by David H. Lund Sr.
If the caption of this tale sounds like a new cocktail at the Erie Yacht Club, you are right. It should be. “Melmar II was the giant step-up that Frank Zurn took into large boat sailing and most of all, yacht racing. The ship’s name is a contraction of the names of his wonderful parents, Melvin and Marion Zurn. I am positive they were honored by the name given to his new yacht and impressed by Frank’s racing achievements, not only in the Great Lakes but off the Atlantic coast at Newport, Florida and the Bahamas. He raced in at least seventeen Mackinaw’s, the Southern Ocean Racing Series, the Annapolis to Newport, the New York Yacht Club Cruise Races and probably a lot more that I don’t know about. And his winnings were many – Over-all first in the Lake Michigan “Mack” and the Lake Huron “Mack”, both in the same year- and that means you beat at least 300 competing sailing yachts twice; he won the Queen’s Cup in a race off Newport, awarded by the Keeper of the Privy Purse, spokesman for the Queen of England; and he placed in top positions in more races in Lake Erie than I can count. Frank is truly an accomplished racing skipper. What drive and enthusiasm he had and what fun it was to crew with him! Frank was superlative in keeping his sailboats in pristine condition and exercised extreme care in his seamanship; but when it came to racing, caution sometimes could be thrown to the wind. On one of the legs of an “Interclub”, in 1963, en route from Port Dover to Maitland, we were flying along in a strong wind, with full spinnaker, sailing as close to the wind as possible when the lee side of the hull started bouncing on a very hard surface.
We knew of our predicament immediately, – but only our skipper knew what to do about it (or did he?) The sharp angle of heel, because of a tight course with full spinnaker going almost to windward, was already precarious. But Frank, who is known to be the world’s best and most effective communicator,( a huge benefit to a ship’s captain), gave the command “Sheet the spinnaker; fall off the wind”; “We need more drive and more heel!” The ship kept moving forward as it slid and bounced along the bottom. It worked perfectly except for one thing. Unwittingly we were driving the boat further up onto the shallows and not into deeper water as we hoped. Finally we came to a full stop, stuck on Mohawk Shoal. A call went out to the Coast Guard for help. We wandered around in the water, knee deep, trying to decide our next move. (Did I say “move”?–no way) The wave action was of great concern. It caused the boat to bob slightly so the hull was pounding on the hard rock bottom of the lake. Melmar was one of the last solid wood vessels designed by Phil Rhodes and solid it was, constructed to a Cadillac quality. Or more likely, Rolls Royce.
We were at least a mile off shore and far from a Canadian port. Thus our only option was to stay with the ship and wait for help, which arrived like an Angel of Mercy. The Coast Guardsmen were tremendous. Wasting no time and giving no credence to their rules about towing and salvage, they tied a monster of a line to the bottom of the mast and attached it to the bow so the boat would drag in the forward direction that it was made for. (This avoids damage to the rudder, the prop etc). After several tugs by the incredibly powerful engine on the Coast Guard boat we started to move and were pulled off. A lift out at the next port showed there was no structural damage to the bottom and keel and the rudder and prop survived very well. But why should five or six guys who have at least been exposed to some navigation skills and chart reading, not have avoided a shoal that was there? If you have a couple of hours to spare, I would be happy to tell you. It has something to do with traveling a straight line between two points in order to go the shortest distance at the fastest speed. Sailors have a distinct advantage today. If, out in the open sea, a known obstacle on a chart is not visible, you simply put it in your GPS as a way point. (Only Buck Rodgers used satellites 50 years ago). Afterward, Frank convinced the Coast Guard to locate a shoal buoy at Mohawk Shoal; a good conclusion to a challenging few moments “on the rocks”.