The Angle of Incidence…


The Angle of Incidence…Equals, the angle of refraction.

I was actually present, the day they taught high school physics.  And, I’ve always been glad for it.  I learned a number of valuable life lessons.  I just didn’t know it, at the time.  Sound familiar?  I’ll get back to some of that metaphysical mumbo in a bit.  What I want to talk about, first, actually happened five or six years before that epiphanic discovery of Einstein, and Newton with his inverse-squared idea.

Probably a day about like today. Probably just about 57 years ago, almost to the day.

The first time I saw the Boy Scout Camp (Camp Cowles) guard tower from this same exact spot, I weighed a gnat’s patoot over 60 pounds.  Skinny, and no-doubt shivering.  But, giving up, and getting out was the absolute last thing on my mind that day.  There was this thing called the “Mills Mile.”  A mile-and-an-eighth.  Basically, you had to swim back and forth across Boy Scout Bay.  One of your buddies came along to row a boat behind you.  Just in case.  But, no hanging on.  No quitters.  And, ya know what?  That kid backwatering that rowboat, responsible for life and limb, was just another sixth or seventh grade boy.  Hard to imagine, these days.  But, that’s the way we did it.

Today, I’m 70 years old, pushing close to 200 pounds, and out of shape.  I could probably figure out a way to swim the old Mills Mile course.  If I absolutely had to.  Probably would take all day.  But, with or without a chase boat, I can think of lots of smarter ways for me to spend an afternoon.  Ferinstance.

Sailing a boat designed – and possibly even built – about the time I was churning and sputtering my way to that Mills Mile patch, was what I in fact did.  Punkin Seed has been in the fleet for several years.  She gets little attention, and even less opportunity to do what boats are for.  Not her fault.  Finally, last night, I was out in the barn and sort of moping about.  There’s three boats hanging from the ceiling, and two more on trailers out there.  Only one of those has been wet this year.  Punkin’ Seed is still mud spattered and dirty from trailering back and forth to storage.  I’ve had the rig up, and more or less sorted out once or twice this season.  But, still she sat unlaunched, and probably feeling unloved.  I blurted out, “…OK.  Tomorrow.  I promise…”  We all know about a promise.  It’s, a promise.

Not long after breakfast, we were down at the ramp.  The wind was up.  Maybe 8-10 with puffs into the teens.  This is a lake.  This is summer.  Wind pipes up.  Wind drops off.  Wind shifts, sometimes radically.  But, doggone it.  The wind was blowing.  And, we’re a blowboat.  Sometimes timing is really everything.

PS has been a sloop.  She started out with a wooden-sparred cat rig.  Now, she’s back to the cat rig.  Different main.  Different sticks.  Lots of other changes.  But, I’d like to think she’d still be recognizable to her builder.  She’s a Glen-L 13 by design.  Most certainly a home build.  Overall, just a wholesome little boat.

After an hour or so of simply following the wind, we found ourselves in Boy Scout Bay.  The wind always gets a bit confused inside that crescent.  Dead spots.  Gusts.  Constantly shifting to reciprocals.  I didn’t have an anchor.  No lunch, and the only thing aboard to drink had been a few slurps of lake water.  Must be time for a swim!

I tied up to the perimeter floats, that protect an empty waterfront.  Dunno from what.  Nobody, apparently, in camp.  I was about the only boat on the lake.  The 18th of August.  Warm water.  Warm sun.  Dunno where the 11- and 13-year olds spend their time, these days.  But, I’ll double-dog-dare-you to disagree.  Any one of those kids I used to swim with, and row with, and sail with back a half-century ago would’a clung to me like moss on a damp rock to get to do what I got to do, today.

I just stripped down to my shorts.  And, I jumped over the side.  Sure, I’ve got a boarding ladder.  Sure, I tried out the hand holds and figured out where I could put my knees and elbows.  But, then it was GEE-RRRRONNNNN-AHHHH-MM0H!!!  It was so satisfying, I did it again.  And, then once more.

Little PS just looked so jaunty, I swam around taking fish-level pictures.

The breeze out in the main channel was filling in.  Time to get back to gettin’.  Just when I was certain I was the only one out today, a sail popped out from behind the point.  Now, EVERYBODY knows that the definition of a sailboat race is whenever two boats are in sight of one another.  And, of course, they both don’t have to know about that race business.

Main strapped in.  Hiked a bit to wind’ard.  Light touch on the tiller.  Tally ho!

Probably not a fair fight.  I caught ‘em after laying a course to intersect, and pulled ahead.  I suspect he didn’t learn to sail with a brand new copy of Royce’s Sailing Illustrated, 1960 edition, stashed under his pillow.  After a while you automatically “tack in the headers, climb in the lifts…”  Like riding a bicycle.  Anyhow.  They gave me the “Nice boat.  Fiberglass? …or…wood…?”  And, we parted ways.

I gybed back and forth for the whole length of the lake.  I beat my way back to the windward end.  I did it again.  But, sooner or later a 70 year old bladder must go ashore.

We do have to get old.  We don’t have to grow up.  That much, is scientific.


  1. I swam the Mills Mile at Camp Cowles too. And I still have and use a Plumb hatchet I bought from the Scout store there. Split some kindling with it just a couple of days ago. Thanks for the memories from a far simpler time even if we did have to get under our desks at school once and awhile.

  2. Great story of the Camp on Diamond Lake and even wiser words about never growing up!! Gary Larson,a famous cartoonist from Seattle once said, Don’t ever grow up because those people get the shitty jobs!!!Lol

  3. Roy. Jim, Marsha, Phillip:

    Thanks for the responses and kind words. Other than opposable thumbs; kind words, and the occasional verbal recognition that others exist, is about all we humans can claim as superior to the beasts of the field. That, and of course, Plumb hatchets in a leather case. And, not to forget playing mumbley-peg with a shiny new Buck sheath knife.

    Somehow, we survived, and even prospered.


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