Wednesday, September 1, 2010

GUEST BLOG: Jay Speaks!

The first mate’s father writes a regular column for his local newspaper.  It’s called “Jay Speaks!”   In this guest installment of the SlowBoat blog, Jay speaks about the family’s "boating history,” and relates what it was like to cruise with the Cap’n and crew last week.

Jay and Kitty Berger and Dragonfly in Palmyra NY
Within minutes after the Cap’n docked the boat at a marina in Waukegan, Illinois, the little rubber dinghies started circling, and we could hear the tramp of feet as other boaters flocked down the wooden docks to get a closer look.

The questions came fast and furious. “Did you bring that barge here from Europe?”  “Is that an English narrowboat?” “How many amps do you get out of your solar panels?”  “How fast can you go?”  “Can you run all day on solar power?” “Did you build it yourself?”  “How old is it?”  and . . . “May we come aboard and look around?”

Dragonfly has certainly attracted a lot of attention so far on this Great Loop adventure. Being on the boat last week made us reminisce about how the Berger family got involved in boating.

We’d started going camping for our family vacations, and when the first mate was about six years old, we looked around for a canoe to take along.  A little old lady sold us a magnificent, 18-foot-long, antique canvas-and-wood canoe that dated back to 1906 for a tiny sum; her late husband had courted her in it, and she wanted it to “go to a good home.”

This canoe took our family on many adventures around New England, Upstate New York, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.  When the first mate went off to college, she took the canoe with her.  (Some kids take a car to college; she took an antique canoe . . . hmmm, even then, interested in alternative transportation.)

The canoe was not our only family boat. A few years later, I won a (very) small sailboat.  We used it mostly on a (very) small man-made lake near from our home.

After the kids left home for college, Kitty and I tried a few more forms of boating:  A sailing adventure through the Caribbean, and a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River.   We also took a few conventional cruises on big ships.  And that was the sum of our boating experience. For quite a while, our travels were landlocked.

Then, last summer, Cynthia and Bill told us they were taking Bill’s parents for a trip on the Erie Canal in a canal boat. That sounded like a good summer boating vacation.  Next thing we knew, they had bought that very boat!  And the next thing we knew, it was this past May, and we were travelling the Erie ourselves, on the Dragonfly’s “shakedown cruise,” before she left to travel the Great Loop.

When we boarded the Dragonfly on that spring day, at its home port in Macedon, New York, I was impressed. I’d seen pictures, but the boat was much more than I expected. I was especially taken with the solar panels. (In my hometown of Agawam, Massachusetts, I’m the energy commissioner, responsible for green energy initiatives.)  

Although we’d travelled through the gigantic locks on the Panama Canal in a cruise ship, it was a completely different experience locking through smaller locks in a smaller boat, where the crew had to scamper about on the narrow gunwhales, holding the tie-up ropes. Meanwhile, although we had been expecting balmy May weather, Mother Nature threw everything in her arsenal at us: rain, sleet, snow, hail, gale-force winds.  We also stayed overnight in a haunted mansion.  It was definitely adventurous!

Ever since the Dragonfly departed on June 1st, we’ve been following the blog, to see if we could predict the approximate date the boat would arrive in Chicago (our son lives not too far from there.) Finally, we made our airline reservations . . . and a few weeks later, there we were, north of Chicago, ready for another adventure . . . once again cruising on the Dragonfly.

We boarded the boat in Winthrop Harbor on a sunny morning, and made the trip to down to Waukegan entirely on solar power—no fossil fuel needed! The day was spectacular. Blue skies, bright sun, small white clouds, sailboats dancing on the waves around us. The boat rocked just enough to make it interesting. We looked for landmarks along the shoreline, noting the Great Lakes Naval Training Station and a few power plants.  And then, there we were in Waukegan, famously the home of Jack Benny.

The Cap’n radioed the harbormaster, got a slip assignment, and manipulated the throttle and tiller until the 14-ton boat gently nudged the wooden dock.  (He looked like he’d been doing it his entire life.)  And then the gawkers, the onlookers, and the just-plain-curious started gathering round . . . .

Gee, I thought, the crew of the Dragonfly only have to do this for another forty-five hundred miles. We’ll have to catch up with them in Florida and see how they’re doing.


  1. Jay speaks! And we love to listen. Thanks for the guest post Dad (Oh, and we listen to Mom too).

  2. Speaking of Berger family boating, how about that great sushi boat we had for Newsboy's XXth birthday?