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Friday, April 6, 2012

Getting Started Part III

For those of you I left on the edge of your seat/keyboard since my last post and appeared to sail on the edge of the earth, sorry.  Between my last post and just a week ago Jo and I were in a mad dash to finish work on the house and get it on the market, both of which are done and I hope in my next posting I can bring you news regarding sale of the house.  This mad dash over the last year has all been to get the house to this point; finally it has nearly ended and before we can cool-down we are in the starting blocks for the next one.  It seems that that is the story, of not just ours, but a lot of our friends lives, one mad dash from one phase to the other until we hit the final wall; and yes, I question the logic in that.  I hope with this plan/plot/pursuit we are about to undertake we will at least “gear-down” a bit.  Of course I say that at 04:10 a.m. sitting in a Long Beach, CA hotel unable to sleep for the last hour or so because my mind is racing. 

I am here at USITT (United States Institute of Theatre Technology), which proves to be bittersweet, for several reasons.  This organization and all the friends and colleagues I have met here represent a part of my life I am moving away from very soon.  Former teachers like Bernie, dear friends I have met through USITT like Le, Holly, and Mike, Steve, classmates from TTU and Illinois, and most importantly former students who now have their own students and careers.  I will miss it and them dearly.

A Prindle (not ours)
OK, enough preambles, back to the story, Getting Ready; Part III.  So, when I last left you I was off to Graduate School, or Three Years Without Sleep.  I went to the University of Illinois for a couple of reasons, first they accepted me on the basis of my portfolio not grades, no GRE was required, they scholarship-paid my tuition and fees, and the Krannert Center offered opportunities that other places I was looking at did not.  The one reason I did not choose it was for the sailing opportunities.  I knew that there was no way I would have the time to sail (remember, Three Years Without Sleep).  Of course, we did find opportunities to sail in the small lakes around Champaign – Urbana, then one day (don’t they all start like that) I was reading the classified ads and there it was, an 18’ Prindle Catamaran, in Springfield Illinois for sale.  While we were in Amarillo, our friend at the Texas Sailing Center had taken us out on a Hobie Cat at one of the only large reservoirs in the area and although it was not like the flying-a-hull, hair-on-fire experience that you see in all the promos for beach life in California or Florida it put the hook in our mouths, Springfield set the hook.  I suppose I can fess-up and all statutes of limitations have run out but there are these things called graduate student loans, and by our way of thinking, they were intended to help you live/survive graduate school and this Prindle was our survival.  So we went to look at her.  The guy selling her thought we were just looking for a free sail so it took some convincing that we were serious, but it finally worked and he took us out, showed us how to rig her and the very basics of how to sail her in almost non-existent winds.  We left that day both excited and scared out of our wits.  Here I was at grad school, we had a child who we had just learned at the age of almost 2 suffered from some life affecting handicaps, and we were only three years into a marriage; what could go wrong?  So we bought the boat.  One Sunday I drove to Springfield, gave the guy the biggest check I had ever written and hooked it up to our red Pontiac and headed home all the way experiencing uncontrollable excitement and depression.  If you are good at math, you probably realize we now own two boats.  Hey Neil!  One of the students in the undergraduate tech-production program and I had become drinking buddies and his wife, Jo, Erik, and I would take the Sidewinder out sailing on the rare free Sunday and even took a short sailing holiday later down to a lake in Northern MO near Hannibal which of course we all know is home of one of the greatest inspirations to grab a boat or raft and cast off the dock lines of all times, Mark Twain.  So, long story just slightly less long, Neil bought the Sidewinder, which followed him post graduation to Austin and had a good life on the many lakes of the hill country.  Some years later I heard Neil traded up to a 22’ something with one hull, and then eventually beat me to the good life and retired from his job and is living somewhere down-island diving and building his piece of paradise.  Keep the beer cold Neil, we’ll be there soon!

