Thursday, December 25, 2014
Joan in Tern
Douglas G. Pollard Sr.
In the spring of my eleventh year I was shown a canoe hanging
in a shed at a farm near home by a schoolmate. He wanted to buy it and
wanted me to go halvers with him. Well my half was five dollars and I
had my half from mowing lawns. A couple weeks went by and he still
didn't have his half. I dug a ditch, got ten dollars for the job, bought a
canoe and lost a friend. I have never gotten over feeling guilty about it
She was an eighteen foot Old town canoe with sponson sides
She looked pretty bad with all her varnish peeling, her thin planking was
rotted in places and both tips had rotted out and needless to say her can-
vas was shot. She had been hanging upside down in a leaky old shed for
years. Thinking back I probably got robbed at ten dollars in those days. I
think the years was 1945 and ten dollars was hard to come by.
We had a basement I could work in. I by myself under my fa-
thers directions stripped her down by removing her sponsons, canvas
and mahogany trim. I replaced the rotted sections of planking with or-
ange crate wood that was about 1/8 thick, perfect for the job and had
the advantage of being free. Her frames were still in good shape except
for the tops of them up high in her ends. We took her outside and I
scrubbed her down with lye and hot water. She was varnished inside and
had several coats of paint. It was blistered and peeling. The lye soften
things up one coat at a time. We had some old window frames behind a
shed and I broke pieces of glass out of them to use as scrapers. They
worked pretty good. I could score them with a piece of tool bit from my
fathers lathe and break them pretty much to the shape I wanted. I cut
them rounded to fit the curvature of the inside of the hull. Broken glass
is sharp on all edges so I cut myself several times everyday. One of my
older friends, A buddy of mine said I was saving her by way of
Airplane dope was bought at the local airport really cheap be-
cause it was gunmetal blue, mixed by accident and so was nearly worth-
less. Many boys in the neighborhood including myself built model air-
planes so airplane dope and its ability to tighten cloth
The canvas to cover the hull was paid for by mixing mortar with
a hoe in two separate mixing boxes for a neighbor who was building a
cement block home. I will never forget the shouts at me by the cigar
chewing old Italian brick layer. Too wet, too dry, more mortar, too dry,
keep up boy or I'll get me a wop to mix my mortar. I have never done
anything harder in my life. On Monday I had been replaced by a
black fellow nearly grown with shoulders too wide to go through the av-
The old brick layer called me puny. I guess he was right but I
got paid enough to buy my canvas and I was too excited over that to
Rebuilding the tips of the canoe was a pay grade above my know
how so my older brother who was a really good woodworker and
worked part time for Owens yacht Company rebuilt the tips for me us-
By late fall the boat was covered and paint ed. She was powder blue
with white on top the sponsons. Her interior
and trim were varnished. The lye had bleached the wood and it really
was pretty. The mahogany trim was stained and set out dark against the
really light colored interior. The contrast was a real eye popper.
I was somewhat of an artist for my age so I named her Tern and
painted a flying tern, white with yellow feet and bill on each side of her
For Christmas I was given a really beautiful set of rather expen-
sive paddles for her. My father painted them blue with the varnished
wood going down in a 'v' almost to the bottom of the blade.. They had a narrow
white band around the top of the shaft and a half inch stripe up and
down the vee with the rest of the blade natural with several coats of varnish..
I was more proud of those paddles than any thing I have
ever been given by anyone. We had a warm week in January and my
father and I went canoing. And I learned to properly paddle a canoe.
We boys paddled that canoe all over bear creek and every other
nearby piece of water that summer.
The following winter my brother told me that if I would help my
uncle dig the basement for the house he planned to build in the summer
he would buy me a sail and buy the lumber for lee boards and a rudder
and I could help him build them.
Two months of that summer were spent digging a basement.
About 4 feet down we hit blue moral clay. It was sticky and a mattox
bounced back at you. A piece always stuck to the blade and often as not
fell on our heads. I got strong that summer and my paddling
speed grew by leaps and bounds.
In the fall my brother and I went to the railway station in Balti-
more and picked up my brand new lanteen sail. The spars were sitka
spruce and my brother and I put four more coats of varnish on them be-
fore bending the sail. That sail was forty sq. feet and I couldn't believe
how big it was. I was secretly scared it would turn my boat over when
the very first puff of wind hit it.
By Christmas the lee boards and rudder along with mast step
were getting there last coat of varnish. My father being a machinist
made the bronze hardware needed for the rudder in his spare time at
That summer I was thirteen and slowly expanded my horizons
by crossing the Chesapeake bay to the Eastern shore to camp. We used
the sail for a tent but it showed up so well that we were afraid of railroad
bums sneaking up on us at night so after the first trip we took army pup tents that
belonged to my friends they were olive drab colored and set back in the
woods were harder to see.
