by John S. Mickman
Thursday, October 17, 2013
From the time my brother Mark and I were young kids back in the ‘50’s, we always had plenty of our own money that we had earned in our dad’s Christmas Wreath and Burro’s businesses. The deal was that every time we were paid, we had to deposit half in our bank savings account and we could spend the rest on whatever we wanted to spend it on. Being quite frugal, Mark and I almost always put the whole works (usually in parcels of $5 - $10) into our savings accounts.
With much encouragement from our dad, Mark and I eventually purchased three boats together; 2 small sloop sailboats and one speedboat. We bought our first 14’ wooden sloop when I was about 9 years old and Mark was 7 ½. At $75, this was a pretty significant investment for us, but we still had more than half of our life savings in the bank.
The hull of this boat was ‘dicey’ at best, and dad had us put 3 coats of fiberglass on it. This boat was pretty heavy at the outset; with 3 coats of heavy fiberglass added, it was a real tub. Now that I think about it, maybe dad had us add the ‘glass’ so we wouldn’t tip the boat over in a high wind. Either way, we never could tip it over although we surely did try.
Our second sloop was a much nicer boat and we fine tuned our sailing skills on her. She was a little tippy, but that is the best way to learn to sail, by trial and error (in a warm lake!). Gramma and Grampa Lake (they were really Mickmans but they lived on a lake, so…) lived on Lake Owasso in Shoreview which was only about 10 miles from our house in Fridley. We spent many, many weekend days at their house swimming, boating and working (Gramma was a Norwegian Lutheran and needed to do some sort of work each and every day). We also got to stay over at their house for extended periods of time in the Summer to help out with all the work and sail our boat. We had fun.
Finally, when we were about 12 and 10 respectively, Mark and I sold the second sloop and purchased a speed boat. This was a really nice wooden boat with a maple laminate deck and a 33 horsepower Johnson motor (dad paid for the motor). We couldn’t go very fast by today’s standards, but we learned how to water ski behind our boat and quickly became experts. We spent a lot of time on the water.
One summer afternoon, dad came home from work and thundered into the house, “John, Mark – let’s go!” Mark wasn’t around, and I asked dad what the problem was because I had to run to the truck to keep up with him. “There is a huge storm coming, maybe a tornado, and we have to check the anchor line on yourboat. If we don’t, the boat may break free from the anchor, run ashore and be dashed into bits!” Holy Smokes, this was an emergency!
Dad drove lickety-split over to Gramma and Grampa Lake’s house, and by that time the wind was really coming up. Being my boat, dad had said I needed to check the mooring line and fix it if I thought it needed to be fixed. I didn’t have much of a plan as to what I was going to do, but I stopped in Grampa’s garage first and picked up a long piece of clothes line and a knife. (By the way, cowboys use rope; seamen use line. The distinction is important to a seaman!)
I ran down to the shoreline, stripped down to my swimming shorts and walked to the end of the short dock. The wind was whipping whitecaps across the lake and the boat was really straining against the anchor line. To get to the boat I needed to swim, so I jumped in and started stroking against the waves toward the boat. It was a little tough because I had the piece of line and a knife in my palm, but I finally reached the boat, threw in my supplies over the rail, and hoisted myself over the hull and into the cockpit. The boat was rocking back and forth like a bucking burro and I needed to balance myself carefully as I walked toward the bow. With the wind screaming like it was, this was turning out to be a pretty good adventure.
I jumped over the windshield, laid on my tummy and crawled to the bow so I could see the mooring line which was attached to the lag bolt through the stem of the boat. The knot hadn’t been tied very well, and in this wind, it was coming apart. I took the new piece of line, tied it first to the shackle in the mooring chain, and then through the eye of the lag bolt on the stem of the boat. After cutting the original line free, I surveyed my handiwork and thought that it looked pretty good; the two knots (one to the mooring chain and one to the boat) would hold, but, as I watched the boat struggle against it, the line that I had brought from the garage seemed a little light to me.
‘Hmmm’, I thought, ‘I don’t know if this is much better. Maybe I should put another line on’. Good idea. So I took the other half of the clothes line and tied it on alongside the first line. As the boat pitched back and forth against the lines, I saw that almost all the stress was on the first line. ‘Well, if the first one breaks, the second line will hold it’. I was getting tired of hanging on by my fingernails and the weather was getting worse by the minute. It was time to get back on shore.
So I jumped back into the lake and swam ashore, picked up my clothes and ran up to the house and into Gramma’s warm kitchen. Dad was sitting there taking to Grampa, and then looked at me. “So, how did it go? Will the anchor hold now?” Actually, I was a little nervous about the strength of the line I had chosen, and said, “Well, I think so. I tied on one new line, then another because I wasn’t sure if the first one was strong enough. So now there are two lines on the boat instead of one.”
I thought that sounded pretty good, but the frown on dad’s face told me differently. “Listen to me carefully John”, he said with a very stern look in his eyes. (We use to call this ‘the look’, and it always scarred us.) “Two half-assed jobs do not equal one good job. You don’t need two small lines on that boat, you need one, good, strong line. Now, go find another line, a strong one this time, and do that job properly. Let me know when you’re finished.”
So, I went back into the garage and found a really nice, thick, strong line, went back to the shore, swam to the boat, tied on the new line and cut off the 2 small lines. There was no doubt that this new bow line would hold onto the anchor chain. For sure.
Pleased with a job well done, I reported back to dad that we didn’t have to worry about that boat anymore, no matter how strong the wind. Together we walked down to the shore and looked at my new mooring line as the boat stained against it. “Good job John. I couldn’t have done better myself.” I was soaking wet and shivering, but there was a warm glow inside of me. A job well done; dad had said so. I felt pretty good about this as dad and I walked back to the old panel truck and drove back home. I never forgot the lesson.
Our dad was a tough study; he never gave me or my brothers any slack. We either did it right, or not at all. We each learned that in the short term, it may be cheaper to do a job improperly; in the long term, a job well done is always the best value and cheaper in the end.
by John S. Mickman
Posted by Mickman Brothers Inc. at 10:38 AM