Reflections on Shoals and Swells: A Sailing Story Part II

“I was a jerk.” Dad said.

“You weren’t a jerk, Bill,” Todd was quick to respond. “It was an accident—a culmination of a series of unforeseen events.”

It was a Sunday with Dad. Todd, John, Dad and I were having lunch together after church on Shepard Avenue. The story Dad was preparing to tell has haunted him since 2002. For the past several months, after church Dad has preferred to pick up the salad he likes from Applebee’s and head home to rest. But this Sunday, I had made a beef burgundy stew that morning. There was chocolate cake and his favorite tapioca pudding for dessert. We had work to do.

“Your auto pilot went out along with all the instruments,” Todd continued. “You had planned to go over to Beaver Island and instead went back to Washington Island. That wasn’t the plan—you hadn’t studied the charts to plot out your course. Bill…you ended up in unexpected huge swells which limited your visibility. There was a strong east wind. You tried to guestimate before you tacked to compensate for the wind and waves. They were pushing you west towards the coast—you had put in a correction factor of windward five degrees.” Sailor talk.

“I was over confident.” Dad persisted.

“Sometimes you have to encounter circumstances you hadn’t planned for. A sailor has to be confident! ” You tell him Todd. I could see Dad was about to beat himself up all over again.

“You love adventure Dad, always have,” John chimed in. I was glad John and Todd were with us. I didn’t want to listen to the rest of this story alone. Dad had arrived at the dinner table with his sailing charts. The spark of adventure still in him as he studied the course he had sailed that day, noting the exact degrees of his turns.

“Why I was only a half degree off in my correction!” He suddenly noted. Maybe it was good he was reliving this experience. “The Lord sure must have wanted to show me something. The wind was out of the east so it would have given me a beam reach. I remember a power boat guy had asked me that day, you’re going out in this weather? I loved sailing in that kind of weather. It was great…….

The problem was, I should have gone at least another hour before I made the turn. Had I used the chart, I would have figured that out. Or, there was another option I could have taken. I saw the top of the mast of the sailboat behind me turn into Rock Island passage. Then the boat could get behind on the lee side of Washington Island so he was protected. I remember seeing his mast before he turned. I didn’t do that because I wanted to be able to call Dolores and say, Can you see me?

So, I had spent the night in Manistique, and the following morning I checked the weather. It didn’t sound too bad—like I said, there was an east wind which was moderately heavy, with four to six foot waves. If I would have looked at the chart before I sailed, and plotted my course, I would have seen that I only had approximately a five degree clearance to the shoal that’s just off of Rock Island. Had I understood that, I would have gone out further, approximately 12 miles on the 150 degree heading before I made my turn to 220 degrees.

I prepared to set sail with the feeling that I knew my way back because I had just come up that way the day before. I knew I’d need a lunch so I had some yogurt in the cooler, bottles of water on board, along with a coffee can to use for a toilet because I had to stay at the tiller since the auto-helm was out.

I revved the engine and busted through the little sand ridge that was keeping me away from the river water. I went out on the heading I came in on—150 degrees—to the point that I assumed was the point to make my turn to 220 degrees. It was purely on guess. I would stay on this heading until I reached Ports des Morts passage, then sail around Washington Island into Kapps Marina. That was my plan.

It wasn’t long before the wind picked up considerably. The waves that had been enjoyable began turning into huge swells. They were so large that, in spite of the wind, the boom would swing back when I entered a trough, then out again when I got to the crest. I tied off the tiller to hold it generally steady, went forward, snapped my harness to the safety line on the starboard side of the boat until I got up to the mast, then snapped it around the mast, tied off the sails and motored the rest of the way.

After about an hour I noticed a boat off my stern. I could only see the top of his mast when I was at the crest of the wave—when I was in the trough, he’d be completely out of sight. My normal procedure when I was cruising in the boat was to mark the chart every hour on my penciled course line with my estimated position, to know approximately where I was. Not using a chart, I wasn’t doing this. But that would have been hard to do with all I had to manage due to the wind and crests.

Six hours had passed when I saw a sand beach which I thought was Rock Island. I would come to find out that it was actually Fish Island which connects to Fisherman’s Shoal. It wasn’t long before I realized the sand beach was not in the distance but right in front of me because I saw seagulls sitting on it. It was a shoal (rock formation). The water depth around the shoal is probably twenty-six feet. I tried to turn upwind to go around it but it was too late. The waves were too high and the wind too strong. I got slammed into the shoal.

My first impulse was to put the boat in reverse and try to back off. That was hopeless.

Once I hit the shoal the boat seemed to be stuck there. The swells came up over the stern and right into the open cabin door. As a swell would come along, it picked me up and slammed me down on top of the shoal. Revelation landed on its keel and fell over on its starboard side.

I distinctly remember having a vivid thought—Paul’s shipwreck in the Bible. The Lord had made it clear to Paul that the boat and all its equipment would be destroyed but no lives would be lost. It seemed to apply to me in my case and I never had any fear.

