told me my expired driver’s license was not a valid form of ID. No real surprise there. My intuition had finally shown up and had warned me of this possibility. Did I have a life insurance policy handy? I got teary eyed again. How about a note from my doctor? Pshew. It was a good thing I’d been sick once or twice and had a doctor…in Easton.

I drove back to Easton to beg for the form from my doctor’s office. It needed to be signed in any color but black ink. An hour later, I handed her a form signed in red, green, and blue ink and, having sworn everything I had told her was true, she said to go home and wait for my card to come in the mail. The beatings will continue until morale improves.
I had driven 120 plus miles on my expired license and now I returned home to wait. Serenity was nowhere in sight. My shoulders were tense, my eyelid twitched and I chewed on my lip like it was dinner.

The mailman delivered my Social Security card on Thursday, April 5th. I returned to the MVA at 11:39am. Everyone else was there too. The bouncy leg of the woman next to me mirrored my anticipation of taking the written drivers test. I jealously watched as happy teenagers left with their new licenses. The speaker above me dumped a favorite Level 42 song onto my head. Then my number came up.

Ms. Rochelle, the nice woman who deserved a thank you note, was on counter number 8. But I was called up to counter number 9. My “Everything’s gonna be alright” attitude was gone Daddy gone. Something told me this gal didn’t really feel the love for her job like Ms. Rochelle did.

She had a problem with the social security card being out of its envelope. “But I just got it in the mail this morning and the envelope is in the trashcan”, I whined. She was indignant that the payment portion was missing from the bill I had brought. And that I’d ripped off the attachment to my voter’s card to fit it into my wallet. Again the tears rose. I would come undone if I took another trip home. I don’t know how I escaped her torturous clutches but I was shaken when I headed to station 11 for my test.

Again, faking it until I made it, I sat down to take the knowledge test confident of my knowledge as a seasoned veteran driver. Did you know the legal blood alcohol level in Maryland is .08% not .02 %? Erratic lane changing is a symptom of aggressive driving. You can actually use your cell phone in the car but only in emergencies. And double yellow dashes mean something other than what I guessed. I had failed the drivers test at the age of 45. The gentleman asked if this was my first time taking the test. “In thirty years”, I said. He laughed and said I could retake the test tomorrow. My text message to my friend read, “Please, kick my puppy again”.

I got the Drivers-Ed book from the library that afternoon. As I studied on my back porch, I reached up and found one of the earrings my sister had just given me was gone. Much to the dismay of my men, I began to bawl. The big man kept the little man from telling knock knock jokes to cheer me up. They allowed me my despondency for 10 minutes. Then it was bath time.

I returned Friday, now a shadow of my former confident self. I passed the test with nary a question wrong. Then the woman behind the counter had to schedule my driving skills test. Yes, schedule. The next available appointment was May 14th, a month in my non-driving future. Again, I waited to speak with the nice supervisor who gave me a direct number to call every day to ask about cancellations.

Understand, if I were caught driving on an expired license after a nice officer had given me a ticket, I’d be taken to jail. The system doesn’t pander to dingbats like me. And I’m almost un-American in my ridiculous honesty. So when I drove once to go for groceries, I could hear the heart of my expired license beating under the floorboards. The ‘Tell Tale“truck.
Someone suggested to me that I enjoy my time off. Maybe I needed to look at all of this another way. I should treat it as a break from burning gas and adding to the ozone problem. Asking for a ride didn’t seem so bad in this light. My kid rides a bus to school and there is always public transportation.

Just as I was adjusting to this new eco- friendly perspective, I caught a break. Husband and I were already headed to town when I called the DMV and there was a one o’clock opening. We ran our errands and showed up. He let me drive a little to rewet my feet and adjust my seat.

He had to sign a sheet saying he was the responsible adult. He didn’t know which to take umbrage from more, the word responsible or adult. The sweet woman laughed and pointed out that he was the responsible one because I was irresponsible enough to let my license expire. And that was the truth told in just the right way. Zing.

