Wind and Words

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 9:45pm

For several years I had a monthly ritual that involved reading a particular character’s stuff in Soundings magazine. It was written by the late Jack Sherwood, who had a column called “Bay Tripper.” I found interesting stories by a guy who loved sailing on the Chesapeake in a beautifully maintained Sparkman and Stephens Sailmaster 22. Her name was Erewhon and she was rigged out for singlehanded sailing. Jack had been a reporter and columnist for the Washington Evening Star and he knew how to observe, pay attention to detail, and work the language.

When I’d get my copy of the magazine at Healey’s in Wakefield, I’d tuck it away in my backpack and bring it to my sailboat — Celtic Legend — to read while anchored up somewhere in Narragansett Bay. I couldn’t get enough of this guy’s stories; it was “like a box of chocolates and you never knew what you were going to get.” Furthermore, I loved his boat. I wanted to be a guy like Jack Sherwood. I wanted to sail and think about things and then write them down so I wouldn’t forget them; however, I never thought of publishing what I wrote. It was simply about logging my observations while sailing.

Jack kept Erewhon in Bristol condition. I’ve seen this simple design in Newport Harbor, but only on rare occasions. The boat was built in Holland in ’62 and was drawn up for thin water sailing with a shallow draft centerboard. She drew a little over two feet with the centerboard up, and five feet when lowered. Moreover, this boat had beautiful wood trim in the cockpit and down in her simple, austere cabin. Her sail plan was substantial and the boat sailed well to windward and on a nice broad reach. In Jack’s columns I noted a curmudgeonly yet comical tone. I also sensed that he had some OCD stuff going on in regards to keeping his boat looking as pretty as possible — for his budget. He was not a pretentious writer; he just loved sailing and writing about the characters he’d met on and about the bay he loved to sail. One of his fellow writers at the Washington Evening Star was also a sailor named Winston Groom, from Mobile Bay, Alabama.

On the way to a family outing one day in 1994, my daughter Emily was raving about a book she’d just read called “Forrest Gump.” She insisted that I read this one, and maybe even try to teach it in my English classes. (To this day when my daughter tells me to read something I usually follow through — Emily’s never suggested a bad book, and she gifts me with good ones.) At the picnic, my cousin John was in from New York City. At that time, he was working for Paramount Pictures in their publicity department. I introduced him to my daughter, and asked him what he was up to with the show biz thing. “We’re about to release a movie called “Forrest Gump,” he said, “and we feel it’s going to do very, very well.” Emily chimed in, “I was just telling my dad about this book!” My cousin had just booked Tom Hanks and Gary Sinise on David Letterman and he said that there was a whole merchandising campaign in progress: hats, mugs, decals, lip balm, license plates, t-shirts, restaurants and other things. John said Paramount needed a hit after the films “Lassie,” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.” He said, “A southern writer named Winston Groom,wrote the book.” Emily was connecting all of the dots and aheming and nodding to her dad. Groom has written several very good books. Besides the folly-driven and farcical “Forrest Gump,” I’ve read a few others: “The Aviators” and two Civil War titles, “Shiloh” and “Shrouds of Glory.” It’s apparent that Winston and Jack shared a passion for wind and words.

What I loved about reading Jack Sherwood’s columns was of the tone of his writing. He had a simple and direct voice — sometimes snarky — whether he was writing about a powerboater passing him and leaving a wake, or a guy sailing along with his bumpers hanging over the side of his boat. He was an observer of how people’s boats were rigged. For example, he would shake his head about how people would unnecessarily reef their sails on the Chesapeake — in light air. Jack liked small boats under 30 feet and in one memorable column he was explaining the merits of a beautiful design he saw at a boat show. It was an Alerion Express 28, designed by the late Carl Schumacher. Everything Jack wrote about this boat had me nodding in approval — it’s my favorite boat design, ever. Carl drew a hybrid of the old and the new. Below the waterline was a go-fast keel configuration and above the waterline was a sleek and low-slung traditional design of the Herreshoff brothers of Bristol, Rhode Island. (Block Island’s Sonny Kern had an Alerion Express and if you want more information, talk to Sonny.) I would’ve loved to have gone for a sail on Erewhon, or an Alerion Express with Jack Sherwood.

Last summer I was thinking of downsizing to a smaller sailboat — maybe a Sailmaster 22 if I could find one in decent shape. But one of Jack’s columns gave me pause. He talked about the ample cockpit of the Erewhon; however, he also talked about the tight quarters down below in her cabin. As a six-foot stiff-jointed 69 year-old sailing geezer; Jack’s words stood as a cautionary tale. I think that I’ll stick to my Ericson 30, and chase wind and words. Finally, Jack’s pal Winston Groom still sails Erewhon on Mobile Bay, Alabama.