Stephenson Tales


Orlando taught me to sail when I was about twelve. He took me out in his sloop--the Lorelei (he refinished it and canvassed the hull like a canoe!)--and taught me all the terms, the handling of the craft, how to land into the wind--in short, everything that I would need to know. He raced the Lorelei on Sundays at Gull Lake and often won or was in the first five boats to lead. The Lorelei was a very fast, round-bottomed boat that had a deck that was less than a foot out of the water--275 square feet of sail plus a jib--Marconi rig. I sailed that boat until my father sawed it up the month before I came home from overseas in 1945. I was so stunned that I never asked him WHY???? But, as beautiful a boat as the Lorelei was, my heart had always been set on the slightly larger keel boat: the Star. There were about thirty on Gull Lake and they were the envy of everyone who did not own one--including me. Some years later, in 1963 when I was Visiting Professor of Theater at Southern Illinois, I went to a speech and theater conference somewhere and to my delight among those in attendance was an old friend of mine from Michigan and from my first teaching job at Highland Park Junior College--Bea Hartman. Being very alone in a place I did not want to be, I asked her to have dinner with me. She did and we had a charming meal--talking over old times. As we chatted and ate, it came out that she was as sailor. I confessed my longing for a Star to her. She looked at me very steadily and told me that she had one at Gull Lake that she wanted to sell! So I bought it for a mere $600.00! The Lorelei IILucy Chase and I borrowed a trailer from the Music Camp and drove down to Gull Lake and picked it up. It had its own cradle, but it was just a wooden frame--no wheels of its own. But we used the hoist at the boat yard and got it on the trailer and VERY SLOWLY drove it to Interlochen. It was a beauty. It had a bright bronze keel and rudder with the underwater area the same metallic color. Above the waterline it was an aqua color and the deck was a very light green. Wooden hull and deck layered with glass-smooth fiberglass. The wooden mast was white. I got two sets of sails along with the boat (by the way, on the keelson was the production number 2009.) We put it in the water on the trailer at the State Park and floated it off. AT LAST! A dream come true. So we sailed that boat for the rest of the summer. I bought an old car wheel chassis which had recently been used for mail delivery from the railroad station to the Post Office at Interlochen from a junk yard and bolted the wooden cradle to the top of the flat bed mounted on the chassis. We chained together about ten cement blocks for an anchor--in about twelve feet of water off the end of our dock in front of our house. So for the next several years we happily sailed our Star. We had one disaster one year when the mast broke as the boat got fouled up in the anchor chain before I could release it. I used epoxy glue and mended it and it was probably stronger than it had been before the break!

Then, one year on Good Friday before Easter, we got caught in the tail end of a cyclone. The Lorelei was on the beach beside the boat house and the wind was so strong that it lifted the boat - nine hundred pounds of lead in the keel alone - right off the cradle, turned it part way around and dropped it on the ground. The mast broke in two places, the rudder post - a solid brass rod an inch in diameter - snapped off at the hull. And there it lay--helpless never to sail again. I got inside the cockpit and loosened the bolts holding the keel. Since the prow was still partly up on the trailer, when I loosened the last bolt, the keep fell to the ground and lay down--and it lies there to this day. We turned the boat over on to the beach and repaired a very large hold that had been punctured in the hull, replaced the bolts in the holes with caulking, removed the remains of the rudder post and put it in the water--and it rode high because it had no weight any more pulling it down. I faithfully put it in the lake each year--even after I got Lorelei III--and then Lucy Chase had a fantastic idea which I carried out: Make it into a row boat! Great idea! I took my "circle saw" as Lawrence used to call it) and cut the deck off--making a very open boat. Then I put in floor boards from the scrap lumber over at the Academy, seats, oar-locks for three sets of oars, a wheel for the outboard motor and it is now riding high as the largest rowboat on Duck Lake! Sometimes we have taken it down the PLatte River. Often people simply stare--but once in a while, someone will ask in amazement: "IS THAT A STAR???" So I tell them the story.

© Jim Bob Stephenson 1992

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