One of my favourite songs is by a guy named by Clay McClinton – Delbert’s son. It’s called Howlin’ at the Moon. Everybody has a good reason for doing it and let’s face it – man or animal – we all do it.
Right now, it’s 3:14 a.m. on Sunday June 27th. I’m sitting out on the apron of Sylvia’s swimming pool and I am literally bathed in moonlight. There is a warm southwest wind and it’s gusting from 25 to 40 km. Officially the moon is in a waning gibbous phase – I have no idea what “gibbous” means but I think I like it. This moon is now 15.58 days through its cycle and since it is waning – as opposed to waxing – it is getting smaller every day. It’s all part of its very predictable 29.53059 day cycle. (In real time that’s 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 3 seconds.) It’s a science thing – like gravity – for all you deniers.
The actual full moon took place on June 24th and it was a real beauty. I know because I saw it too. That is because – as a guy in my seventies – I get up a few times every night to attend to personal plumbing issues and am always glad when I look out the window and see the backyard bathed in moonlight. It is especially wonderful when there is a warm, gusting southwest wind blowing – as opposed to a cold snowy north wind. Even so the cold snowy north wind is brighter because of the snow – unless you happen to be on the Great Bahama Bank in twelve feet of gin-clear water on top of the whiter-than-snow coral sand… that’s probably my favourite.
It's on nights like this that I like to go outside and sit in the moonlight and feel the warm wind as it washes over me. I play “Song of the Wind” by Carlos Santana and listen to it on my JBL headphones. Not too loud though; just loud enough so the delicate tones are in perfect harmony with the feel of the warm wind on my face. I close my eyes to try and think of other moments in my life like this but realize I need to keep them open so I can watch the moon. Even so, I still think of other moments like this in my life. For the most part, they are pretty good. Even when my life was in a rough patch, moments like this kept me going.
I am really truly happy now. Connected to all the other moments like this during the last seventy odd years.
I feel very fortunate that a lot of those moments have been in a sailboat going someplace. It never really mattered where I was – the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, the Great Bahama Bank, The Exumas, the Great Sargasso Sea, anywhere on Lake Huron… even the beautiful Danube. It was always the same moon, the same light, the same clouds, the same colours, the same reflection bouncing off the water… the same good feelings.
What mattered most was just being out there in the middle of it all. Alone is good. Being with friends is good. Family is good. A woman I love is really good. But those people like to sleep… most of them anyway.
I think of my friend “R” who has a beautiful place up on Isthmus Bay in Lion’s Head. We’ve sat out there a few times listening to music and watching the full moon play out across Georgian Bay… it is a magnificent thing to see.
I think of my old friend Doug Wray. We spent a whole full-moonlit night drifting about ten miles out in Lake Huron one hot August night back in the late seventies. We were talking about whether or not Betamax was really better than VHS (it was but now that doesn’t even matter). When I mentioned that we were going to pay a big price the next day for not getting any sleep, he told me, “Are you trying to tell me that we should try and sleep through this so we can get up in the morning feeling rested and then go try to sell some more betamaxes? We can sleep when we’re dead, but we’ll never be here to see this again man... so suck it up!”
I had to admit, he had a great point. So, we waited until just before the sun came up. Then we drove The Millennium Falcon – at full speed – straight into it the rising sun all the way to Grand Bend and had breakfast at Monetta Menard’s.
My dad bought a really beautiful sailboat in 1972. We named it Summer Wind. For the next 30 years we had many wonderful adventures with some really cool people on that boat. One that stands out when I think of full moons is the second year we had the boat. My dad had been up in the North Channel and asked me to help him bring the boat back to Sarnia from Tobermory. I recruited my two pals; “R” and Franco to go with me. They had never sailed before and both had claimed they were anxious it give it a try.
We arrived at the Little Tub harbour – in Tobermory – early Saturday morning where we were confronted with a strong north wind. My dad said, “We need to get our asses out of here right now. We have a forty-mile slog straight out into the lake with this rising wind right on the nose before we can make the turn and head south. Once we do that, we’ll have one hell-dammer of a sail south for about 160 miles.”
I was excited because it would be a downwind sail in front of a strong north wind which would be fast and thrilling. I explained to “R” and Franco, “You guys are in luck You don’t get a sail like this very often. The gods are with us lads.”
They seemed happy about that so, we went to the grocery store and bought the food we would need for our journey. We cleared Tobermory around 11 a.m., turned West after clearing the Big Tub and headed out into Lake Huron via the Cape Hurd Channel. We ere in four to six foot swells and the waves grew bigger as we moved out into the deeper water where we had about twenty knots of wind right on the nose. Despite using a very small jib and with two reefs in the main sail, we were rail under and taking lots of white water over the bow. I do not like that kind of sailing because it seems to me like fighting with nature but for some weird reason my Uncle Jack and my dad seemed to love it. Actually, my dad loved every kind of sailing. Sadly, Franco and “R” did not share my father’s passion for sailing into the wind. The extreme healing of the boat and the constant smashing into the ever growing, oncoming waves soon had them leaning over the weather side doing what can only termed as, “barfing their brains out.” Once all forms of internal extraneous material had been purged from every organ in their wretched bodies, they headed below and crawled into their bunks – where I was later told – they experienced several symptoms of death.