I was happy to see Brandon was the driving instructor. We’d already spoken several times inside the DMV. He said, while I took the test, hubby could actually go inside and renew his license. You can renew up to six months before it expires. So, of course, I‘d had eighteen months to renew my license.

While parallel parking, he hinted I needed to get closer to the curb. And he told me three times to use two hands. We chatted up our 15 minutes. He said his little brother had failed nine times. Of course I passed the test. I was so extremely grateful for Mr. Brandon and Ms. Rochelle’s kind treatment of me that I dropped thank you notes off to them two days later.

What did it all mean? The feelings of shame I felt having been outcast from the driver’s club had me searching my soul something fierce. How should I feel about my inability to renew my driver’s license or pass the driver’s test? This is what I may have learned. Dignity belongs to everyone. Losing your money or your house or your driver’s license doesn’t make you less of a person. Or less deserving of compassion. And forgiveness is a divine gift you give yourself. And be grateful because you never know when your license has expired.

Shalagh Hogan lives in Denton and writes a blog at Shalavee.com

My Face

If you met me at a party, you’d notice my laugh is the loudest. I’m extremely social. Yet this fun time Charlotte has had a whole lot a nada for the social networking. I figured Twittling and My-facing were perfect ways of busily avoiding intimacy like the plague. I wanted no part of that universe made of desperate ego maniacs with short attention spans. The over reaction gave away the doubt beneath.

Like so many people of a certain age, I defensively declared I had no need for this Facebook phenomenon. Perhaps this was a knee jerk reaction to new-fangled technology making me feel stupid. Both fear of the unknown or of assimilation by the Borg are still fears. I have heard many fearful declarations to this specific anti-alliance. And sometimes we encounter our destiny on the way to avoiding it.

I was writing and publishing articles online and chose to rise to a new terrifying challenge of creating my blog. I fully understood I needed to socially network for this cause. And I was anxious. This was the ego-maniacal unnecessary and unacceptable activity. And my precious privacy was hard earned. But I was seduced by the ability to pontificate to an enraptured audience. My ego “liked” this. Therein lay the carrot.

I asked my (very popular on Facebook) friend to convince me to join Facebook. She said flatly, “Three years from now, Social networking will be a given and this conversation would be ludicrous.” Just do it. Everybody’s doing it. She reassured me no one could see or speak with me there without my permission. Vampires need an invitation to come in.

So my angst and I joined the Facebook extravaganza on Friday May 20th, 2011, at around 2PM. I was typing away about my fab self in my profile when, Wham! , I get a friend request… from an ex-boyfriend?  One of these search buttons must be for all the people you’ve schtooped.  I don’t hate this guy but I had no plans to ‘party hardy’ ever again in a tavern of his choice. I rode out the panic and nausea and you know what I did then? I “friended” him. Because that was what this exercise in mass marketing and conquering fears was all about.

I returned to the FB flame on Saturday, finally found the link back in my spam folder, and, Wham! , it happened again. My all-time biggest crush ever from long ago and far away was requesting my friendship. My present husband was the long awaited exception to this boy who gave me hope when I wanted to give up on men altogether. I felt guilty for even reading the benign message from crush-man. In a ten minute span, I went from stunned to giddy to devastated. Of course he was married and had two beautiful children. I shut the computer down. Either these Facebook people were a specific kind of crazy or I was missing something.

I queried fellow members about the true meaning of the Facebook “friend”. Die hard FBers were bewildered by my bewilderment. It was a true friend who said she too had been freaked out initially when she joined. Now it’s her nighttime ritual. She kindly added that, in an ideal world, I would be allowed my fantasy crush forever. So it’s still me, I thought. I endeavored to try again and to pursue this friend-making thing with zeal.

After a month, crush-man became a human being. As his actual life continually popped up on my news feed, I was able to release him from my heart to his happiness. Simultaneously and slowly, I sent “friend requests” to people from schools, social gatherings, neighborhoods, and workplaces of my past and present. As I connected with more people, I began to see my real deal.

This precious privacy I’d clung to and coddled was also known as isolation with a capital ‘I’.  I‘d chosen to hide my life, ashamed for growing old and fat because, you know, I was the only one getting old and fat. Who’s crazy enough to deliver themselves on a silver platter for the judgment of the free world? Apparently me.