The radio was mounted on the starboard side and was still above the water. I didn’t try to assess anything further except to put a call into the coast guard and tell them my dilemma. They responded right away, and started asking me the usual questions—how many people on board; what color is your boat? I quit answering their questions after I told them I was alone on the boat.

I pulled the life raft out of its canvas bag, tied it to the boat and threw it in the water. I gave the line a yank, which should have inflated it, but every time I yanked, the bag just came closer. I couldn’t get enough pressure to release it. But then I realized I didn’t even need it because I had a dingy attached to the back of the boat. It was swamped and the waves and winds were blowing it right to Rock Island.

By now, I was in the water trying to evaluate what else I had to do while I waited for the coast guard to come and pick me up. I knew that this shoal was not very wide. With each wave, the boat would be picked up, moved several feet down wind, and then be slammed back onto the shoal. Not being certain of the width of the shoal, I became concerned. I knew it was possible for the waves to blow me all the way across the shoal which would allow the boat to sink into the 26 foot deep water. If that were to happen, it could conceivably take my dingy along with it. I decided to cut the line so I reached for my sheath knife and got it out. In the process, my hand slammed against the sailboat rail and I dropped the knife. I realized I had a pocket knife in my left pocket. As I reached into my pocket, I noticed my finger was painful. I got the knife out, looked at my hand, saw that one of my fingernails had been torn out, and cut the line. At this point, all I could do was hang onto the line of the dingy with one hand, the boat in the other and wait.

It wasn’t long, I would guess maybe a half hour, and the coast guard boat appeared. They stopped about 100 feet from me and I thought, come get me guys. Then I realized they couldn’t because of the shoal. I pulled the dingy up to me and climbed into it even though it was swamped. The floatation built into it kept it up. The waves and the wind blew me directly to the coast guard boat. I had to keep my hands on the gunnels to keep it from tipping. All I’d have to do was wait until the wind blew me up to the boat. Instead, they threw me a line. As soon as I reached for the line I was dumped into the water. My dingy took off and I was blown and pulled up to the coast guard boat.

When I got there they said, “Turn around. Put your back to us and we’ll pull you up.”

I said, “You know, I’ve thought about this for years.” I had read about a sailor in his sailboat that was picked up by a steamer. They threw him a line which he had to hold onto while they pulled him up. I realized that would be pretty tough to do. “Let me put a bow line in the end of your line. I can stand in it and you can pull me up.”

“No! You have to turn around, put your back to us, and we’ll lift you on board!”

So reluctantly, I turned around; they grabbed me under my arm pits and yanked. I don’t think they raised me six inches. They must have practiced this move in swimming suits. I was in my clothes with the life preserver beneath my jacket which obviously added a lot of weight.

They tried a second time with no better result. I said “Look you guys, let me go along your gunnel, and I can climb in at the stern where your outboard motors are mounted.” They listened and I climbed in at the stern.

We left Revelation on the shoal at the mercy of the waves, smashing it onto the rock. By this time the slamming had separated the mast from the boat.

We were now on our way back to Washington Island. I asked if they had a cell phone I could use. I called Dolores and said, “Honey, I’m going be home a little late. I’ve had some complications.”

“I know where you are!” She said. “You’re in the coast guard boat!”

“How did you know I was in the coast guard boat?”

The two men on the coast guard boat turned to me and asked, “How did she know you were in the coast guard boat?!”

Will Krueger, from Kapps Marina, had heard the call to the Coast Guard. He then called Dolores and said, “I just heard a call that a sailboat named Resolution has hit a shoal. That sounds pretty close to Revelation to me and I know that Bill’s out there. I thought it might be him.”

Dolores called Ed to tell him what was going on. He told her, “Oh Mom, don’t worry! He’s probably having the time of his life!” Then she drove over to Kapps Marina—the place that the Coast Guard boat would come in. As we approached the harbor in the coast guard boat, one of the men said to me, “Will you do me a favor when we get in?”

“Sure. What’s that?”

“Just do what we tell you.”

When the boat got into the dock, paramedics were already there. They said to me, “Come on Bill, you have to go to the clinic.”

Well, this was after I was off the boat so I said; “I don’t want to go. I just want to go home.” They didn’t give me a choice. I got in and they took me to the clinic where they checked me over and told me my finger needed attention. The nail had been broken about three-quarters of the way down and they said I had to go to the hospital in Sturgeon Bay. Dolores had brought me some dry clothes. The nurse and other women wanted me to change into them. I didn’t want to change in front of them so the doctor held up a sheet for me and I got into the dry clothes. (Joanie had later asked, Worried about shrinkage, Dad? Dad had answered her, You bet.) Then Mom drove us to the Ferry.

They fixed my finger and we spent the night in a hotel. I lay in bed that night and thought about all that had happened.

The problem was I figured I didn’t need any help from the chart because I knew my way, having just traveled the course up to Manistique. Had I used the chart and laid out my return course, I would have been aware of Fish Island and Fisherman’s shoal which I ended up on top of.

