When the Pathfinder Gets Lost

Most people are familiar with the America’s Cup, the sailboat race which has attracted prominent competitors such as Sir Thomas Lipton and Ted Turner.  What most people don’t know is that there is a fresh water counterpart to that race, the Canada’s Cup, sailed on the Great Lakes.  The genesis of that race, how the Americans lost it the first time and gained it back the second, is one of the most interesting in yachting history.

In 1896 the Lincoln Park Yacht Club in Chicago challenged the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in Toronto to a cross-Great Lakes race.  The first race was held that year in Toledo, OH.  The Canadians were victorious, thus they named the race the Canada’s Cup.

pathfinder-at-racine

The Pathfinder at its birthplace, the Racine Boat Mfg. Co.

In the same year, another member of the Lincoln Park club, Chicago rubber magnate Fred W. Morgan, commissioned the building of his new yacht, the Pathfinder.  Built in Racine, WI, its maiden voyage to Chicago was “the event of the season,” and people gathered on the docks to watch it glide into the harbour.

The Pathfinder was 140′ long (a sizeable yacht then or now) and resembled the U.S. Navy’s battleships of the day.   It had telephones and electric lighting in an era when the vast majority of American homes had neither.

pathfinder

The Pathfinder, underway in the Great Lakes.

Two years later the Chicago Yacht Club, with Fred Morgan as its Commodore and the Pathfinder the club’s flagship, issued a challenge to the RCYC for the Canada’s Cup.  The following year the Pathfinder steamed from Chicago to Toronto for the rematch.

The first day of racing was 21 August 1899.  The object was to start near the RCYC, round two buoys, and return to the club.  The Canadians’ yacht, the Beaver, had an accident right at the start and was out of the race.   The American yacht, the Genessee, had a chance for a default for the first race (it was two out of three to win.)

But such was not to be.  The Pathfinder was acting as a kind of “pace yacht” for the race, but in the haze on Lake Ontario itself got lost and missed the first buoy.  Behind it was not only the Genessee but steam yachts Siren and Canada!  The entire entourage mistook another buoy for the first official one, where the judges’ ship waited in vain.

Because of this the Americans missed the chance for a forfeit.  We eventually (and when I say “we” I mean not only the Americans but the Chicago Yacht Club, where my great-grandfather was Commodore the following year) won the race, but only by 31 seconds on a five hour course.

In those days it was easy for everyone to follow the largest, most magnificent yacht on the Great Lakes.  But they still got lost.  Unfortunately things haven’t changed as much as we would like to think.

Our country and our world is directed by those who are supposedly the most educated and enlightened among us.  Yet we still experienced the crash of 2008 and its aftermath.  Many of us were participants in that by virtue of taking out loans on our houses and just about everything else we owned (and didn’t in some cases) because were were informed by “knowledgeable” people that we could afford it.  That’s little comfort now that those homes and possessions are going away in foreclosure and repossession, especially since many of us are without income.

We have also been directed for the last forty years by a “knowledge class” that assured us that our “old ways” were hopelessly passé and that we would be happier in our new family structures.  In a country with high divorce and incarceration rates and single-parent poverty, their self-confident assurances aren’t much comfort either.

In the end the only one we can trust for the truth is he that is the truth, Jesus Christ.   Through him all things were created, so he is most knowledgeable as to what we need.  And, of course, he is the real “pathfinder” from the ultimate challenge of life, death itself, as we walked out of the tomb after those who didn’t care for his challenge of their authority had him executed.

It’s time for all of us who have followed what looked to be the biggest and most magnificent thing “on the water” to turn to he who actually walked on it.

For more information click here.

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Safe in the Harbour (Barely!)

My father always maintained that, when buying yachts, you could never go smaller when purchasing a new one; you always had to go larger.  That’s the way he bought our boats; first it was a 36′, then the 51′ (the one we hit the reef with.)  Our less than stellar navigation notwithstanding, that boat was a seaworthy craft; it rode out a storm well and didn’t draw too much water, which was good in the shallow inlets and harbours of the Florida Keys and the Bahamas.  Best of all for my mother, she had it fixed the way she wanted it.

Well, that never stopped my father from doing anything; we discovered one day that he had purchased a 65′ yacht.  The pretence was that the old boat had dry rot.  It was hard to tell the new one was an improvement; it would not pass marine inspection and it was filthy.  After the marine items were attended to and my mother scraped the dirt off of the boat, we were back to yachting again.

Probably our most memorable episode in that boat was on a return from the Bahamas.  We were at the Chubb Cay resort, then in its infancy, canned bread and all.  Our plan was to leave Chubb Cay, pass north of the Bimini Islands and end up at Port Everglades, the port at Ft. Lauderdale, and then return to Palm Beach via the Intracoastal Waterway.