I had worried about dredging up past resentments with this reconnection with people from my past. Instead, I found myself cheered by them. Our lives connected in unexpected ways. I caught important news I would have missed, like the birth of one friend’s twins and the loss of a beloved old cat for another. Snail mail cards went out immediately. I saw that Facebook is friendship “light”, a safe way of sharing without having to invest much. Showing up outside of this medium is how you solidify the “real” friendships.

As similar pieces of a larger machine, we need to connect to fellow human beings. I recognized how it’s not always about me as the interconnected web of humanity was scrolling up my screen. This online community cleverly coaxes people out of dark corners, away from the whisper of past shames, to a place where they are empowered to speak and be heard. I was blown away by the hope this deceivingly simplistic medium brought into my life.

Gratefully, I reconnected with the used-to-be-me, one person at a time in a memory lane parade of where I’ve been and who I’ve become. I missed the girl these people seemed to still think well of, or at least didn’t dislike. Today, I’m still timid at requesting the friendships of complete strangers but I’m gaining courage. Remember, I have a baby blog I have to feed.

When the next ex-boyfriend found me, I was ready. I asked why he had friended me and he professed he wanted to see if I was doing well. I sensed he also wanted to show me how well he was doing. Maybe, when they put my name in that search box, my ex-boyfriends sought the closure and self-forgiveness I had yet to seek. Or maybe I was a good schtooper. I am good with either possibility.

City Girl

I rode Baltimore city public transportation to school year after frigid year. With orange bus transfer slips clutched in my wind burned hand, I had no choice in how I rolled. People with dubious hygiene and intent sat next to me while an AM transistor radio in the back played the Eagles. “City girls just seem to find out early, how to open doors with just a smile”. I knew myself then. I was made of asphalt and dirty snow and transfer slips.

I was still that city girl the day I drove with my future husband to house hunt on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. His homeownership ‘must haves’ included bar free windows and his own personal parking spot. Eventually we found our Mr. Right Priced house on the Choptank River in a town called Denton. Known once as the Garden County, Caroline County, Maryland, is Talbot County’s northern redheaded step-sister.

My man was exhilarated by the smell of the salt air as we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. I was charmed by the tinny “Kum ba yah” blasting from Denton’s Methodist church’s tower at quarter past noon. And together we were sold when the honking snow geese flew over our heads as we stood gazing out over our future waterfront property. We said our “I dos” a year later in a backyard wedding extravaganza complete with a private fireworks finale.

We were no longer a couple of touristas headed “Downy O”. Nope.  Now we were ‘come here’s. And we had fallen off the edge of the known world. Our bizarre disappearance was confirmed as our friends bypassed our hinterland address by mere blocks barreling down Route 404 toward their beach destinations. As they passed up the use of our clean convenient bathrooms, we knew we’d become either fictitious or invisible.

Although surrounded by the sprawling bucolic farmlands of the Eastern Shore, we were pleasantly living on an island. Peninsula, island, whatever. I called it the “Rock”. The eventual housing market dump would confirm we had purchased our retirement home. There will be no ‘buying up’. That trapped feeling combined with the slower pace of the Shore would soon irk my inner city girl.

I whined about the lack of cultural entertainment, packaged goods after nine pm, and a Thai restaurant for goodness sakes. I bemoaned my destiny to be knocked up here and eventually planted in this ground. The swellest husband ever said,” Whatever you want to do sweetie”, a ridiculous statement since we’ll never get our money back out of this decrepit old house. I graciously responded, “Thanks for pretending there’s a choice. I’ll buck up and see what happens”. After he’d talked me in off the ledge, we planted a garden or bird watched or something.

The husband then landed a well paying job and offered to fund my opening Bally Eden, my own gift and antiques shop. And in the summer of 2003, I found my new identity as a shop owner. I was invested in this town and I waited to reap the rewards. Unfortunately, like my new baby’s naps, my patrons became fewer and farther between. And then the non-recession happened. After two and a half years, on a cold and windy January day in 2006, I cleared out my lovely little shop and swallowed the bitter pills of debt and grief. I was no longer a city girl or a shop owner. Time had come for my inevitable turn to sacrifice myself on the “Mommy” bonfire. I had fought a long valiant battle.