For many years, I’ve reflected on this event. To me, this story parallels the tendency I’d hear from you kids growing up. You thought that because you’d read the Bible or heard the stories, you knew what it said and didn’t need to read it for guidance each day.

This thought has stayed with me since my shipwreck. Had I used the chart, the shipwreck would have been avoided. As sailors, we need to continually refer to our chart for direction of our course. Likewise, I believe, we need to continually refer to our Bibles for guidance in our lives.”

Todd and John had left the table over an hour earlier. Since I don’t sail, it took me a while to get the details right. Likewise, it took me many years to heed Dad’s wisdom and pick up my Bible. Those who know me, know that I now begin each day with it—taking time to study it and reflect. I wasn’t always this way. When I turned 50 I said a prayer that the decade ahead would be one of following my calling—taking God’s path. It’s been an amazing decade.

As I near 59, I approach it with wonder and anticipation of what the next decade will hold. Life is quite a ride…a sail through the crests and troughs. But like Dad said, I have no fear. I know I have my Chart…and a dependable Safety Harness.

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The Adventure Begins: A Sailing Story Part I

Revelation II was the name of Dad’s prized sailboat. It was a 1969, sloop-rigged Columbia, 28 footer. He had owned it for many years.

Sailboats are a lot of work. There is always something to fix or upgrade to get everything the way you want it. After all those years of owning Revelation II, Dad had it just right, including all new instruments.

My Dad has an adventurous spirit. He loved to fly and sail and he was always looking for the next adventure. This story is about one of those adventures. It ended up a little long, even by my standard, so I’ve broken it into parts…

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I had wanted for a long time to take a cruise in the sailboat around the northern end of Lake Michigan. One weekend in August, Ed and Georgine were up with us on the Island and I was in the process of preparing the boat to take my trip. Ed looked the boat over, gave me an engine tune up and checked all the instruments so he would feel comfortable that I was ready.

On a Monday morning, Dolores helped me pack up the supplies for the boat because I expected it would take me four days. Then she told me, “Give me a call on your cell phone when you’re on the horizon from our cabin so I can see you and give you a call to say goodbye.”

My first stop would be Manistique, Michigan. I left the slip I kept at Caps Marina and sailed out around Detroit Island, past the Pilot Island lighthouse, then turned north towards Manistique. Soon Dolores gave me a call  and said, “I can see you!”

The weather was okay and everything was going along well. I had the auto-helm turned on to steer the boat and I had my Bible on the cabin top so when I stood on the steps going into the cabin, it was just at reading height.

I was out for about six hours when I noticed my course was drifting. I finally figured out the auto-helm was not working. On checking further, I realized none of the instruments were working—the boat speed, wind speed or depth sounder. So I had to steer by hand. This  was in the early days of GPS. I had a handheld unit and was grateful because when I got to Manistique I needed it. I couldn’t see the harbor; all I saw were trees where I expected it to be. The GPS gave me a heading for the harbor and I was able to find the entrance. It’s a small harbor with a few slips and a gas pump. I maneuvered away from the slips so I could swing right into one and got stuck in what felt like a sand bottom.

Fortunately, another sailor came along and explained to me that there was sufficient depth only close to the slips. If you get too far away from that, like I did, you get stuck. To be honest, I don’t remember how exactly I got unstuck…I think I threw a line to the other sailor and he gave the line a tug and pulled Revelation free. When I got in and tied up, he said to me, “Apparently, this is the first time you’ve been here.”

“Yes, it is.”

“You have to be careful when you go back out because the harbor is the mouth of a river.”

Typically, sand flows down the river and leaves a little ridge between the harbor where I was tied up, and the exit down through the mouth of the river. I planned to gun my engine so I could hit that little ridge pretty hard, get through it and be free on the other side. But I wanted to call the boat yard in Milwaukee first to see if they could give me any suggestion on what was wrong with all my instruments.

I made supper, then slept on the boat that night and called the Milwaukee boat yard the next morning. I talked to Scotty who was very familiar with my boat, told him my dilemma and asked his advice on fixing it.

“Bill, your boat is a 1969. Through the years, there have been wiring changes. No one ever removed wires, they just kept adding to them. I can’t even begin to tell you how to fix it.”

The next port in my plan was Beaver Island. According to the chart, it was kind of a tricky entrance with many marking buoys to guide you. As I thought about it, I realized how many hours I had ahead of me and to navigate it without an auto-helm and other instruments, I felt would be impossible. It wouldn’t be able to leave the tiller to eat, check a chart or do anything else. I called Dolores to tell her what was up and that I would be coming home that day.

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Oxygen is Low, Time to Go!

“Your oxygen is 90.”

“That’s low,” Dad said to the nurse. “It’s normally around 97.”

“We need you to be working your lungs.”

He stared straight ahead like he knew the drill but said nothing.

“She wants you to expand your lungs, Dad.”

