Audrey Austin

Audrey Austin
Proud to be a small town indie author

Monday, May 30, 2016

Welcome Jurgen Braunohler - featured author for June

The Weaning Trip                         by Jurgen Braunohler.


IT WAS a windblown day in late September.
Pitching on the rough seas of northern Georgian
Bay, our yawl-rigged navy whaler made its way
westwards in a strong sou'easter, outward bound
from Key Harbour in the far northeast corner of
the bay.

  Aboard the craft, I surveyed the scene: hardly a
cloud in the sky, and an endless train of rolling
wave crests obscured the horizon.  Before me
(aside from my two staff), nine weary teenagers -
who had been in trouble with the law - struggled
with the challenge of a tough wilderness rehabilitation
program designed to turn them around.  At that moment,
however, they were too seasick to care much about

  The powerful blasts of wind that morning had sent the
Boomerang, our 27-foot fibreglass yawl racing along under
jib and mizzen.  Putting into the Bustards Islands had
looked like a good idea, but with a drop in the wind and
continuing good weather, I decided to press on.  The crew
reefed the boomless main of our lugger, struggling with
queasy stomachs and trying to recall slipping reef knots.
Then they swayed the yard aloft, the sail snapping
explosively in the strong gusts. 
Boomerang heeled under
a press of canvas as a foaming bone in her teeth cascaded
ahead of us.  Now, six miles west of the Bustards, something
felt oddly wrong and yet I didn't know what.

  As the western custom of leaving home is a rite-of-passage
for most young adults, commanding this boat with eleven
other crew on week long cruises was a similar turning point
for me.  I had worked for the privilege, having served for
years on Toronto Brigantine sail training vessels, and then
earlier that summer as
Boomerang's second in command.

  Descended from the whaleboats once carried by sailing
ships to hunt the leviathans of the deep, our whaler was
owned by Project DARE, a wilderness camp then run by
Ontario's Ministry of Correctional Services.  Its program was
modeled on the Outward Bound courses that were invented
during World War Two - for teaching merchant seamen how
to survive if their ships were sunk.  Today, the courses remain
popular in civil life for teaching coping skills and positive self-
motivation through natural adversity.  In the case of our
volunteer teenage crew, DARE's strenuous two-month program
was their ticket to freedom from training schools and
reformatories - providing they did well.  The whaler had been
bought from the Canadian Navy just for this purpose, and the
meaning of DARE's name was: Development through Adventure,
Responsibility and Education.  It was also my first job after

  I did not regret my decision to press on past the Bustards, as
Boomerang was behaving well in conditions that were normal
for her, if uncomfortable for the crew.  We were two days out,
having rowed the 2,000 pound boat, loaded with the weight
of more than a ton of people and camping gear 14 miles down
the Key River on our first day.

  But a cloud on the horizon to windward bothered me for some
reason, as did the fact that the previously falling wind was now
holding steady.  To make Beaverstone Bay as planned meant
Boomerang farther offshore than I now wanted in
order to skirt the shoals (known as "The Chickens") with
sufficient sea room.  Yet this was a push trip and not a holiday
cruise.  Running for shelter on a mere hunch, when I had told
my employer that we would be in Beaverstone Bay that night,
might take some explaining.  Yet it was a decision I had to make,
with some reservations.

  Suddenly the fun was gone and the burden of responsibility
loomed very large.  I bore off for the Voyageur Channel on the
French River, opting for safety in the face of uncertainty.  Then
things became rather busy.  In the rising seas I struggled with
compass bearings on the leaping whaler.  The mizzen had to
come in.  The helmsman needed supervision.  The bailing crew
was busy as was the lookout.  A youngster vomited while another
peed overboard (after I had harnessed him to the boat).

  Luckily I had done most of my chartwork in advance and had
plans for every contingency, allowing the sea room to carry them
out.  Now that cloud had turned into a great black squall and
the waves were leaden grey.  After gybing we made alarming
leeway towards the distant but menacing shoals, that had become
shrouded in foam.

  When at sea, the best time to deal with anything is always
right now,
while you still have the chance.  We tacked away instantly.
"Ready about!" I shouted while sending hands to start the engine,
reluctant to drift in any closer.  As she paused, head to wind, the
crew dipped the lug - hauling back the mainyard around and abaft the
mast onto the other side, and backed the jib.  The bow plunged in
a deep trough, and a rogue sea reared level with our main masthead.
The engine sputtered to life as we hurtled over this roller and
Boomerangtook the following sea with a smasher - all hands forward vanished in
a cloud of spray.  Coming about again much further out, I made haste
for shelter towards an unbroken line of foaming breakers.  My piloting
was dead-on: the breakers parted to reveal our channel ahead, and in
we went.  The sky astern was sinister, a black and ominous witch's brew.

  The rest of the six-day cruise was challenging, with more boisterous
sailing, an encounter with a bear, and survival training (I did this by
marooning the boys in pairs on various islands with only emergency
rations).  The weather continued cold, rainy and miserable.  When the
the trip ended though, it did so in grand fashion.  We came storming
into Key Harbour on a lively reach and under full sail.  The boys just
loved it.  Having completed this "Weaning Trip" as it was known, they
were well prepared for their survival solos and the "Major Expedition"
that they would have to organise themselves.  These experiences would
change their outlooks on life forever. 

  In my case, skippering
Boomerang was also a turning point and my life
would never be quite the same again.

Jurgen Braunohler

The story I've submitted on my previous e-mail
to you just a moment ago, "The Weaning Trip", is
a true story and my most popular and most frequently
published one.  It was also my definitive, trial by
wind & water coming of age experience.

The Weaning Trip was also my submission for the
first Creative Connections event, when I partnered up
with my mother.  She submitted the painting she had
made of me, just after I came back from that camp job at
age 21, admittedly a bit wrung out from the experience.
I have included it in the attachment.

The other attachment is the drawing I made of the
Boomerang in that storm, facing the rogue waves.  I have
been publishing my stories for over twenty years now.
This story highlights my two greatest passions: sailing, and
helping kids.

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