The seasons changed again and the town’s charm emerged. As downtown residents, we enjoyed the marching bands in parades down Main Street. Across the street, the Courthouse Green hosts Shakespeare plays, movies, and Summerfest, a free family fair in August ending with a fireworks display. My native born friends assured me, where once they couldn’t wait to escape this small town, they had migrated back here to have their families.

I began to relax as I stopped trying to jam the square peg of my past into my round holed present. Challenged to grow where I was planted, I found concerts to attend, joined the YMCA, and began to publish essays online. I spruced up my nest, poked futilely at my nine flower beds, and discovered I had friends. I forayed to the big city to remind myself of what I wasn’t missing. And, when we couldn’t afford or stomach our dining-out choices, I cooked. Consequently, I’ve become a better cook. My kid thrived and I figured both my parenting skills and life here might not suck after all.

Despite myself, my forward thinking had made the right choices for my family’s future wellbeing. We’d chosen to move to a safe and quaint little town. Caroline County’s school system is good and we have curbside school bus service. My son’s childhood will be enviably stable. And how could I not feel safe with the police station a block up and the sheriff’s office a block down? After twelve years, there is a sense of belonging. A continuity in knowing peoples faces and the changing of the seasonal fields.

Then, out walking with a friend, I spotted them. Two women with their butt cheeks clenched pushing doublewide strollers full of babies up Second Street. Decked out in pricey athletic gear instead of frumpy house-frau clothing, their monstrous modern perambulators proved the inevitable city folk invasion had begun. My walking partner informed me, these weren’t transplants, just native money “slumming it” downtown with us townies. I was relieved. They were just ‘been here’s too.

Log Canoe Journal: The St. Michaels Races

The trophies for the Log canoe races on the last weekend of July in St. Michaels, MD have enough silver in them that would no doubt fill every needy tooth in three counties, and we were ready for our share of the booty.

Careening along in 12 knots of wind, Mystery with all sails billowing bore down on the committee boat intending to duck her then charge down the starting line but the timing had to be perfect. When Mitch Grieb our skipper ordered the fore sail eased in order to come off the wind, Ron Mueller the fore tender could not get it to uncleat. No amount of explicative’s or starting veins would work. Easing down the hiking board I waited for an opportunity to assist. When Ron finally prevailed, the sail flew out and in a moment all three hiking boards were being swept aft and jamming together at the main mast with Mystery nearly capsizing to windward on the committee boat.

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Photos by Mike Auth

Joey Finley our beau ideal sailor at sixteen and youngest crewman who with his father travels from Barnegat Bay, N.J. for every race, was riding the aft board which had disappeared along with Joey. Dick Snyder, a marine biologist at The University of Western Florida emerged from the foam and I grabbed his outstretched hand and helped pull him on board. As the foresail was brought under control and the boat righted the boards surfaced with a soggy but smiling Joey still attached. Fortunately for us and Joey’s submarine tenacity, one of the log canoe class rules dictates that you must finish with as many crew as you start with.

We soon got our wits together and not too shabbily started in mid pack. About half way to the windward mark, the Silver Heel had capsized and the Magic split her rudder forcing her to drop out. Not long after we tacked over to port we got starboard tacked by our old friend the Patricia. We thought we could cross in front of her but it was just too tight so as a penalty we had to execute a 360 degree turn, that is make a complete circle with the boat. Jibing, a part of this maneuver is not a particularly welcome event. The timing of the boardmen has to coordinate perfectly with the boat coming off the wind as she turns with the breeze coming aft. Continuing the arc the sails swing from far out of one side of the boat then swooshing across the crews’ heads to the other, as she heads back into the wind. If you round too slowly time is lost but if the helmsman comes up too quickly you can drive the boat over. Still we executed the maneuver in a professional manner, got back on the wind and closed in on the mark. Despite our athletic prowess, upon rounding we were next to last and just behind Persistence.