“I hear her. I hear her,” he snapped at me then turned towards the nurse. “Bettina, I’m not going to be at my best when I’ve been lying in bed all night!”

This is true—Dad’s lung capacity was decreasing because he was in bed so much. I was doing all I could to get him discharged.

“You need to work your lungs, Bill,” Bettina repeated.

“Well, I need to get up out of bed to do that, but I can’t do that without setting the alarms off all the time!” He was so ready to get out of this hospital.

“And you know why we did that……right? Because you fell at home.”

“I know I fell at home, but that’s history!”

“You are high risk.”

Dad rolled his eyes. He took several deep breaths into his plastic breathing machine, pushing the little rattling balls up to the proper level in the air chamber. Then he took a few careful swallows of water and was ready to finish the story of the sailing trip to Washington Island. He was hoping the nurse would move on to her next patient. She seemed satisfied with his effort and made her exit.

“So, we were motoring through the fog without too much difficulty.” Dad’s breathing seemed to naturally improve as he started in on the sailing story. “As we got around the tip of Door County and changed course for Washington Island, we could hear the fog horn of the Ferry Boat. We couldn’t see it, but we heard it. Because the wind was so calm in the fog, we were motoring with the Atomic Four, which was the name of the standard motor on boats in those days.

We stayed alert to avoid the ferry and any other boats. According to the Rules of the Road, I would occasionally give a blast on my boat horn. This was the proper procedure during these conditions. We never saw the ferry boat, but sure enough, right off our bow, at my estimated speed, there it was—the tripod light of the Washington Island Harbor. We got into the Harbor and found a place to tie up at Outfitters. We walked around a bit to get a feel for the Island, spent the night in the boat and then headed back the next day over the same route.

We had a beautiful sail and as we were coming through Ship’s Canal, the water was quite calm. We got to the end of the canal in Lake Michigan, when substantial wind and waves began. I had the hatch over the V-birth open. The first good wave we hit pushed the water right in that hatch and into the V-birth. So here we were, once again, with many of our things soaked.

We continued along Lake Michigan shore and by the time we got to Manitowoc, the weather had built up. The stretch from Manitowoc to Sheboygan was some pretty hard sailing. In those days, Sheboygan didn’t have such a nice harbor for transit boats because it was a large harbor for commercial shipping. When we arrived, we found a place to tie up alongside one of the old coal docks.

We had just about settled in after supper that night when there was a rap on our cockpit. We looked out, and there was our son Ed. He knew our sail plan and figured out exactly where we were and that we had had a very hard sail that day. He told us the storm was picking up speed and that he had come to take over for Mom. He suggested that she take his car home.

Dolores was such an incredible sport, she would have—like she had done so many other times—stuck it out. But she didn’t argue with Ed.

I don’t have any idea how Ed found us that night. I guess he had just figured out what he would have done had he been in my spot. Ed was that way. Always anticipating, always offering, always helping. I wonder what he’s assigned to in heaven…..?

Dolores drove Ed’s car home. Ed and I spent the night on the boat and enjoyed a challenging sail the next day. The storm grew and the wind and waves were really rough. We had a great time and it was good Dolores listened to Ed and drove home.

To think now, how she was raised on a farm in northwestern Illinois, far from any body of water. She never had the opportunity to learn how to swim, never particularly liked the water, yet still she was always willing to share with me and my joy……….”

I had a big lump growing in my throat and my eyes welled as I thought about my mom and brother……..

“That’s a great story, Dad,” I finally managed to say.

Just then, as though he had been waiting in the wings for us to finish so he could make his entrance, an aide named Bruce walked into our room.

“Do you know what the date is, Bill?”

“I have a suggestion for you, Bruce,” Dad said. “You guys should put the day of the week up on the board there, along with the date. It’s really difficult to keep track of life outside when every day inside the hospital is the same. When I was at St. Jo’s, they always had the day of the week along with the date written on the marker board. That really helped.”

“Kind of defeats the purpose doesn’t it, Bill?”

“At this hospital, you’re supposed to figure out the day of the week by counting forward from the day you came in?”

Bruce didn’t respond to that question but took a look at the symbol on Dad’s wristband. “So you want to be resuscitated, if necessary, when you die, Bill?”

“You guys seem more worried about me dying then keeping me alive.”

“Bill, you just don’t want to get that wrong.” Bruce walked over to the board and added Friday to the date.

A small victory but it felt good to have witnessed it. A patient’s feedback is important.

We had been at the hospital since Monday. I had pushed for getting Dad released as soon as possible because I was sure he would recuperate better at home. His resident physician and head doctor both agreed with me. I had a 2:30 appointment that Friday I didn’t want to miss and they helped expedite Dad’s release.

His Resident happened to be from Ghana and his Head Doctor was from India. They had become like family to us and both came to say goodbye. “I don’t know the tradition in your country,” Dad said to each of them. “But as we often do in our country, I’d love to give you a hug.”

Each had replied, “I could use a hug.”

They managed to get us through the discharge process so I was able to make my appointment which was somewhat of a miracle in itself.