This was a pretty clear course; unfortunately, we encountered probably the worst storm we had ever gone through in our years in yachting.  At this point we were reminded of one of our fine boat’s uninspiring traits: its habit of severely rolling in any sea, especially the 6′-8′ (2-2.5m) one we were in.  Everything that wasn’t tied down ended up on deck or somewhere else.  We weren’t ones to get seasick but we were close — even the cat “turned green”. (Photo at right shows same cat in a happier moment on the boat.)

We got through all of that but, as we entered Port Everglades, the steering wheel of the boat became useless.  We realized then that the steering cable, having frayed badly during the storm, snapped close to shore.  Since we had dual propellers, we were able to use the two engines to get us to dock; had we had to do this during the storm, we probably would have overheated the engines and lost both power and what control of our course we had left, ending up on a reef in a more permanent way than the last time.

In the ancient world, one of the symbols Christianity adopted was the anchor.  It was good not only because it incorporated the cross but also because it symbolised a safe entrance into the harbour.  Sea and lake storms were familiar: Jesus calmed the storm on Lake Galilee (Luke 8:23-25) and the apostle Paul endured one during his last journey to Rome (Acts 27).  Arriving safe in the harbour meant that the destination had been achieved.

But the harbour isn’t the only destination we should be aiming for; storms at sea aren’t the only crises we face either.  Many of us careen through life from one disaster to another, wondering when it will all stop.  For some of us our steering cable has snapped and we cannot get out of our situation.  For others, like us at Port Everglades, we’ve barely scraped through another disaster, knowing that the next one won’t be as pretty unless we repair our lives and that somehow, someone has kept our steering cable intact long enough to prevent a complete disaster.

We, however, who go through storms in life need to understand that we do have a God that cares for us through the storms but can’t do much for us unless we decide to put him first.  As long as we are content to cross our fingers and hope our steering cable won’t snap in the middle of a crisis, we are only asking for trouble.  When we put God first and let him keep things fixed, our cruises through life — both in the rough seas and the smooth ones — will go a lot better.  Best of all, when it’s all over we can safely enter the harbour of eternity — and not just barely either.

For more information click here.

When You Need a Native Guide

One of the pleasures we enjoyed during our years in Palm Beach were our travels in our family yachts.  Our family has a long history of power boating going back to the latter years of the nineteenth century.  From South Florida our favourite destination were the Bahama Islands, at the time making their transition from a British colony to an independent nation.

In 1965 (the same year Thunderball was made, also in the Bahamas) we cruised from Palm Beach Inlet to West End on Grand Bahama Island and then proceeded through the Abaco Islands, as you can see in the video below.

We finally left the Abacos at the Hole in the Wall and proceeded south towards North Eleuthera Island and our destination, Spanish Wells.

Our yacht, at anchor in the harbour at Hope Town, Abaco, Bahamas, shortly before its fateful encounter

pelicanbayadIn reading the books on cruising the Bahamas and listening to my father, one theme emerged: the charts of the waters of the Bahamas were unreliable, both because the surveys weren’t very complete and because the coral reefs were complex with underwater rocks and outcroppings turning up in places you weren’t looking for them.  In such instances it was recommended to seek a native guide to help guide one through the waters, someone who had lived there all his or her life, knew all of the underwater dangers and could guide one to safe harbour.  Nevertheless, my father go the idea that he could pick his way through the reefs north of Spanish Wells.

Late afternoon we came up on Big Egg Island and started our way through the shallow waters (it was nearly low tide when we did this) when we heard an uninspiring thud in the hull of the ship.  We realized that we had hit a reef!  My father and the crew scrambled down to the bilge to see if we were taking water on; they discovered that we weren’t, but that we’d better get to port and get some repairs done soon.  So we radioed Spanish Wells and got a native guide out.  He led us through the reefs and safely into the harbour.  We spent the weekend there while the ship was being repaired, which was tricky because our yacht was nearly too big for the dry dock.

We eventually got back to Florida from this adventure, but there’s more to this than just an error in navigation.  Self-sufficiency in life is something many of us are raised to achieve.  We feel compelled to be our own master and make our own way.  We feel it beneath ourselves if we have to ask help for anything.  But, like on the Bahamian reefs, we all eventually get to the point where the demands of life — and the consequences of our own mistakes — are just too much for us to handle.  We can fake it for a while, but sooner or later things will catch up.  Our boats, so to speak, will fill up with water and we will find ourselves at the bottom, never able to recover.

It is in times like these that we need a native guide to help us along, to get us through the dangers and difficulties of life and bring us to safe harbour at the end.  That native guide is Jesus Christ, who as God commands the spiritual realms and as man endured and ultimately triumphed over the difficulties of this life and ultimately death itself.  He knows the way through the reefs and other dangers of life and can bring us to the safe harbour of eternal life with him at the end.

For more information click here.

John McArthur at Vicksburg

Readers of this site will be familiar with Gen. John McArthur, general for the Union during the Civil War.  Recently I visited the battlefield at Vicksburg and gained more insight into his story–and another twist in family history from the Confederate side too.