This was not to be a particularly auspicious day for Chester River boats. Reaching back up river we watched Persistence go into a death roll from a gust of wind off Deep Water Pt. She heeled first to port then to starboard then the pendulum once again gaining momentum finally slamming the sails into the water on port, launching several crewmen from their boards into the water. When we passed, her jib boom was sticking straight up probably having one end of the spar stuck in the shallow river bottom.

One unwritten rule in log canoe sailing is that you never gloat over another’s misfortunes. It is sort of an ‘e tu Burte’ syndrome and someone on board must have entertained a mischievous thought for soon after passing the overturned hull of Persistence, we got hammered by the same williwaw. Fortunately we were able to handle the roll but as we were recovering from the final pitch the tip of the jib got caught in the water forcing the front of the spar back towards the stern. This not only acted as a brake with the jib filled with water, but the fore and main were still driving the boat forward unable to luff and discharge their burden of wind. We were not only loosing headway but also our ability to steer when the jib boom suddenly snapped. Dick Snyder and I tried in vain to unhitch the jib from the bowsprit while under way but we lacked the leverage and strength to release it. So securing the jib to the bowsprit as best we could, Polite towed us to the dock where we accessed the damage and Franny Schauber charged off to Chestertown to get a new spar in time for the afternoon race.

If the morning race was exciting because of the dusty conditions and general carnage, the race for the Oliver Duke trophy will be remembered for light air and tactics.

Our start was improved from the morning being led only by the Billie P. Hall and Jay Dee. We were continually lifted on the St. Michael’s shore so we stayed on that course until forced to tack in shallow water. The wind which was not above six knots at the start dropped further and became spotty and the tide was near high water. Sean Callahan in the Billy P. looking for wind to work her sails spied dark water on the far shore and headed off to the other side of the Miles shadowed by the Jay Dee. As they headed east they were caught by the tide which was bottlenecked by Deep Water Pt. and a long sandbar extending west from Fairview forming a narrow ‘S’ curve for a channel. Even though the tide was nearly slack, the gap between the two points of land funneled the water from Eastern Bay to the Miles like sand through an hour glass. We watched as the two boats slipped sideways back towards the starting line, the wind on the far shore evaporating like a mirage.

Hugging the shallows around Deep Water Pt. we became what looked like the Mama Goose followed at a distance by her brood. The rest of the fleet was tightly packed following our lead, but we were able to move out of the constricted waters and make our way to the mark. In the mean time Jay Dee had found enough air to tack and rounded a distant second. Mystery headed back to the shallows on a direct line to the finish while Jay Dee stayed out in the channel and seemed to manufacture her own breeze. The wind was light and ahead of the beam so we were unable to use our staysail to any effect while Jay Dee effortlessly ate up our lead. Nearing the finish Jay Dee tacked down wind on starboard before her final approach. Mystery was on starboard nearly laying the line and when Jay Dee jibed so did we edging her out by twenty three seconds and savored the sweet sound of gunfire.


Our chief competitor this year boat for boat has been the Jay Dee but because of Governor’s Cup rules, square sterned canoes cannot compete in this race. Even though log canoe owners will take any step to make their boats faster, square sterns are deemed too radical for boats that were traditionally built as canoes that is to say double ended. So prestigious is the Governor’s cup that the Flying Cloud, originally built with a square stern was eventually altered by the builder so that she could race for that trophy. The square sterns not only give the boats a natty yacht like appearance but also greater stability. The advantage is that instead of heeling over in the breeze she drives forward instead of sideways. Many of the log canoes are altering their hulls by adding ‘cheeks’ to the chine, material just below the waterline to make the bottom of the hull flatter.

As we were towed out to the starting line Sunday for the Governor’s Cup race there was no denying we smelled blood. We were laid back and the crew was giving me suggestions about how to write the articles. Mitchell Grieb, the skipper proposed I start by using an analogy to horse racing, something to the effect of, ‘leading the thoroughbreds one by one from the paddock to the gate, wild eyed, straining at the bit, nervous jockey eager with the whip’.