It’s funny, I feel sad to be ending our unexpected experience of being a High Risk Fall patient. There was a little rough sailing but all in all, we ended up arriving safely back into our harbor. And as always, those whose hearts touched ours will always stay with us.

Thank you Dr. Richard and Dr. Joseph—God bless you.

March 14, 2014

Is the Sleeping Bag Dry?

“Here she comes,” Dad said beneath his breath. “She always enters the room like she’s the inspector.”

“Who is the President?” The RN asked him in her little girl voice. “I’m going to take your blood pressure. Do you know where you are?”

He took a breath before he answered, “Yes. I’m in the hos-pi-tal.” He was covering up his irritation pretty well. “You know Bettina, it makes me feel  inadequate when you keep asking me the same questions time and again.”

I jumped to his defense. “Maybe if you tried just talking to a patient—you could ask them about their children or grandchildren or work or something—anything to help them feel more like a person than a patient. You know what I mean?” I was trying to be nice about it.

“It’s our base-line reading. We are instructed to ask these questions. We ask them for a reason.”

“Well, I guess I understand that,” he said.

And I guess I did too. Maybe it helps them from getting too involved emotionally. It must be hard to find that balance—of caring but keeping your feelings out of it. That’s why I’m not a nurse.

“Your pressure is one hundred sixty-two over seventy….that’s a little high. Can you tell me what day it is?”


“Do you know the date?”

“It’s hard to keep the days straight when you’re here, Bettina. They all start blending together. The 14th?

“No, it’s the 13th.” She chirped.

“Well, that’s confusing. I see that the board there says it’s the 11th.”

She glanced over her shoulder to the board on the wall at the foot of Dad’s bed. She asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?”

“No, you did what you came to do.”

Bettina scooted over and changed the date, then left the room.

Dad had been telling me the story of his first sail with Mom. They had made it to the dock in Port Washington after some rough weather.

“Tell me that part again about the sleeping bag.”

“Everything was wet but our sleeping bag was dry so we spent the night on the boat. That was always special.”

I can imagine, after the level of potential danger Mom and Dad had just sailed through, that the calm of the water and warmth inside their bag may have seemed blissful to them. But, everything was wet, the air muggy and sticky, probably some mosquitoes or a solo fly happy to have found a new landing spot. They were content just being together. That was true love.

“The next morning we had to lay everything out to dry in the sun in Port Washington and eventually took off for Sheboygan. We had a good sail that day and arrived at the Sheboygan harbor around dinner time. We walked up town, got something to eat and went to a movie.

We left Sheboygan the following day and went on to Manitowoc which has a fine harbor and nice ship store. We weren’t there long when a boat tied up next to us on the opposite side of the slip. The guy was a sailor from Chicago who was headed the same direction as us. Dolores was cooking supper on the alcohol stove—I remember fried pork chops and potatoes with a salad. Our boat did have a nice large ice box and Dolores always made wonderful meals. She asked the sailor if he would like to join us for supper. Needless to say, he was very pleased. So he joined us for a gimlet—our evening ritual—as Dolores finished preparing the meal.

The next day we went a little up the lake shore to Two Rivers. The dockage in Two Rivers is in the River. We tied up next to a McDonald’s. In each of the towns we were in, Dolores would pick up whatever groceries we needed and replenish the ice while I tended to the boat. She got our supplies in Two Rivers but that night she got a break—we had dinner at McDonald’s.

In the morning we sailed on to Algoma and tied up again in a river. We had another good supper and got to bed early.

The following morning we took off for the Sturgeon Bay Canal and through the Ship’s Canal into Green Bay. When we were in the canal, a large tug was headed directly for us. He gave me a blast on his horn and I couldn’t recall the Rules of the Road (which means rules of the water), as to what that meant. So I turned around and went on up ahead of him to get out of his way.

That night, I got the Rules of the Road out. As I recall, I figured out what he was telling me— I should have acknowledged him with a blast and then passed port to port.

We went from the canal up to Egg Harbor and found a nice tie. I’ll never forget the next morning we looked out our cabin and coming towards us, across the lake, was a significant number of sailboats. Each one was flying their colorful spinnaker, and all of them were highlighted by the morning sun. It was a beautiful sight.

We left Egg Harbor, sailed up to Ephraim and anchored in the Bay at Horseshoe Island. That too was a beautiful night.

On our seventh day, we arrived at Elison Bay when the weather began to get foggy. We laid over a day, waiting for the weather to change. Dolores got acquainted with the couple on the adjoining slip. When the following day was still foggy, I decided I didn’t want to waste any more time sitting around. So I plotted my course on the map with the headings and time and we planned to motor to Washington Island. Dolores told the neighbors she had met that we were going to leave.

“In this weather?!”

“I guess so,” she responded.

“Well, give us a call on your radio phone when you’re up there so we know that you arrived safely.”

“Radio phone, what’s that?” She asked.

“Don’t’ you have a radio?”

