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February 06, 2018     Post 89
Two More Boating Tales

As winter grinds on the Log is taking a brief break from ecology and politics with a couple of short boating stories. These were previously published a few years back in two different U.S. boating magazines. Hope they provide a few minutes diversion on these dark February days. Less than a hundred days til launch.....

The Mighty Midge-nature has her own schedule-freshwater boaters do well to abide by it
published 2016 Good Old Boat issue 108

Each year along the south shore of Lake Ontario in late April when it's time to paint and varnish your elderly wooden boat, the first midge hatch occurs. Uncountable numbers of tiny black gnats emerge from the lake's waters and fly inland. There they swarm.

As the morning sun floods lake shore forests boat yards and lawns, everywhere golden motes of life float upward from grass and shrubbery to coalesce into clouds of dancing midges. The air fills with the tiny insects and bicycle riders are wise to breathe through their noses as they sweep through a cloud of insects.

These incredible aggregations I have read are a reproductive ritual. On a still sunlit spring morning as winter's dark days are a recent memory, the whine of a billion beating wings overhead fills the air with a siren song of life. Come, mate, and we will make more midges.

The movement of the swarm is mesmerizing. It shape shifts and swirls and rolls in a puff of wind and appears to act as a single entity. Even when the wind blows the midges remain tenaciously coherent. Big swarms look like columns of smoke. Often they float stationary over a prominent tree or pond or roof for long periods on a spring morning or a summer evening.

Throughout the boating season, successive species of midges emerge from the lake's depths, swarm and die. Though they look like mosquitoes and are a bug phobic shore dweller's nightmare, the midges don't bite. Some don't even feed during their short aerial lives. They do, however, raise havoc with a fresh paint job. On Midge Day the gleam of a yacht's newly coated topsides promptly becomes a vast killing field. Thousands of hapless insects land on the tacky surface to be trapped in the paint. The boat takes on a distinctly speckled appearance.

Overhead the resident barn swallows who nest in the boat storage shed swoop and glean, stuffing themselves with midges. Spider webs in odd corners fill with gnats. Some are so packed that they sag with the weight of their clotted bounty. Out on the bay small fish rise to the surface to pluck the midges.

As I gaze upward at the cloud of dancers whirling overhead I ponder their mystery. How do they all decide today is Midge Day? How do they find the perfect mate in that swirling mass? And why does Midge Day always occur just when you have applied something sticky to your boat?

A cheerful chatter from the barn swallows sweeping by reminds me that Nature has her own schedule. The wise adapt to it and are grateful for Creation's wonders and mysteries.

I take comfort in the thought that we are, after all, striving for a ten foot finish and a work boat look. ( photo )

Small Craft Advisor issue #78 A gift of courage

The year I was born, 1951, a former Florida resident published a book called ”Last Voyage”. Her name was Ann Davison and she has been a presence in my sailing life for fifty years.

Not long after I discovered sailing at age fifteen, I saw an illustration in a boating magazine. It was a painting of Ann Davison and her 23 foot sloop under full sail crossing the Atlantic. She was the first woman to sail the Atlantic solo. She did it long before GPS, chart plotters, and autohelms, and she did it with a wooden boat and canvas sails. She had no financial support from sponsors or doting family. And she made the trip four years after being shipwrecked and losing everything including her husband.

Ann Davison was an English woman originally from London. She fascinated me at an age when we seek role models and direction to pick our way through the rocky shoals of adolescence. Her story intrigued a beginning sailor in upstate New York. When I found “Last Voyage” in the local library, I read it several times. Her career as a freelance pilot, writer, artist, and subsistence farmer in England before her voyage to America and subsequent life in the Miami area fascinated me. Her accounts of adventure with assorted boats most of them elderly and built of wood, helped feed the already well kindled flame of my own boating interest.

Davison wrote several books, and her lively accounts generously laced with self deprecating humor about raising goats and geese on a Scottish island, piloting small planes for hire, and the refit of the 70 foot wooden ketch “Reliance”, spoke to the heart of a timid but restless teenager who also longed for adventure but didn't have the courage to pursue it. I eventually acquired a wooden sloop similar in size to Davison's “Felicity Ann”, that she crossed the Atlantic with. I followed in her literary wake by writing about my sailing experience, though both my adventures and publishing successes were far more modest.

“Adventure was our living and with her we would find it” Davison wrote of the “Reliance”. Oh how those words spoke to me! I, too, longed to sail my little ship off to distant seas.( Or at least down the Inland Water Way to tropical Key West. But I never did. I never sailed solo on blue water and now I don't particularly want to. My courage falters at the thought today, and at age sixty two I can now declare “I'm too old for that”. It's pretty easy now to settle into a daily routine. A rut they say is a grave with the ends knocked off, but mine is pretty comfortable these days- a husband, a debt free dwelling, an occasional charter or sail with friends on southern waters. But still the spark smolders.

Eventually, Ann Davison settled down, too. She re-married and lived in south Florida and after a last long solo cruise in a small outboard that took her up the coast, through canals and Great Lakes and down the Mississippi she swallowed the anchor and dropped out of public sight. I suppose once the adventure stopped she didn't have anything to write about. She slipped her earthly moorings forever in 1992 to pass over the bar. But her courage, her understated accounts of adventure and achievement and her sheer grit as she carried on in the face of horrifying odds in the three books of hers that I have read, still touch me deeply.

Looking back on four decades of sailing, first alone and since 1997 with a husband, I realize she served as an inspiration and a mentor of sorts, too, as she wrote of the need to keep a dream green and growing and of having faith in one's beliefs.
The sheer bloody joy of living close to the edge as she wrote- she lived out there. In fact, she fell right off the edge in the wreck of the “Reliance” and quite literally clawed her way back up to dry land.

The edge she lived on was far higher and the potential fall more deadly than any I have ventured near in my modest coastal cruises. But as we ready our boat for another season and talk yet again of that retirement cruise, sailing her to far away places like Key West and the Dry Tortugas and maybe even across the Gulf Stream, I realize Ann Davison's writing inspired me through the years to at least take a tentative step or two closer to the edge and admire the view of those tantalizing distant horizons.

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