I looked for signs and had only to lean overboard to spot a school of minnows. I wondered if they would precede the boat triumphantly like a school of porpoise or wait around like sharks for the scraps. As the morning wore on with the sun glaring off the placid water we lazed around the boat waiting for a breeze that just could not wake itself up. I recalled my grade school Steven Crane, in the ‘Red Badge of Courage’ saying, ‘the red sun was pasted in the sky like a wafer,’ that was something I could identify with. At any rate the contest was not to be.

After sweating it out for forty five minutes the race committee called it quits firing the three guns signaling cancellation so we beckoned our groom and headed for the barn. No sooner than it took the time for the smoke to clear, a light breeze popped up but that still was not enough to cajole the race committee into a start. All was not lost however, Mystery had gotten the gun for the first time this year and saving her time on the rest of the fleet would get her name for the first time on the Oliver Duke trophy.

Log Canoe Journal: The Chester River Regatta

Friday afternoon, Franny Schauber and I stood on the deck of his cousin’s bungalow and watched as Deep Point appeared and disappeared through the bands of rain that swept up the river. “You know, Jim,” he began, “the farmers of Kent County ought to get together and mail me a check every time I bring the Mystery down here. It hasn’t rained in six weeks and tonight after two weeks of leaving the boat in the sun to dry out we get this!” Besides the water the boat was absorbing and adding to her weight, the evening before regattas on Chester River are traditionally time for pleasure sails on the Mystery. Getting together on Friday serves the purpose of getting the man-power to step the masts for the race and also gives family and friends an opportunity to sail, since pleasure sailing is the heart of the Mystery.

By the time I returned Saturday morning, the weather had cleared to a sparkling day. Franny’s Cousin Dennis had already set and run his trot line, netting half a bushel of crabs. Most of the crew was there so we raised the foremast and made ready to tow out to the race with Mystery’s tender Polite. Franny and Dennis built Polite from pine strips, double hulled and filled with Styrofoam. She is flat bottomed with low freeboard to be able to service the canoe either upright or not. The name Polite was inspired by a photo of a sign that at first reading appeared to say “Police” and at sea, with a tippy boat under you, it’s a heartening deterrent to pleasure boats with big wakes to get them to slow down.

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The first race started in about six knots with the wind out of the west favoring a starboard tack start but as soon as we committed to that tack the wind shifted to west favoring the other tack. Most of the other boats were able to take advantage of the shift and tacked into clear air but we had to fall off forcing the boat under us, Patricia, below the pin end. Much to our surprise, Island Bird squeaked past our bow on port tack in a spectacular bid to be windward boat, but crossed the line early and had to restart. As soon as we gained speed we tacked and were almost able to lay the windward mark. We were fourth at the start behind JD, Blossom and Lark but we caught Lark at the windward mark, lost her again on the reach, then nabbed her in the end finishing third.

If the least appealing aspect of Log Canoe sailing is capsizing, the second is losing a halyard up the foremast. The only saving grace was that Franny couldn’t point the fickle finger of responsibility at any of Us. Last weekend the kite sheet was lost up the mainmast but that was not a big deal because it can be retrieved under way. However, the kite halyard is on the foremast, and because of the mast’s size the boat has to be taken to shore and derigged. But being of stout heart we rallied, got our midday exercise, ate, and made it back to the starting line in good time.

The afternoon race started under similar wind conditions as the morning and we got off to a decent start. Tacking over to starboard tack at the weather mark, Patricia gained an overlap with just enough room, when appearing out of nowhere, JD shot up between us and the mark on port, a clear violation of our starboard tack right of way. It has been remarked to me how quiet the crews of log canoes are. What seems like great eloquent yachts and stoic crews at a distance is more like a melee and meat grinder up close. The projectile laden language is awe inspiring. Patricia was the meat in the sandwich and Mystery ended up with her jib boom in JD’s outrigger. Fortunately we were able to disentangle without damage and we sailed off to the next mark while JD did a 360 around the buoy as is prescribed by the rules.