“No. Bill said the only instrumentation we have is a compass and for what we’re proposing to do, that’s all we need.”

So, now with some degree of trepidation on Dolores’ part, we took off in the fog.

This little story sums up the overview of our marriage. If I felt compelled to do something, or that the Lord had guided me, she was with me 100%—from travelling in Europe with three little kids and a tent, to sailing from Elison Bay to Washington Island in a dense fog.”

What a Wife!

I flew into Tucson for my Dad’s birthday on a Friday, two days before his celebration and just in time for a fish fry. I couldn’t wait to give him his gift—a Kinko’s copy of our blog stories assembled and spiral bound—but I did.

I hadn’t finished documenting his Fellowship which was my goal for his birthday so we spent most of Saturday working on it. We didn’t finish. He had to take time explaining the four zones of the allied occupation of Berlin and I kept confusing West Germany with West Berlin so he had to get the World Atlas out. We finally made it through Berlin but still had Denmark and Scandinavia left to cover.

Map of trip

Total territory covered on Dad’s fellowship

I woke up Sunday morning and waited to see the light go on under Dad’s bedroom door. His “No Birthday gifts!” rule didn’t apply to me because the 172 pages I was planning to give him—with or without the final fellowship segment—were as much a gift to me as they were to him. And it wasn’t wrapped.

He really liked it.

IMG_20140211_180156His birthday was great. We went to church with my sister Joan and her family, and that evening they gave him a big party. My brother-in-law Arthur grilled 26 steaks! We had two kinds of double-baked potatoes, salad, cheesecake and a custard pie. Dad had been asking for that pie for years and Joanie and I couldn’t find Mom’s recipe. I found a recipe called My Grandmother’s Custard Pie on a Google search, sent it to my sister and gave us both computer viruses. But the recipe was spot on and the pie was perfect—thanks to Joanie. I told her I would make it but got busy editing Dad’s story on Berlin. I started the pie and then she took over. Good thing for that. I had added 1/2 tablespoon of salt instead of 1/2 teaspoon.

Joan's family in Tucson

Joan’s family in Tucson

On Monday, Dad and I had the day to complete the Fellowship so here, my friends, is the final section!

“It’s very evident to me, that none of our trip throughout Europe would have been possible without the attitude and ability of Dolores.” I could tell Dad knew exactly how he wanted to summarize his experience. “I believe, having been raised on a farm, without electricity until she was thirteen, really prepared her to manage all of the challenging conditions of our trip from day to day.

While I pitched the tent, the three kids would play around—often with other kids from the campsite. Dolores would take the car and go into town, going from store to store to find our supplies and groceries.  Most of the time, she wasn’t able to speak the language but that didn’t seem to bother her.

Through all of this we stayed healthy. There were times when tension in the tent rose. For example, Dolores would bathe the kids each night in one of the green tubs we had bought along the way. I remember in Spain, she had finished getting the kids ready for bed when one of them stepped on the edge of the tub and spilled the water all over the inside of the tent, including underneath the sleeping bags. But through it all, I do not recall one time when there was a harsh word between us. Everything was seen as an adventure and enjoyed—even that spilled water. We would somehow find a way to see the humor in a situation. Instead of hollering at each other, we’d sort of laugh.

So there was no illness, no tension, never anger and really only one answer…the presence of the Holy Spirit throughout the entire trip.

From West Germany, we drove on up to Denmark which was beautiful. We found an open space along the road and set up camp—it was warm and sunny and there were no bugs that I can recall.

20140105_182749_resizedHowever, the second day in Denmark it started to rain.

20140105_182802_resizedThe following morning, we got up early and did the routine—taking down the tent, and packing it up. We took the ferry and traveled on to Oslo, Norway. You could camp at any appropriate place you wanted along the road. The scenery was beautiful there too.

20140105_182628_resizedOne of the most important things I learned on the fellowship was about Scandinavian planning. I reflected on what I had learned from the city planner I had met with when we were in Amsterdam. He explained to me the reasoning behind the significant planning in their cities. In order to develop the land for their country, they had to plan years in advance because they were below sea level. In America, we expand into farmland surrounding the city.

When Norway and Sweden planned to expand a city, they would extend the transportation routes and subways beyond the existing city to create a new town. There, they would build a station for the subway and develop the town around it. This way, every one of their expanded towns had a means of transportation back into the central city. Individuals could buy a yearly pass for transportation and this could reduce the number of cars used. Many Scandinavians had cars but they would only use them on weekends and for vacations. They could use their mass transit for everything else.

It rained and rained all throughout Norway and Sweden. Fortunately, I had learned how to put up the outer section of the tent first when it rained, followed by the inner tent, so that it would be dry. This worked well for four or five days but after that, the continuous rain got everything soaked.


Wet little Debbie

We found a hotel to stay at in Sweden so we could get the tent along with everything else dried out. I remember well, stretching the tent across the room and out to the balcony.

