CHAPTER 1      




            Marsha and I met one February evening in the club lounge after playing tennis on a company league. She owned an Aquarius 21 sailboat and became proficient as its skipper, but wanted to move up to the next class of boat. She had been carrying a one-page advertisement for a Watkins 27 sailboat in her purse for over 2 years. Twenty seven feet was the right size of vessel for the Lake St. Clair. After perusing many boat shows and careful comparisons, the Watkins 27 was her choice. It offered the largest cabin of any 27' boat with 6'2" headroom and a 10' beam. It also had an enclosed head and an inboard diesel engine. A Watkins 27 was clearly a comfortable step up from the Aquarius.

            We spent the next summer selling the Aquarius to a friend. He wanted to own the boat, but not until his divorce was final so, we co-owned the vessel while teaching him how to sail. It was a fun boat, with a V-berth two people could sleep in, a port-a-potty, and an outboard engine. You could stand up in the center of the cabin under the companionway cover when it was raised. Marsha and I spent a ten-day vacation sailing the Aquarius among the islands during the middle of the summer. While the vacation was great fun, we experienced one extraordinary thing. There are many islands in Lake St. Clair between Michigan and Canada that are practically deserted during the week. One evening, we had beached the Aquarius and tied its bow to a tree on Strawberry Island. After eating most of our dinner, I built a bonfire on shore. We decided to go skinny dipping for a while because the night air and water were so warm. While we were sitting in front of the fire, I grabbed the paper bag containing a partially cooked potato. I reached in the bag and pulled out a blob of rubbery goo. It felt slimy so I immediately threw it into the fire. The flame flared up so I raised Marsha's beach towel in front of us for protection. I slowly lowered the towel so we could see the flare. It appeared as a glowing skull in the middle of the fire. We stared at it quietly, naked, all alone on the dark island. The next day as we were trying to leave, the old engine on the back of the Aquarius virtually fell apart. We managed to cast off under sail, and make our way back to the mainland, barely making it into the slip under sail. Marsha had purchased a new engine at a recent boat show, so we drove back to her house to get it, and then continued with our vacation, sailing back out to the islands. We didn't talk about what we saw for a couple of days, but concluded there was an evil presence on Strawberry Island. By the end of the summer Marsha and I developed a good feeling that we were compatible.


Figure 1: The Aquarius 21 at Strawberry Island


            We found a Watkins 27 for sale by owner in the local classifieds during the following winter. After spending an entire afternoon inspecting the boat we felt it would be a great move up. Before we knew it, we were back in the water. Moonshot was its name. It's a superstition that it's bad luck to rename a boat once it has been christened, so we didn't. Moonshot was dry docked at a marina on the north end of Lake Erie. We spent the first weekend sanding the hull because we were having the boatyard apply a new coat of bottom paint before putting it into the water. Marsha's brother helped us with that fun task, after which we were three blue worker bees.

            The first day in the water was wrought with calamity. Through a mix up in communications, the boatyard thought we were coming on Thursday. We arrived on the following Saturday. They were eager to have the boat out of their way and literally pushed us off the dock. Bobo, Marsha's pet dog fell in the water trying to climb on board. I pulled him back onto the boat with his leash. At that point, I realized I was aiming toward a large powerboat and had never handled a boat with a steering wheel before. Shortly after recovering, I drove the mast that was lying across the deck out past the bow, into a piling and bent the support bracket for the wind direction indicator. After making it out of the marina, I then proceeded to run aground accidentally meandering out of the narrow channel. We finally got free by plowing backwards and then docked the boat back in the marina. Two representatives of the coast guard immediately approached us offering a free inspection. They pointed out Moonshot was missing several important pieces of safety equipment. Bobo was one wet, irritated doggie. The boat remained in that dock space for another week.

            We ventured back to the marina the next weekend in the rain. After the first attempt at raising the mast, we realized the boatyard's hoist was too short to raise it from it's top, so we tried again with the hoist cable wrapped around the mast's spreaders. This worked and we were able to complete the rigging job, securing the backstay, forestay, and shrouds. Because of the rain, we planned to move Moonshot to its new berth in St. Clair Shores the following weekend. The air was crisp but the ride was scenic as we passed the city motoring up the Detroit River. The Renaissance Center had recently been completed and was shimmering in the reflection of the morning sunlight. We reached the slip without a hitch and were the proud new owners of a Watkins 27, ready for some great yachting.

            Shortly after providing Moonshot with a new homeport, Marsha accepted a job in Boulder, Colorado. Marsha had opportunities to sail on Moonshot a few times before leaving, but most of its sailing that spring was done by myself and other friends. It was inevitable that I would be leaving Michigan as well. I had accepted a job in Northern California and had already given my notice. Marsha came back to pick up the rest of her possessions, pets, and automobile, so I drove back to Colorado with her, using up vacation days during my last 2 weeks. While in Colorado, I answered an advertisement in a Denver newspaper for a job that sounded better suited to my interests. I received a written offer 19 hours before movers were scheduled to pick up my already packed possessions and move them to California. The only thing I had time to do was to have the same movers take everything to Marsha's house in Boulder.

            Arrangements had been made to move Moonshot to Lake Dillon, a beautiful reservoir nestled in the Rocky Mountains about 2 hours away from Boulder by car. Marsha had been assured in her interview that there were interesting places for boats in Colorado. As it turned out, the proper boat size for Colorado was not as big as Moonshot, not enough water to play in, the hoist at the marina wasn't big enough to lift it, etc. Moonshot continued to stay dry docked in Michigan. We attempted to sell it, but interest rates at the time had soared up beyond 19% and boat loans were not available. Times were hard and people's recreational expenditures in Michigan were along the lines of a new deck of cards. We gradually got used to all the payments and didn't think about it much. We canceled any subscriptions to boating magazines and we adjusted to the Colorado lifestyle.

            After the second year, we made a deal with one of Marsha's previous co-workers. He agreed to take care of all expenses associated with putting the boat in the water above and beyond the cost of keeping it in dry dock, then he could sail it freely. We planned to come back to Michigan for a one-week stay onboard. The brief week turned out to be our honeymoon.


Figure 2: Moonshot at Seagull Island


            Three years after we moved to Colorado, Marsha and I were both starting to think about a change and started interviewing for jobs. We considered only Boston and San Francisco because both areas offered high technology industry and plenty of water for sailing. We received offers in both locations. The day we had been shopping for housing in the Boston suburbs was the coldest day of that winter so we decided to head west. Our real sailing adventures began when we finally had Moonshot moved to San Francisco Bay.



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Keys to the Golden Gate, Copyright © 2002 by Steve Sears