On Sunday the wind shifted to the south and the course was reversed from Saturday, all marks left to port. Seems simple enough, but the sharp eyes of our foresheet tender and skipper realized this would mean looping around the mark in a circle, not an impossible maneuver but if there were more that one boat at the mark it could cause havoc. We informed the race committee and they changed the rounding.

In July of 1863, a Confederate soldier observed after the battle of Little Round Top, that “Every fellow was his own general. Private soldiers gave commands as loud as their officers; nobody paying any attention to either.” When you have nine wooden boats averaging fifty feet overall including bowsprit, jib boom and outrigger, anywhere from seven to fifteen crew per boat, all shoehorned into a starting line, all vying for clear air and first to cross, the allusion to the chaos of battle cannot be far fetched . Amid shouts of “Come up,” “You can’t do that,” “Starboard!!”, “No room,” “Barging!” etc., coming from the mouths of a hundred sailors, beam to beam and head to tail, that’s a lot of hot air. Years ago Bill Grieb, the quintessential keeper of cool, (Mitchell’s father) used to sail Mystery. On an occasion similar to this I asked him how he could manage with all the noise. He just looked at me and smiled and said, “I haven’t heard anything from before the mainmast in years.”

After the starting gun, things quieted down and JD took the lead with Island Bird to weather and Lark below us. Slowly we gained on Lark when fifty yards in front of us in a surreal scene the mainsheet tender of JD slowly rolled off of the outrigger and into the water. JD responded, slowly rounding into the wind to lose way and get her back aboard — one of the log canoe racing rules it that you must finish with as many crew as you start with (Peter Eslinger, the skipper of Silver Heel also found his way overboard when pulling on a line that was not secured).

We ducked under her getting to the mark first with JD, Persistence, and Heel in hot pursuit. The wind was in the east but slowly dying. Persistence and Bird stayed high and caught a little land breeze but it too weakened. JD and Heel were further out in the river but got headed and tacked towards Reed Creek, where a long fishnet was staked far out into the river. Heel led the way and found enough room between the net and shore followed by JD and Mystery. The breeze became spotty as it clocked around to the south but the rest of the race was pretty much following the leader. We nearly caught Heel at the finish and behind us Persistence came on like a freight train, beating us on time.



Log Canoe Journal: The 4th of July Races

My brother once said that watching a sailboat race was about as interesting as watching snails mate.  I was never quite sure if this implied something dark about my sibling’s character or the apparent lackluster action likened to the proverbial painted ships on a painted sea.  One thing is sure that once you step off the dock and onto the deck of a Chesapeake Bay Log Canoe any reference to a snail’s pace falls by the board.

This past weekend began the Log Canoe racing season with the first races in the Fourth of July series at St. Michaels, MD.  I was fortunate to be able to sail with the Log Canoe ‘Mystery’ skippered by Mitchell Grieb and the owner Francis Schauber this past weekend.  The ‘Mystery’ was built in 1932 in Oxford, MD by John Sinclair, and is one of the largest of the Log Canoes, a breed of work boats unique to the Chesapeake Bay, surviving as racing craft and referred to as the ‘Sport of Kings on the Eastern Shore.’

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In Log Canoe sailing you don’t simply step off the dock and putt off to the starting line with coffee and doughnuts.  The first major task is to step the masts, two of them.  The foremast on the Mystery is 61 feet, the tallest in the fleet, and weighs 300 lbs, which is light by canoe standards.  Francis, or Franny as he is called, built the mast in a week with the help of his cousin, from cypress scraps that were then veneered with pine.  It takes the entire eleven man crew to raise it with the help of a cantilever in the Main Mast step and the labor of the wives and sweethearts on land pulling on the jib halyard.  The main mast at about 40 feet goes up quickly and then the miles of halyards, sheets, backstays etc., must be untangled and the sails hanked on.

Once away from the dock, the order of raising the sails begins in the stern with the mainsail.  The main is basically a steering sail and keeps the boat into the wind.  It also gets all the attendant gear, the sprite, club, and yards and yards of sailcloth out of the skipper’s hair so that he can see what he is doing.  The foresail is the largest sail, and after it is up gives the boat weight or forward momentum which is necessary to hoist the third sail, the jib so that this forward sail doesn’t catch wind and bring the boat around and lose control of the whole process.