So now we have this 2-hulled boat, no time to go sailing, a good hour to the nearest lake of any size, and no real idea what we were doing (sounds like a recurring theme in our lives.)  To say there was a learning curve would be an understatement.  The first time out, Jo, Erik, and I must have been the type of shore side entertainment we all enjoy, well except those of us who are the entertainment.  First mistake was trying to use the traditional boat dock with something that wasn’t a bass or ski boat and then trying to sail around the bass and ski boats, but we prevailed and must have at least survived.  While out that day we spotted a muddy little beach of sorts with other s/v (sailing vessels) that looked like ours.  After some time we met a few of this lunatic fringe and realized it was a club of sorts.  No meetings, dues, or blue blazers just cat sailors.  We learned from them how to cast off from the beach instead of the boat ramp and more importantly how to sail and rig-up single handedly.  I learned not to lose your footing when you fly a hull or you get very wet, which led to learning how to right a cat when she’s on her side or all the way over, and what it meant to pitch-pole a boat. For those of you unfamiliar with the term it basically means sailing faster than you should and making the cat do a cartwheel of sorts by burying the front leeward hull (the side the wind is not coming from) down into the water bringing all forward motion to an immediate standstill.  Since we all learned in science class or when we tried to go to far on a date, every action has an immediate and opposite reaction, going too fast in one direction will often lead to a slap in the face.

Time went on and we/I got better.  Our son loved the water and sailed with us when we had the chance to go out as a family, but often I went out by myself during the summer when I was not taking classes, painting scenery, working on the house we foolishly bought, or taking care of the boy.  Eventually I was invited to race.  OK, here we get into an area I am choosing to avoid, racing, well better put racing with your spouse as crew, just not going to go there.  I did participate in two out-of-town races in southern Illinois at the Whale-of-a-Sail Regatta and have the mugs to prove it.   Even though I enjoyed racing and even bought a book written by Phillip Berman who I got to meet a few years ago, I never had a future as a racing star or Olympic champion.  First off, beach cats, should I say racing cats, are sensitive to weight and for those of you who have met me I can best be described by Lord Richard Buckley and later Jimmy Buffett in God’s Own Drunk as possessing a 27 acre body.  But I had fun, and the comradely was a large part of it. 

In retrospect, it was a good thing I went to grad school in Illinois.  If I had gone in San Diego where it is endless summer I would have never gone to class and would have become a sailing bum long before I could really appreciate the life, but, being in a part of the world with things like blizzard warnings and life threatening wind chills, the cat had to hibernate and I just had to wait for the few days in the summer when we could go sailing.  You know the rap on teachers; we only work 9 months out of the year.  Well in nearly 30 years of this I have had two summers off when I wasn’t teaching or doing summer theatre and one of those was while in grad school between my second and third year.  During this time I sailed whenever I had gas money for my Subaru and a fair breeze.  Usually I would take care of stuff around money-pit with an indoor swimming pool (house with leaky basement) and then head off for the lake.  Lunch was a snickers bar on the way home and often times in the dog days of a Midwest summer I floated more than sailed but I was on the water.  Jo and Erik came when they could but for the most part I was often alone on the lake. 

We threw in a couple of summer trips mostly connected to family events and of course towed the sailboat wherever we went.  At my brother’s wedding I piled on three large persons plus myself in too much wind and damn near swamped her, and at a gathering of Jo’s clan at some lake in central Texas her brother, Jon, brought his 18’ G-Cat and we sailed from morning to night.  When I graduated Jo bought me a used sailboard (windsurfer) which I was determined not to suck at, determination is a good thing although not a guarantee of success and in case - are there any government auditors out there? -  I did use part of another student loan to replace the stock main sail with a racing main but that was the only real graying of the loan rules, and the loan got paid back in full and even ahead of time, and as previously postulated, I survived the Three Years Without Sleep.

Graduate school ended and I had several offers at geographically diverse universities but for all the right reasons we landed in Ruston LA, which is where, I will leave this installment.

A postscript; I have been home from USTT for a week now and I hope I will be able to report soon that two of the four steeps necessary to make this jump are complete.  If I am the dog I would be getting nervous!  


  1. Fred, I am hooked to your blog. Have enjoyed reading previous posts and was looking forward to reading this new one. Thank you for sharing--great back story!

  2. Thanks, Fred, for the grad school review. Seems I was trying to be a skier and mountaineer a few miles west of you at Colorado State in those years. As you say, if we had time - there was no money. If there was a little money - there was no time. Got into an account this week, to which I'd lost the password a couple of years back. A university-free future is just beginning to dawn!

  3. Some how we all survived Grad School; best nd not-so-best time of my life. Keep plugging away and freedom form the University will happen my friend!