In irons

April 12, 2011

Your Grandpa John was a family man. He worried about basic comforts such as warmth and food and couldn’t stand to see any of us cold or hungry. He also liked to provide opportunities for family fun. Most of the time his planned family fun time worked out well and, if not, it was usually funny.

In 1972 Grandpa John bought a 21 foot sailboat with main sail and jib that could sleep six, and took us sailing on Lake Michigan and some of the lakes in our area. When we discovered a shallow area or sandbar, he would drop anchor and let us jump out of the boat. He  even allowed us to leap out into the depths of Lake Michigan. Most of us were good swimmers but we didn’t tell Grandma Beanie about our swimming in the depths of Lake Michigan.

When Grandpa John and Grandma Beanie rented a cottage for the family vacation that year the sailboat came along with us and we were all excited to test it out on the choppy waters of Lake Wawasee. Even Grandma Beanie, who is not a fan of any type of boat, agreed to go along on the adventure. The nine of us and Missy, the dog with newly acquired sea legs, set sail on the sparkling waters. There was wind and that was good, but we eventually found ourselves headed directly into it, a sailing situation known as in irons, and that was bad. For novice sailors with a nervous mother and nervous dog (sea legs or not), it was a tricky and frustrating situation.

A modern sailboat with a jib can head into the wind at approximately a 45-degree angle, using a zigzag course to make headway. When a captain sees his boat is approaching a situation that would place him in irons, he can order the jib to be backed up, or placed on the windward side of the boat before the bow is facing directly into the wind. The jib then catches the wind and pushes the bow away from the wind. Once the boat moves far enough so the captain is able to correct position to the wind to approximately 45 degrees, he orders the jib position to be moved to the leeward side of the boat, or on the side to which the wind is blowing, and off he goes.

We were headed directly into a gusting, buffeting wind and both sails were flapping like flags. Grandpa John was barking orders and we were jumping to carry them out, but nothing helped. We positioned the jib, or forward most sail, on either side in turn, but it still couldn’t catch the wind. We were dead in the water.

Grandpa John changed his mind about the Lake Wawasee family sailing adventure for that day and decided to head back to the cottage. He tried to start the auxiliary outboard motor that was used primarily for coming to and leaving a dock. Nothing happened. He pulled the cord again, and again, the motor did not respond.

Grandma Beanie was frozen in fear by our inability to get the boat moving and terrified by the choppiness of the water. Missy had apparently begun to feel some anxiety, too, because she peed all over the seat on which Grandma Beanie was sitting. Grandma Beanie was soaked.

Dave, age 6, decided to help his Daddy by saying, “Squeeze that little ball, Daddy, squeeze that little ball.” He was referring to the primer bulb on the fuel line. Grandpa John had already squeezed the little ball. Dave continued to remind Grandpa John to squeeze the little ball every minute or so. He then went to squeeze the little ball, himself. Grandpa John rebuffed him so Dave recommenced his litany of “Squeeze that little ball, Daddy.”

Just as all of that was occurring, a speed boat motored up next to us and the driver asked Grandpa John if he knew how to get a boat out of an in irons situation. He explained that some of his friends in another sailboat were new sailors battling the gusts on Lake Wawasee and could not start their auxiliary motor.

The last squeeze that little ball help from Dave, Missy’s accident, assorted kids jumping to assorted barked commands, and the speed boat driver asking Grandpa John how to get out of the same situation in which we found ourselves, was just enough to send Grandma Beanie into one of her completely involuntary and totally unstoppable fits of laughter. Each time Dave said, “Squeeze that little ball, Daddy,” her laughing fit began again. Each time the laughing fit began again, Grandpa John would become more frustrated, and Grandma Beanie would become more tickled.

The sailors of the other boat that was in irons were finally able to start their outboard and be on their way. Their friends in the speed boat towed us to where we were able to catch the wind again, and Grandpa John sailed us back to shore. Grandma Beanie never sailed again.

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