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July 10, 2019     Post 106
Respect (and fear)

Recently a woman who owns a sizable power cruiser told me ĎYou have to respect the lake.í She went on to describe horrible experiences as a youngster crossing from Canada aboard the family cruiser-sea sick and sacred the whole way. Now, she told me, when it gets really wild out there she is happy to turn the wheel over to her husband, a former professional mariner.

I nodded as I recalled silently my own memories of solo sailing in years past. She didnít need to remind me about respect! More than once I set out with my twenty three footer only to wish I hadnít.

The lake is indeed formidable, and for some of us respect can edge over into fear. Thatís not a good feeling twenty miles offshore. Wishing for a safe harbor is fairly pointless out there as you watch the approach of the next big one. Watching a wave looming up to windward, you think that there will be a hundred more like it before you reach safe harbor. Then you start to calculate the odds. Now if one percent of the seas are fifty percent higher than the average height, that means thereís some ten footers out here somewhere. Wonder when Iíll see one of those...

Writing fiction requires a great deal more of the author than producing a marketable magazine story about sailing technique or a travel destination piece does. Even a self taught would-be novelist quickly realizes the need to dig deep inside yourself to produce a credible character or a page turning scene. Itís easy to take those dark moments of self doubt verging on panic while sailing wide water and shove them into the cluttered closet where a life time collection of bad memories resides.

However, to write a good scary squall scene the novelist must draw on that store of memories. The trick is to keep fear from overrunning respect out there. And I admit after fifty years of sailing the lake, the threshold when respect merges with fear is a little lower than it was when I was in my twenties.

When I wrote ďWidow MakerĒ I very much wanted the lake to be more than a mere backdrop to the tale. I wanted it to be a major character, central to the action. I guess you, the reader, must decide if my mix of historic description and personal experience is convincing.

Iím certain though from 19th century marinersí accounts of Lake Ontario sailing, that the successful ones who made a living here figured out the balance of fear and respect. There are certainly times when bold action is essential. The art of living upon the lake is knowing when!

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