The following year I was quite good at handling the canoe and sailing. That summer was the highlight of my early teen years as I took a day sailing trip with a young lady.
I was mightily smitten by a girl in my class that I had gotten to
be good friends with. On our third movie date I asked her to go for a
sail with me. Now canoes and sailing were definitely the romantic thing
in those days and she agreed, but I had to ask her mother. Mrs. Pergavie
called my mother and asked her if I knew what I was doing on that boat.
My mother told her I sailed a lot and that I had come home every night.
She told Mrs. Pergavie that she had never gone sailing with me, So said she,
You have to make up your own mind.
Mrs Pergavie thought a long moment and finally said, “no I'm
afraid not”, and that seemed to be that.
A week later on Friday night I walked Joan home from a school
dance. She had made hot chocolate and we sat at the kitchen table talk-
Mrs Pergavie walked in and said, “Joan you can go sailing but if
you aren't home by 5 pm your Dad and I will have to come looking for
you. She turned to me and said if you know whats good for you and you
want Joan to ever go with you again be back by 5:00 and not one minute
I agreed without even thinking about it.
Come morning I knocked on the Pergavie front door and wait-
ed. After what seemed a really long time Joan opened the front door and
invited me in. Old dog Rex sat on the porch step and panted. I was disappointed,
she had on a pair of blue jeans and a tee shirt with a sweat shirt over top.
Not the short shorts and halter top that had kept me awake half the
It was Saturday and her father was home and he grilled me.
Does the canoe lea k? I told him no. Did I know how
to get the water out if we turned over? I told him how I did that and that
I had done that a couple of times though I had not yet turned the boat
over by accident. Did I have a compass? Yes I answered. What would
you do if you got hit by a gust of wind. Let the sheet go I said. I always
sail with the sheet in my hand except in the small creek near home.
He said you'll do. You kids have a good time and be back at six
“Mrs. Pergavie said five,” I replied. I stood waiting for an an-
swer as he read the News paper. Without looking up he said five, six ei-
“We'll be back at five,” I said as Joan came in from the kitchen
and handed me a picnic basket.
We loaded the canoe with a picnic lunch she had brought along.
We had two paddles, two Gray Navy cork filled life preservers a wooden
bailing scoop, a fisherman's knife, hatchet and an old tin alarm clock. I
desperately wanted to keep track of time. I had a boyscout pocket com-
pass and in the bow stood my part German Sheppard, collie Rex. He
was our early warning system and horn as he barked excitedly at any-
thing closer than about a half mile. We each had a jacket and I brought
a rain slicker for Joan.
We sailed out of Bear creek through the # 26 street car bridge,
past Sparrows point ship yard and then eased along just east of Old Fort
I had a slatted back rest and Joan used it as she set amidships on
top my jacket. The canoe ribs were hard on a persons back sides with
out some padding. Joan was having a good time. She drug her fingers
through the water as as we sailed along movie star style smiling and
looking cuter than I could ever have imagined she could be with water
all around and a white sail reflecting warm sunlight across her slightly
sun tanned and freckled face. Her red hair looked aflame in the bright
It was almost 10:00 am when we passed Fort Carrol and we
weren't making as good a time as I thought we might. I was beginning to
be concerned about time . I needed time to paddle home if I had to and
I didn't want to be late even though I had an ace up my sleeve where
that was concerned if I needed it.. The breeze was light and the tide was
running with it so there was only a little ripple running on the water.
There were rolls of clouds marching slowly across the sky with rows of
sunshine in between. The day was beautiful and perfect.
Finally after a long thoughtful silence by both of us. I said Don't
you want to know where were going. I had told her father when she was
out of the room but she had not been curious enough to ask After a
moment of silence she awoke from her daydreams and said, “where”?
I said, ”Off to your left you see that clump of trees .
“Yes” she said pointing at them.
“Alright! Just to the left of that is a big white boulder as big as a
football field. You see it” I said with with a huskiness in my voice I did-
n't recognize. “I thought we could eat lunch on top of it I spotted it last
month when we sailed down to Annapolis.
“Oh it's beautiful”, she said, “Look how the sunlight is reflecting
off of it. It's lighting up the trees and water all around. Looks like some-
thing out of a king Arthur and his knights story But why aren't we head-
ing for it?”
“Tide's going out so we are heading up if were lucky the tide will
take us right to it.” I replied with authority.
Joan turned around to face me and moved the back rest to the
forward thwart she looked at me several seconds and finally said, “Your
different out here than you are in school.”
I lost my bearings and sailed off course and my heart was pound-
ing in my ears my face felt flushed. God I hope she can't hear my heart
beating I thought.