So to recap, after England, we went to Rotterdam and Amsterdam, Holland; across northern Germany to Berlin; north through Denmark and across to Oslo, Norway; east to Stockholm, Sweden; south to Copenhagen, Denmark; and back to Bremerhaven, Germany. We traveled a total of 12,000 miles and camped up until the night preceding sailing home—we probably would have camped the last night too, but we had to deliver the car for loading of the ship by 4:00 p.m. preceding day of departure.

20140105_183601_resizedThere is one rather amusing side light here. When we realized that we would have to spend one night in a hotel, we began to look forward to the prospect of a bath. Our last bath had been when we spent a night with friends in Heidelberg, Germany a month earlier. It turned out that the hotel we stayed at only offered baths in winter when the central heating system heated the water. We recovered from this disappointment and began talking of ‘taking a steaming bath every day on the ship.’ About five minutes after we boarded, we made arrangements with our cabin steward for baths the next morning.

20140105_183736_resizedThe tub was really full and the water very hot, but we were a little disappointed. It was filled with salt water which we found far from satisfactory for bathing purposes. ‘Oh well,’ we thought, one more week and we would be back home.

Reflecting on this whole experience, it’s interesting to recognize the responsibilities and roles that Dolores and I shared. I had studied and prepared for the trip and my part was seeing all the architecture, following through on the itinerary and details of the fellowship. Dolores’ responsibility was feeding us, keeping us healthy, washing all our clothes by hand, and making sure the kids were clean. This really was a much greater challenge than mine. She kept us all calm and happy. Except for setting up and taking down that double enclosure, two-room tent, my part was easy. What a wife!”


On the ship headed home.

Inspired by European Architects

Look at this roof! I can’t even get bookshelves to stay mounted. My office looked like a tornado had hit when my shelves crashed to the floor. The thought of dealing with wide span concrete structures and cantilevers makes my heart pound. 

Nervi's soccer stadium in Rome

Pier Luigi Nervi’s soccer stadium being built in Rome 1959

Though I’ve been exposed to beautiful architecture all of my life, I have never really been able to appreciate the level of expertise, courage and depth of understanding that goes into it until I looked at this roof and thought of my bookshelves.

Dad’s Reflections—Fellowship Part III, 1959

“One of the highlights of our travels had been a meeting with Pier Luigi Nervi. He was an Italian engineer and architect known internationally for his large-span structures built of reinforced concrete. He didn’t speak English but with the help of one of his men as interpreter we had a very pleasant visit. He showed us around his office and explained some details of his current work. We were pleased to note that he does much of his calculations and drawing himself. The following day, one of his men gave us a guided tour through his partially completed soccer stadium in Rome. The reinforcing steel is preassembled and then lifted by crane into the concrete form.

After all the steel is in place, for any thin section, Nervi used a fine mesh (similar to our chicken wire) over the total reinforcement. Nervi’s man explained that from experience the stresses are distributed better and the actual strength is greatly increased over the calculated strength when the mesh is used. Nervi seemed to be a very forceful yet quiet and humble man—similar to his structures.

Another significant privilege was having a meeting with Italian architect, author and publisher Bruno Zevi.  A recent publication of his, Architecture as Space, guided me a great deal through my time in Europe. He eventually published quite a bit of my work including the thin shell concrete structure churches and school, followed by Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis.

Eden Seminary

William Wenzler Eden Theological Seminary 1968

Eden Library Interior

When I think about the renown of these two men and their incredible talent and ability in structure and architecture, I‘m overwhelmed that I could walk into their offices unannounced. Each of them gave me a considerable amount of time.

We left Paestum, Italy and traveled to Turin where we saw Nervi’s Exhibition Hall. We were quite prepared for this work form the coverage Time Magazine had given it in 1958, Poetry in Concrete, and from the photos in Nervi’s book, Structures. The interior was all we had hoped it would be, but the exterior (we had never seen a photo of that) was tremendously disappointing. The large rectangular entrance section reflected none of the beauty of the arched hall—it appeared to be an afterthought. The arched portion itself was water-proofed with some black tar or asphalt and lost all feeling of concrete. We do not know the history of this project, but we imagine Nervi did only the engineering and was not the architect. If this is the case, the building is to us a perfect example of the need for a more complete integration of structure and aesthetic design. We believe that during a period of architectural (or cultural) advance, as we are now in, structure and architecture out of necessity become one.

Next we headed south to Nice, France and along the Riviera to Barcelona, Spain. The winter before our trip, the Museum of Modern Art had the exhibit of the work of a Spanish artist named Antoni Gaudi.

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Antoni Gaudi Temple of the Holy Family

We’d never heard his name before and were quite anxious to experience his work. We stood before his “Temple of the Holy Family” which had only its front facade and spires completed but it was enough to convey his thought.

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Gaudi closeup

His work seemed to “drip” with ornament and apparently was based on no systematic module. It was entirely free—unrestricted.

