Anchors Away, Campers!
By Pati Egan
In 1969, Camp added what promised to be an exciting new activity – sailing! The sail boating area was right next to the Garner Bridge. This seemed like a good location. The Sea Snark sailboats would add a colorful touch to photos of the bridge.
This area was probably not the best choice to locate sailing. The bank was mud, not sand, and a flock of geese loved the area and did not appreciate the intrusion. One big drawback was – no wind – ever!
Learning the basics of sailing was not easy! Usually, three campers would be in a sailboat. Even then Lake Echon had some rather shallow areas around the shore line, and cries of “I’m stuck” could be heard around the lake. The instructor would loudly remind the camper to remove the dagger board. Some campers would need a tow to get back to shore in order to get to their next activity. The instructor would spend a lot of time in a canoe or rowboat towing in the stuck sailors.
When the campers would get a wind, they would need to do a complicated maneuver known as “tacking” – not a simple thing to do when you are ten years old and have only had about 15 minutes of sailing instruction – to get back to the shore. This small diagram will give you some idea of what the campers had to do – https://www.deepsailing.com/how-to-sail-against-wind
Enough of the sailing lesson!
The sailboats were purchased for their aesthetic look more so than to make mighty sailors out of Ondessonk campers. They did add color to Lake Echon even when just on the shore.
Sailboats and the Marathon!
The sailboats were the perfect shortcut to get from the sailing area to the Lalemant staff cabin (now Lakeside). Bob Stowe, an early 1970s staff member, devised a way to make this one of the highlights of Marathon. For those of you unfamiliar with Marathon, it is/was a relay race that, at that time, began way up in the pastures with a horse ride, and ended up at the canoeing beach for the grand finale. The sailboats were near the end of the race, and you could win or lose marathon at this station.
Three campers would have nothing in the sailboat except the Styrofoam hull. They would use their hands to get from the sailing area to Lalemant. This photo shows the campers with the mast and one paddle – eventually the sailboats were stripped to make this part of the race more challenging. This has not been verified, but legend has it that one very competitive unit leader had the campers wear flip flops and put them on their hands to be used as paddles.
At one time, a small cove was built where the campers now have carnival on Friday. The idea was to be able to tie up the sailboats every night and keep the sailboats in better shape.
This proved not to be practical or to accomplish the aim of keeping the sailboats in good condition. Most of the campers did not enjoy sinking in the mud to get into or out of the boat. Storms would quickly flood the cove and sailboats would be all over Lake Echon.
Sailing, as an activity, was dropped in the late 1980s or early 1990s. The sailboats were hard to maintain and when purchased, came in a million pieces! I found an old diagram on the internet to give an idea of the numerous parts that could – and did – fall off or break off.
The sailboats came in a long box and every single part had to be assembled.
Some campers and staff loved sailing! If you took the sailboats out to windier sections of the lake, it could be a lot of fun! Some campers even earned a sailing arrowhead.
This arrowhead gave campers a real feeling of accomplishment as not many wanted to memorize the parts and the very basics of sailing. Sailing did show how camp staff has always met a challenge and made an activity fun and enjoyable for the campers. The campers would have a blast trying to navigate the sailboats and many howls of laughter would echo across the lake. Sailing is gone but the staff attitude of I will make this the most fun activity ever lives on!
Click here to learn more about Camp Ondessonk’s Traditional Activities.