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P1010075I grew up in an age of portholes on graceful boats and yachts. They were beauty personified. They reflected an appreciation for elegance and style and a clean interface with the vicissitudes of nature. Like the Turkish royal yacht above or my own little trawler of recent years below, yachts with portholes were the only way to go. In my log, they still are.

But today’s ultra-modern yachts sport giant picture windows, both horizontal and vertical, punctuating their hulls. Some even have decks that fold out sideways like balconies and terraces. And upright bows and vertical lines that seem to sit upon the sea like stacked boxes rather than the sleek lines of good, classical nautical design that is one with the sea.

What these absurdities reflect, to my mind, is a growing inwardness in modern well-to-doers — viewing the world not as part of nature but as part of self, not looking out at the beautiful world but in. They care more about their personal “space” than they do about connections with the waters and land around them. It is, in effect, a degrading of man’s connection with the sea.

The result is distressingly ugly, fractured and disassociating. I won’t even show pictures of these “yachts” of today, because I can’t stand them. YACHTING Magazine, a long-time favorite of mine, is now chock full of these monstrosities. Are the “end days of yachting” upon us. I hope not.

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In 1995, Vicki and I boarded the famed Cunnarder, the QEII (1969-2008) at the Port of New York and set sail on my 10-year sabbatical from McDonald’s for a crossing to England. Aboard was famed science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, then in his mid-70s, who died just yesterday. I’d  always been a science fiction fan, having grown up glued to Flash Gordon (the original) on TV, so was delighted to have the opportunity to spend 2 hours with him in the theatre, and hear him talk about writing the Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451. He told great stories, as we all know. That classic ocean liner crossing, with its black-tie dinners in the Queen‘s Grill and long sunny afternoons looking out to sea, was a memorable experience for someone like me, who had grown up cruising on small boats on inland lakes with my family.

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It was on this day in 1814 that Francis Scott Key wrote the poem that became “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The British had invaded and captured Washington on August 24th. After successfully destroying the White House, the Capitol building, and a lot of Washington, the British moved on to Baltimore, and had no interest in occupying it — they just hoped to destroy as much as possible, as a symbolic victory.

The British made their headquarters in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, and took over the plantation of the town doctor, Dr. William Beanes, who was elderly and well-liked. A young lawyer, Francis Scott Key, was incensed when he heard that Beanes had been captured and was being held on a ship, so he set off to rescue him.

Key was accompanied by John S. Skinner, an agent for prisoner release whom President Madison had sent along. The British commander, General Robert Ross, finally agreed to release Beanes after the Americans showed them some letters written by wounded British prisoners saying that Dr. Beanes was taking good care of them. But he wouldn’t let the three men leave until after the attack on Baltimore. They had to get on a sloop behind the British fleet and wait to see what would happen.

At Fort McHenry in Baltimore, there was a huge flag, 30 feet by 42 feet, easily visible from the British ships. Each of the 15 stars measured two feet between the points, and the stripes were two feet wide. A Baltimore seamstress and her 13-year-old daughter had sewn the flag by spreading it all out on the malthouse floor of a local brewery.

The British attacked Baltimore throughout the day on September 13th, and that night they sent more than 1,500 bombs, rockets, and cannon balls across the water at Fort McHenry. But Baltimore had been preparing for war for the past year, and it was well defended. Suddenly, the British stopped firing. From their boat, Francis Scott Key and the other men had no idea whether the British had succeeded or given up and retreated, and they could no longer see the harbor now that the sky was dark. So they had to wait all night, until the sky was light enough to see which flag was flying over the fort. And of course, the next morning the American flag was there.

Francis Scott Key scribbled down some ideas for a poem on the back of a letter that he was carrying. He was released later that day, and the next day, September 14th, he finished writing “Defense of Fort M’Henry,” which would later become the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” in a room at the Indian Queen Hotel.

Within five days, the poem was printed and circulated all over Baltimore with the directions that it should be sung to the tune of an English song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.” No one is sure exactly who figured out that the lyrics fit the tune of this popular drinking song. A well-known actor, Ferdinand Durang, stood on a chair and belted it out to an appreciative crowd at Captain McCauley’s tavern and became the first person to publicly sing what is now the national anthem of the United States.

Near the Golden Horn and North through the Strait, toward the Black Sea.

Yesterday and today were the first two days of their kind, beautiful placid days on Geneva Lake, when I’ve not felt guilty for not taking the boat out.

We sold the SeaBell to another enthusiast on Saturday. Now I’m left with the memories, the hand-plaited rope bell pull, the French signaling horn, the 50-year-old log book, and hundreds of photos, some framed, some in flip-cases and many on the computer, of every inch of SeaBell and some of our outings.

I want to think about other boats whose decks I yearn to walk, but push away. It’s too soon. The funds raised from SeaBell will go to support my college cause-related communications awards program for a few more years, so I’m sure I’ll be reminded of her whenever the award ceremonies come around.

Always liked the feeling of knowing I had a boat on the lake, whether I was aboard her or not. Now I’m not sure what to think.

after 8 seasons aboard the sturdy little SeaBell, as Vicki and I walked away from the dock at Gage Marine on Williams Bay at Geneva Lake, Wisconsin this morning, leaving the new owners, Steve and Laura, aboard to enjoy their new pocket trawler and make plans for the future.

Visited Saugatuck, MI this week and saw the berthed Keewatin lake steamer, a 350 foot behemoth built at Greenock, Scotland in 1907, and which serviced the Great Lakes until its retirement in 1965. Today it’s a museum you can visit and tour, with much of its interior restored to original appearance. What a treat!
An hour North, at Muskegon, is docked the Milwaukee Clipper, aother 361 foot behemoth, built in 1904 as the luxury lake liner Juniata, and rebuilt as a modern passenger car ferry in 1941, transporting vacationers across the lake until 1970, but today she floats only partially restored after funds ran out. The high-speed catamaran Lake Express berths across the way, and now serves to shuttle cars and visitors between Milwaukee and Muskegon. We sailed her for the first time, westbound, on Wednesday. Comfortable, quiet and fast.

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