“Your like a man out here”.
A good thing it was that my shirt didn't have any buttons on it
they would surly have popped.
I suddenly realize I had taken on a terrible responsibility bring
the small and thin girl out here in a canoe. I felt like I wanted to protect
her from something, anything. I looked around frantically for something
to busy myself with.
I took a look at my clock to see if it was time to pick a new point
to sail toward. I had been changing the point I was sail toward every ten
minutes. I would take out my compass bring Tern on course and see
how far she had been pushed down the river. Then I would pick a land
mark up river and sail towards it. I had reached a point where I was no
longer moving down river but was holding a true course across to White
The old Smokey Joe ferry passed by us on her way to Love point
on the eastern Shore She rolled us pretty good and I believe old Rex was
feeling protective too. He set up a snarling barking fit at the ferry and
jumped overboard swimming barking and choking toward old Smokey
Joe. I rounded up slaked the sheet and paddle to him. Coming along side
of Rex I grabbed him by the collar and a big hunk of fir and pulled him
aboard. I held on tight so he wouldn't shake until a lot of the water had
drained off. He stood blinking at Joan, until she said, ”Please let him go
Doug, he looks so pitiful”.
I let go and he soaked both of us.
Joan was good natured about it and she sat and petted the wet
stinking dog until he decided to go to his perch in the bow.
He sat looking at me and every time I glanced at him he dropped
his head looked away. I believe he thought I was mad at him.
Soon we were passed by a tug pulling a barge that Rex set up a
fuss about. Then finally a ship. The ship completely cowed him and he
set ducking his head nervously and went to Joan to be petted.
We sailed in silence while Tern glided through the water a steady
gurgle at her lee board as she picked up speed in the increasing breeze. I
eased the sheet a little and let her luff slightly. She maintained her speed
and heeled a little less. Joan sat studying the distant smoke stacks of the
Sparrows point steel mills. I watched her from the corner of my eyes as
I pretended to study the set of the sail. My mind wondered to the com-
ing romantic picnic on our blanket high atop the big round stone just
ahead where a combination of my irresistible romancing, the beautiful
black silver lined clouds and the small breaking waves would surly melt
and weaken any reluctance she might have.
After a long silence Joan said, “My God Rex stinks. You don't
think he went in the boat do you?”
I laughed and said,”No he'd rather bust than do that, but your
right he does smell pretty bad!”
The farther we sailed the worse the stink got.
“Smells like dead fish,” I said.
About a dozen sea gulls flew off the rock as we got closer.
Then it dawned on me, “Holly crap I yelled out, the reason that
rock is white is it's covered in sea gull poop!”
Joan brought her hands up to her face and screamed, scaring
poor Rex half out of the boat again. Then she busted out laughing with
Rex setting there, head turn to one side eying her questioningly. As we
got nearer we could see fish skeletons laying all over its glistening white
surface along with a few dead gulls and eel or snake skeleton as well.
My hopes for a romantic picnic on a blanket where in that mo-
ment dashed by that disgusting sight and smell and then we were hit by a
breaking wave whose spray crossed over the Terns midsection. It was
then I realized the black clouds were coming our way. A distant flash of
yellow lightning confirmed my worst fear. We were in for a thunder-
I turned away from the rock toward shore. There was a break in
the sandy beach and the trees above it receded into the woods. It was a
little gut that went back into the woods. I headed for it. As we entered I
dropped the sail and Joan furled it. Rex jumped in and swam ashore run-
ning along side the stream. I spotted a place were there were small pines
along the shore. The bigger trees were far enough away that none could
be blown down on us And they would draw any lightning there was.
Perfect spot I thought and it was high ground. We drug the canoe up
unloaded it and turned it over on an old upside down skiff bottom. Per-
fect floor I told her. The squall will probably only last a few minutes. I
put the sail over the canoe stuck the boom under the gunnel on one side
and I figured I could hold the yard down by hand if the wind got up
and it would keep the wind from blowing rain under the canoe. We
opened our lunch and set on the canoe and ate as the wind kept picking
The inevitable question from Joan was, “What if it lasts all day
into the night”? I informed her that thunder storms don't usually last
She seemed satisfied with that.
And before she could question any more Lightning struck near-
by, a down pour of rain slammed down all at once and at the same time
we were hit buy a gust of wind. Trees cracked and squeaked against
each other but none came down. We disappeared under the canoe while
Rex stood outside and whimpered we tried to bring him in but he
wouldn't have anything to do with it. I held one side of the sail out with
a paddle and he got under it and laid down. I stuck one end of the pad-
dle in the sand under the edge of the old skiff and between it and the
gaff they held the sail out without my help.