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Gaudi closer up

As we continued to drive around Barcelona, seeing more and more of his work, we began to respond to it in a much deeper way than we had at first. He had shown us the vast possibilities of architecture. He used the basic structural system of the Gothic period. However, he was not limited to the development of that period as we in America were when the Gothic revival swept our country. His columns were not limited to a vertical position, his vaulted bays were not necessarily rectangular or even symmetrical, his walls were seldom plane surfaces, his roofs were not merely a covering but often sculptural shapes covered with bright colored ceramic tile. All of his work showed a plasticity of form and unity of structure and ornament that we had not seen before. When we experienced the space of his work, we realized far better the full potential of architecture and its effect on the emotions and feelings of man.

Campsite in Barcelona

Our campsite in Barcelona


Camping in Barcelona

We went north and west through France. Along the way, we experienced the work of Le Corbusier. The first work of his we came across was Unite’ d’habitation at Marseille. That impressed me and later impacted my work. I was greatly surprised at the honesty, almost crudeness of his use of concrete.

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Le Corbusier Unite d’habitation

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Rooftop which had a pool and workout area

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More cool rooftop

We were disturbed yet pleased by the natural, almost unkempt appearance of the surrounding grounds—no mowed grass or flowerbeds, only natural shrubs and trees. We also saw his houses at Pessac and the Villa Savoie at Passay—one of his most famous.


Corbusier’s Villa Savoie

We had recalled seeing pictures of it but were not prepared for what we found. It had been in a state of abandonment for many years. Draperies were rotting on their rods, dishes and silverware lay on the shelves, furniture and cushions were scattered everywhere, glass broken, flower beds covered with weeds. Our French wasn’t good enough to find out why it was deserted. When we asked a policeman, he merely shrugged his shoulders. Nevertheless, the house in its present condition gave us the opportunity to scrutinize everything and see it all far better than had it still been in use. We couldn’t help ponder the question—what good is architecture if this can happen to such an outstanding example?

Along the way through France, we camped at a site right at Corbusier’s Chapel Ronchamp. The Chapel had been covered by many magazines and I could only say it was deeply inspiring—its curving roof, unique use of glass, flowing walls and brackets—all mindful of Gaudi.


Chapel at Ronchamp

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We had at this point completed our travels in southern Europe including Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Spain and France. We had spent some time in Munich, Germany and were preparing to head north to Cologne, then on to Brussels and the World’s Fair, then to England and finally to Scandinavia.

Camping proved to be interesting—especially with the children—and campsites were available everywhere. The cost was usually 25 to 50 cents per night. Toilets (in one form or another) were always provided along with drinking water, sinks, showers (cold water), gas stoves (we had our own), etc. and had proven to be as economical as we had hoped.

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Mom with French bread and wine. The only way to camp.

Since Rome, we lived in the outdoors, rain or shine, including our cooking on a two burner Kerosene stove.

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Mom knew how to wash diapers. While sipping champagne of course!

We washed clothes by hand, bathed in water heated on the stove, slept on air mattresses and blankets—we missed our sleeping bags which were back home. Our camping life was a full story in itself. It wasn’t exactly restful but it was certainly healthy.

We returned to Spaichingen to the Alte Poste Hotel and repacked all our things. We left behind our trunk and two large suitcases to be shipped directly to the ship for our return voyage. We also paid a visit to the sisters in Bremerhaven.

A second visit to the sisters in Spaichingen

A second visit to Dad’s relatives in Shpaichingen

We wore blue jeans or shorts and each of us had only one good outfit for “town”. It took us two hours from the time we got up to the time we were ready to travel in the morning and about three hours to set up, cook, eat and get to bed at night.The weather was excellent for camping in Italy and Spain, fair in France and lousy in Germany—cold and rainy. We hoped for improvement as we traveled north.

In regard to food, we had had no great difficulty up to this point. We’d been drinking any water designated as drinking water and Dolores had been buying fresh fruits and vegetables with no ill effects. With the exception of a few American supermarkets in Italy, it was always necessary to shop at four or five stores—one for bread, one for pastries, one for meat, one for milk and one for general groceries. Many stores were open to the street, especially butcher shops where the half steer or lamb would hang unrefrigerated in the open. When we went out to eat, we would normally order three dinners—the kids would share one meal. “Drei mahl mit fünf tellern” (three orders with five plates.) This led to extra charges for the extra dishes used and there was always a charge for the bread, use of the table cloth, etc. Then it was always topped by a service charge of 10-20 percent.

There were many little characteristics that differed from America of course and some amused us. For instance, in one restaurant a standard meal we had ordered included a bottle of wine or mineral water. We told the waiter, who spoke a little English, that we didn’t want mineral water, we wanted orange soda. He said that would be extra. We asked him what the cost of orange soda was and he said 150 lira. We asked how much it would cost for mineral water and he said 150 lira. We asked him to substitute one for the other but he didn’t see it that way. Orange soda was extra and that was that. We had similar experiences with vegetables. A dinner in France was 500 francs with peas for the vegetable. If we wanted beans it cost more—beans were more expensive than peas, I guess.