By Doug Nagle III
If memory serves me right, I think that 1963 was my first year aboard ENIGMA. This was a result of a brief conversation with my Dad that went something like this; “They’re looking for a kid to crew on the ENIGMA, you might learn something, would you be interested?”
“Yes”, answered the kid, after approximately two and a half seconds of contemplation and a near miss coronary event. True, anyone that had attended Jr. Sailing dreamed of crewing on ENIGMA, but to get a chance?……… And so it began.
There were three distinct languages spoken on the ENIGMA. First, normal everyday mothers English, like in “please pull in the big white sail on the pointy end of the boat”. Second, sailor talk, as in “crank the jib sheet in dummy, can’t you see the sail luffing?” And third, a language common to ENIGMA, which we’ll call Navy talk, as in “get off your dead @#^, #*@# head, can’t you see the *#@^ing jib needs trimmed?!!!!”(That’s the tame version by the way as real Navy talk can’t be written here, as you may well guess). It was an awakening, but who’s complaining?
I remember when I first boarded the boat and stepped next to the wheel, that ringed stainless steel beauty with the king pin banded under a woven-rope “Turks Head”. “Get your #@* away from that wheel kid, the only time you’ll touch THAT is when you polish IT!” “Now, bring me a chew, and make it fast!” A what? “Wrigley’s or Spearmint?” says the dumbest kid in the universe. I almost found myself back on the dock!
It’s warm out as we back the big boat out of her slip for my first Inter-Club Cruise. She backs well to port as the counterclockwise turning propeller (viewed from the stern, as I found out the hard way) churned up the bottom mud. This is going to be fun, say I. We slip out into the bay, no outer basin in those days; go head to wind and the mizzen and main, in that order of course, slowly lift skyward. “Dougie!” says the Captain (he was really just a Lt. Commander then), “quit standing around with your finger up your nose (Navy speak-censored) and feather the prop!”. Huh? “In the engine room, turn the shaft until the red marks line up!”
It’s hot down there and immediately I burn my arm on the manifold. I line up the marks and ENIGMA lurches forward, free from the drag of the unfeathered prop. It’s quiet in there, and the sounds of a wooden sailboat creak and groan. No time for peace and tranquility, however, as “where’s the kid?” echoes from above. Out I go, staying clear of that steaming manifold, (ENIGMA was powered by a 6 cyl. Grey marine gas engine, which I became very friendly with) and, squeezing side ways through the access door to the port (sailor talk) of the companionway hatch (boat builder talk), reported on deck. “Right here, sir!” says the kid. From somewhere up forward, “he burned his arm on the manifold” and “better call his mommy”, etc., etc.,etc……..
“We’ll need big blue on deck, the spinnaker stays’l and mizzen stays’l too” says the skipper, and all eyes glare at the sissy with the burnt arm. “Yes sir!” says the kid thinking he must be talking about sails seeing how we’re on a sailboat……. I return down below and I go forward, into the forepeak (sailor talk) for a look around. From above, through the big forward-hatch opening, and from the blue of the heavens’ above comes a quite and strangely nice voice. “Big blue is the spinnaker, there; behind it are the two stays’ls. Hand them up like you know what’s going on”. I briefly look up. It’s Gib Loesel, and that voice has been helping me on ever since.
“There’s hope for the kid yet” says someone, “he picked the right sails” says someone else, astonished. The next half-hour is mass confusion as dozens of wooden sailboats maneuver for the starting line in the early morning offshore (sailor talk). In the lingering darkness, running lights are everywhere, like colored fireflies skirting the still water. BOOM!!!, the starting gun roars and grey smoke fills half the line. Spinnakers pop out of yearn stops like exploding sausages, hanging end to end from the masts. This mass confusion now slowly becomes controlled pandemonium as the fleet surges forward. The silence is overwhelming.
ENIGMA hits the line just right, big blue pulling like a steam engine. The two staysils’ now start upward, blocks creaking as they awaken from slumber. Ten knots, steady southwest, ENIGMA wind. We’re to weather (in-shore, sailor talk) of the fleet, Bierigs’ future sail-loft to starboard (green side, sailor talk). No boat catches the big girl in these conditions, and everyone knows it. All aboard are mesmerized by the moment, and the kid seems part of the crew. But only for a second as the public dock is approaching. Everyone waits— the kid thinks some big strategic maneuver, some big time big boat move is about to be made. Anticipation, situational awareness, pure electricity, fills the air!!! We pass the public dock and like
clockwork comes the kids’ next command. “Red!, Blue!, Red!, Red!”. What the Hell???? “Dougie, can’t you hear, you dumb #@** (Navy talk).”Three Reds and a Blue for the #@^*&# Sake!”(they say that name on Sunday, in church). The kid dives down below, not a clue as to what to do. From above, calmly and nice, comes the voice. “Three Carlings and a Kohler, don’t pop the tops; use a can opener on the bottoms, so they can sink the cans when they’re done”. I look up; Gibs’ face is in the skylight (sailor talk). He disappears, like an apparition. I get the beers. I open the bottoms with the church key as instructed and deliver them above. “Oh, not bad for a new guy” and “the kids’ ok, maybe…..” The praise is short lived.
“Don’t you know anything? I need a cigar!!!” says the Lt. Commander!!!! ” @#**”! (Navy speak, a quick learner, the kid is), says the kid, to himself, as it’s just his rookie year on the boat.
We ease off and skirt the inside south channel wall, just missing the rocks tucked below the concrete. No ship dock or Erie Sand and Gravel then, just shoal’s south and east of the green entrance buoys.
ENIGMA’s moving well and we prepare for a jibe out of the channel. Back then you could steer the course to Long Point, 10 degrees, right out of the channel without hitting Gull point- well, water depth was a bit skinny, but for a center boarder (sailor talk), it was no problem.
Each spring we would run the heading markers in the New Lake to verify the accuracy of the compass as we had no GPS or Loran on board back then. Before the New Lake was even there, we would check the north/south course by running between Perry’s Monument and the flagpole on the public dock…….
Anyway, the kid was only somewhat busy on the crossing to Long Point, blue blue cigar, red blue cigar,(he ate them, never smoked them), etc., etc., until just off Long Point. There, things got serious for a moment as we remembered Rip Sawdy with a poke of whiskey, or whatever, in a real shot glass dropped over the side. On the bottom, under the entry waters to Long Point Bay, lie quite a few of the ENIGMA’s expensive shot glasses.
Our slide to Dover continued as we sharpened up coming around the point, the spinnaker pole eased forward until it barely touched the headstay (sailor talk). If we were lucky we could hold on with all that canvas pulling until the finish line off Dover. In those conditions, nobody could catch us and we would scream over the line just-a-fly’in. We’d clear the sails, coil all lines, covers’ on, Homers BIG Canadian flag gracing the headstay and chug into the harbor. The old small lift bridge would open no wait. “ENIGMA’S coming through” yells the operator. The people would stop and stare, pointing to the sailboat they all recognized. The BIG boat from Erie, the ENIGMA!!!!
Epilogue: All of the crew on ENIGMA were required to bring a “ticket” to any overnight or longer race. Prices for “tickets” varied, primarily due to brand name or quantity there-in. A “ticket” was the primary ingredient in a witch’s brew of after sailing liquid nourishment partaken by the crew, the crew next door, the crew next next door, the bridge operator, customs guy, fish house employees, the girls over at the chicken slaughtering plant (Mizners), Chief of Police, the guys at Schmooze, Use and Loose LLP, and anyone who spoke English or Canadian or Spanish or Italian or…