I lay propped up on my elbow laying my other hand across
Joan's waist. We kissed several times and she seemed eager. I slid my
hand up along her ribs and she pushed it away roughly and said If your
going to act like that I won't go anywhere with you again. I took her at
her word and acted the gental man though I was disappointed and at the
same time felt proud for her.
After a while, the wind switched around out of the northwest
cold and clear.
I said, “Joan a cold front is coming through we are not going to
be able to go back the way we came. The wind will blow maybe until
morning and its probably going to get really cold”.
She looked shocked and bit her lip.
“It's alright,” I said.
“Alright for you I'm gonna get killed,” She looked into my face
and said, “And you might too.”
No, No its alright there is a street car track runs down along this
river to Stony point from Baltimore. We'll catch the street care and I'll
take you home.
“What about Rex? We can't take him on the street car and you
can't leave him she demanded.
“I'll tie him to the canoe then I'll come back and sail home
tonight,” I told her.
We got ourselves together tied up Rex, left him some dog food
and water and we were off.
We walked the quarter of a mile to the tracks and waited for a
street car and when it did come, I stepped out onto the track and waved
the motorman down. He stopped and we boarded at the back end pay-
ing the Conductor and getting transfers. Joan wanted to pay, so I let her
with a slight loss of pride on my part.
While riding I was thinking about that dark night trip across the
Potapsico river. I had sailed in the creek alone at night but not in open
water in strong winds. There was no doubt about it I wasn't looking for-
ward to it. I thought about leaving Rex until morning and instantly felt
ashamed. Suppose wild dogs found him, he wouldn't stand a chance tied
to the canoe. Then I began to worry about him tied there helpless.
We arrived down town on Fayette St. went into Reads drugstore
and she called her parents. She told her father the whole story all except
kissing under the canoe. I could hear them laughing as she told them the
white rock story. She told them we might be a little late and her father
wanted to speak to me. I took the phone nervously bracing for the
chewing out that was to come.
“Hello Mr. Pollard” he said.
“Ah,” Was all I manged to get out. I was taken aback Nobody
ever called me Mr. Pollard before.
“Mr. Pollard,” he said again.
“ Yes Sir,” I answered dreading what was coming next.
“I'd like to sail home with you tonight if you don't mind,I mean
if your willing”? he asked.
“Be glad to have you sir,” I said hopping relief hadn't crept into
my voice, “But it's going to be rough have you sailed before?
“ Oh Yes,” he replied I sailed me families boat in Scotland all
around that rocky coast as a lad. I'd like a lot to take me own trick at the
helm as well, if you were so inclined.
“I'd be glad to have you Sir,” I answered with true enthusiasm. I
was really beginning to like this man. Joan had told me that her father
played Bag pipes and dressed in kilts of his clan in Scotland. I conjured
up a mental picture of him short, bow legged and broad shouldered
dressed in kilts marching down the street playing bagpipes. It could have
come right out of a painting.
“ OK, You two wait where you are and Joan's mother and I will
pick you up and we'll drive to the boat.” he said with a charge of excite-
ment in his voice.
Joan said she would call my parents and let them know I would
not be home until late.
Her father and I watched the car until it was out of sight.
We went to the boat and I introduced Mr. Pergavie to Rex and
we loaded then shoved off.
Mr Pergavie sailed all the way back and I was glad to have him
do it. The wind had swung around and was hard on our bow. When we
started out we were in three foot seas but they got smaller as we got
closer to the north shore of the Potapsico River. It was a good thing to
as we took green water a couple of times and I was glad for the scoop.
We tacked our way into bear creek sailed under the highway
bridge and turned to port heading for home port. The place were I kept,
Tern was a creek called Snake Hole by the Local folks. Back in the sail-
ing ship days sailing ships were anchored there to set for a month or so
to kill the worms in their hulls. The creek was too fresh for the worms.
Mr Outabridge the owner of the property where I kept Tern
turned on the outside light so we could wash her down and stow her in
Mr. Pergavie and I walked together to the point where I was to
go one way, him another. We stopped under a street light and he took
my hand grabbing my fore arm with his other and said. “Mr. Pollard I
sure did enjoy my sail with you like nothing I've done in years”.
“I enjoyed it to,” I said. Usually I'm teaching the other boys to
sail and there all over the place. Your the only one I ever sailed with and
I learned some things from you. It was fun.
Crossing our driveway I could hear the big Air king radio play-
ing soft music in the living room. I looked in the window and dad was
setting in his chair, mom on the sofa and the girls were setting on the
floor close to the radio.
Rex and I were glad to be home.
Joan Pergavie and I dated through the winter and in the spring
they moved away. We wrote letters a few months and finally they slowed
to a stop.