Our wedding date had been carefully planned around my three-year commitment to crew on the sailboat Venture II in a challenge race against the American boat Iskareen. The race was a best of seven for the 8 metre boat championships of the Great Lakes. The US had held the cup for 50 years. Canada wanted the cup back as it was named after the Canadian boat that had won the cup 100 years earlier.
It had been arranged by the owner that Pete, the equivalent of first mate, myself, and the old ship-builder-sail-maker would sail the Venture II across to Rochester, NY, from Toronto, ON. Ideally, we needed a fourth crew member. None of the trained crew could get extra time away from jobs. All knew my fiancée, Lib, was willing and an able person on a winch so when I volunteered her early on, everyone happily agreed.
After our Saturday wedding, we did a few days of traditional honeymoon in the Niagara Falls area. Friday we were back in Toronto to have dinner at RCYC before joining Pete and the old guy to take Venture overnight from Toronto to Rochester. We set sail just before sunset. A clear sky, a good breeze in the right direction and we were off. I will never forget that night. As we sailed south out the Eastern Gap a young boy waved good-bye. He was in silhouette, but what stood out was his socks on bare legs. One red, for port and one green, for starboard, each on the appropriate leg. A good omen foreshadowing regaining the cup with four straight wins after a first loss!
Before we had set off for Rochester, Pete had assigned duties and watches. These were four hours each, starting upon leaving the dock. Pete and Lib had the first watch, the old guy and I held the second, and so we alternated. My new wife and Pete had separate beds in the main cabin. The ship builder and I had sleeping bags crammed in among the spare sails and what not. On watch, Pete sailed the boat. To her great pleasure, Pete showed Lib how to steer the boat and sail a set course.
In Rochester, once a race was underway, Lib, the only Canadian sailor’s partner there, was on her own ashore. She soon became a real hit with the ladies of the American spectators, who collectively took her under their wings. Lib had her choice of magnificent, big, spectator yachts. Her favourite was one called Concubine, where they offered the best meals, snacks, and drinks. Yachts of lesser interest were Snookums, Cookums, and Wookums. In the evenings, we all gathered in the lounge of the yacht club before we broke up and went to separate owners' homes for dinner. At one, Lib and I discovered Stingers. WOW!
After the races were over, Lib and I wanted to get on with our honeymoon. The Canadian sailors/owners wanted to get excess sails back to Toronto without carrying the extra weight and clutter on board during a race. So, Lib and I were given the use of a US registered station wagon to take a bunch of sails back to Toronto, to await a whole new set of Canadian races.
The sails were great bulky bags of spinnakers, a boat's largest sails made of nylon or dacron. Cotton had been superseded by synthetics. We loaded the US car and set off for Niagara on the Lake, the shortest route around Lake Ontario. When we approached the border at Niagara on the Lake we crossed the bridge over the river. Customs!
We explained we had a US licensed car and a number of sails we were taking to Toronto. “No!” The customs officer said, “and if you cross this line,” (he drew one with his foot), “we will impound the car and seize the cargo.” “Can I at least cross the line to turn around and drive back to the US?” “NO!” So I backed up, crossed the bridge backwards, and drove to customs in Niagara Falls.
I knew many of the inspectors - although that is a different story. I drove up to the Customs house at the end of the line of inspection stations. I sought a senior inspector who I knew. After I explained my problem, he agreed it was serious. The ownership of the US car was quickly sorted out with a phone call. The sails were another matter altogether.
He sat for a while, scratched his head and finally said, “Does your bride wear synthetic undergarments?” I went out, consulted with Lib who said, “not really, but sometimes.”
I returned to the office with that answer and was asked whether my wife ever made any of her own clothes. I responded that Lib was almost a professional seamstress. “Good” he said. “Now sign here.” I did and discovered I had just imported synthetic fabric to be used to make undergarments for my wife. The Customs Officer said, “Now, get out of here, and keep well below the speed limit.” He knew as well as I did that a typical spinnaker measured around 60 square meters. Lib and I left, continuing our drive to Toronto.
Next day, we were off to my parent’s cottage at Big Cedar Lake, 30 miles north of Peterborough. Halfway through our time there, Lib and I returned from a canoe fishing outing. As we entered the cottage, we saw the dining table with an axe on top of a folded paper. It was a telegram, accepting me as an Instructor, Mechanical Engineering Department, University of British Columbia, RSVP ASAP. I accepted; we packed a ton of stuff (personal effects). Then Lib and I took off for what turned out to be about ten years in Vancouver. What a honeymoon!
By Ralph Boston and Sherry Johnson
Ralph Boston has always been equally at home in boardrooms advising on how to identify and solve problems, and at university podiums teaching engineering students to do the same. Writing effectively was a big part of that. Work was balanced by recreations that kept him close to nature, sailing, fishing, hunting, and animal husbandry. In retirement Ralph has increasingly taken to telling his stories, both in writing and orally.
Sherry Johnson is Ralph's daughter. Sherry is a writer and researcher for GanWalking living in Gananoque. Home is a “handyman special” under slow improvement with things like solar panels and heat pumps a priority. Retired from hospitality and food service, Sherry says "she has become one of those old ladies you watch to see what she’s going to get up to next!"
[Editor’s Note: In 1954, Venture II defeated Iskareen and brought the Canada’s Cup back to Canada. Canada has held the Cup for the past ten years. We hope to continue that winning streak! Check out the results on the Canada’s Cup website! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada's_Cup
And as far as we know no spinnaker was ever harmed in writing this article.
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