Properly trimmed, the sails form a balancing act with the main pushing the bow into the wind, the jib away while the fore works as a fulcrum, balancing the whole on the centerboard.  In heavy air some canoes opt to lower the foresail to decease sail area, but because every boat is different, some will sail better under fore and jib.

Saturday’s race started at 2:00 pm, a bow to the canoer’s need for extra time to get rigged and get the bugs out after 8 months of hibernation.  Usually there are two races Saturday at 10:00 &2:00 and one Sunday.  Even so there were two capsizes before the start. The first to go was the ‘Silver Heel’ who happened to be sailing on a parallel but opposite course with ‘Mystery’. We were reaching in about 8 knots of wind, and as we watched the ‘Heel,’ she slowly but ominously raised her hiking boards loaded with human ballast higher and higher and whose eyes seemed to widen with every degree of heel above the water until finally she began to ship water and the board men either slid down to the side of the boat or catapulted into the sail that was now coming swiftly down on us!  The first impulse was to run forward and catch the tip of her mast before it hit our deck but before we could react, about a foot of her mast nailed us in front of our chain plates, bent backwards as it made its way around our shroud, rumbled beneath the hiking boards and finally slid off the deck by the main partners. We sailed on and left the ‘Heel’ to her tender, tacked and found John Macielag standing thigh deep in water, hands on hips as his canoe the ‘Patricia’ wallowed on her side.  Two down.

At the start the wind was from the West and Mitch found he could lay the weather mark on port tack and was able to force several boats that were barging off the line and began the race as the windward boat, an auspicious beginning.

Starting with clear air we were competing with the Jay Dee, the Island Blossom, and Billie P. Hall, and upon reaching the day marker at the mouth of Long Haul Creek rounded in that order.  The next leg to the marker at Oak Creek was also close hauled and we reached it keeping the same positions.  On the final beat to the finish we picked up the Bill P. and finished third behind the ‘Blossom’ with Jay Dee getting the gun, although the ‘Blossom corrected to first.

Saturday’s race was a very conservative windward leeward semi beat both ways with very little room for tactics, so the order of start fairly dictated where you finished.  Sunday the wind was a little more northwesterly and allowed the race committee to set up a more competitive start with the windward mark properly set at a right angle to the starting line which allows the boats more jockeying room for a favorable start.

Mystery started on a Starboard tack leaving us about mid fleet in similar wind conditions as Saturday.  After rounding the weather mark we put up our staysail and after much hot debate hoisted the kite up the foremast but despite taking long reaching tacks lost two boats at the lee mark. The last leg of the race was exciting when the fleet divided, Edmee, Heel and Mystery to the east side of the river and the rest to the St. Michaels side.  We were able to trade tacks with the ‘Heel’ in the westerly breeze but in the end was unable to catch either boat and finished sixth.

The second race Sunday was a blur of shouted orders, racing sheets and a header that would not let us go without a dunking before we reached the first mark.  Capsizing is a given in racing Log Canoes.  The Mystery has gone for two years at a time without going over but she has also had seasons where she capsized every race in the weekend.  What you see from the water are floating buckets, coolers hiking boards, hats, heads and a boat that looks like a beached whale in shallow water.  Mystery is one of the few, if not the only racing canoe not to have a protective fiber glass coating or epoxied wooden strips on the outside or some sort of water barrier inside.  The asset to leaving the hull unprotected is that the wood has a chance to dry out after getting dunked thus preserving the logs that after 78 years are remarkably intact.  The downside is after the first capsize the boat absorbs about 700 pounds of water, or about four more crew lying inert in the bilge.  All canoes eventually capsize and no matter what precautions you take water always gets into the hull, making the boat progressively heavier and eventually will rot the wood.  Franny takes great pride in the amount of original logs left in the boat where in some others only the shape is preserved by a fiberglass shell that has had lumber coped glued into the form.

In two weeks, July 9-10, the racing season will continue on the Chester River hosted by the Chester River Yacht and Country Club.