My dad said, “Hey man. They’re your pals so you have to look after them.” When I looked at him with a questioning - "You're kidding me... right? - stare, he repeated his favourite line from the movie: Ice Station Zebra, “Please keep in mind that I run an informal ship here, so we can all go on a first name basis. My first name is Captain.”
I dutifully went below to try and tend to the needs of my shipmates. I made sure they had blankets and placed plastic buckets beside their heads in case there was anything left for them to bring up. I was not only quite surprised to see that they did… I was also quite disgusted. They really weren’t much trouble though. They just lay there in their bunks praying for death and plagued by the occasional dry heave.
Finally – eight hours after we left Tobermory – we had worked our way far enough out into Lake Huron that we could turn due south on a course that would clear all the dangerous rocky areas on the Canadian side of the lake which was everything north of Point Clark (Bruce Nuclear) and the ever-treacherous Kettle Point below that.
As we altered course, the motion of the boat changed drastically. Instead of plowing into the oncoming wind and waves, we were now running with the wind and in the same direction as the waves. Our battle with the forces of nature was over. We hadn't won, we had merely survived and now were doing the kind of sailing this boat was made for. Everything was now very natural and predictable. Comfortable yet exciting... very exciting.
My dad took the first two-hour watch from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. and I went below to get some sleep. “R” and Franco were still experiencing several symptoms of death in the main cabin and wanted nothing to do with humanity – ever again. So I went forward to the vee-berth and slept like a baby wedged between the hull and two sail bags. I came up to relieve my Dad at 11 p.m. and was excited to take the helm. We were now on a broad reach, in over twenty-five knots of howling, gusting to 35 knots of north wind and… there was a full moon lighting up the water with long streaks of moonlit paths to, “Show me the way to go home.”
It was a truly beautiful thing to see… and it was mine… all mine. There were Boston Acoustics speakers up on deck hooked to a big Harmon Kardon power amp I had installed in the main cabin. I had a cool tape with all my favourite Neil Young and Carlos Santana music playing as we surfed down Lake Huron at twelve knots and the most wonderful part of it all, was that full moon.
It was one of the most unforgettable nights of my life.
I stayed on watch an extra two hours to, “Let my aging captain get his beauty sleep,” was how I explained it to “the captain” when he came up on watch to relieve me at 3 a.m. “Bravely spoken,” he replied with a smirk as I headed below and proceeded to heat up four cans of Campbell’s Chicken noodle soup. After buttering a dozen crackers, I set them on the gimballed stove with the soup and tried to rouse my ailing crew. They had been able to drift into some level of tortured sleep once the bucking motion of the boat had changed to an easy roll as the boat moved with the water rather into and against it. I tapped them both and said, “You guys have to come up and see this.” They were feeling a little better now and I told them that they would feel even better once they were sitting in the cockpit and could see the horizon. That would solve their equilibrium issues and we were now having a much smoother – although still action-packed ride.
They came up out of their nightmares into a world they could never have imagined. A full-moon that lit up a raging sea driven by a somewhat warm north wind as we surfed along with my Dad’s tape booming out Frank Sinatra singing, “The Summer Wind.” They were spellbound as they sat there in the cockpit just taking it all in. I gave them mugs of warm chicken noodle soup and crackers to help ease their tortured stomachs.
They appreciated it and soon they were talking and even making musical requests.
We arrived at the Sarnia Yacht Club just after 2 p.m. on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Once we had Summer Wind tied up, “R” and Franco got off the boat and they both walked slowly up the dock and up the stairs on to the solid dry land where they got down on their knees and kissed the ground… promising to never leave it again. I think there were tears in their eyes.
“R” told my dad, “Thanks for the sail Ray. I can’t say I had a lot of fun but I do think I can be quite honest here and tell you that it was something I’ll never forget.”
These days when “R” and I sip a little 2 a.m. single malt in his hot tub out on the point of Lion’s Head looking out on high over Georgian Bay, and the moon is full and the north wind is blowing we like to put on some Carlos Santana music and talk about that amazing night. Then I like to get up out of the tub, walk up to edge of the cliff and declare to the wind and the moon, “Even the man who is pure of heart and says his prayers at night may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the full of the moon is bright!”
Then I bellow as loudly as I can.... "Aaaaa ooooohhhh!"
As Jane Fonda might say, “It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on.”
That’s just my opinion though… there may be one or two misguided souls out there who don’t quite see it my way and if there are, I just tell them they're doing it wrong.