Tuesday, July 25, 2017

New Kids In Town - February, 1962

Saturday morning dawned cold and overcast, just like most early February mornings in the Eifel Mountains. Gino Davis had joined the group and was happily leading the way down the hill and past the Air Police guardhouse as we walked along the two lane access road toward the German Bus Stop out on highway B-51. Leonard, who organized the trip along with Mike Ammon, slipped to the rear of the group and let Gino lead the way. Gino was wearing white socks with black pants and a day-glow green sweater. He proudly announced to the world the Americans were coming.

The bus stop was almost half a mile walk from the gate at Bitburg Air Base and by the time we got there I was almost cold enough to abandon the trip. No, not really, I was excited about what lay ahead. Soon one of the big, lumbering yellow Mercedes diesel buses from the Deutsche Bundespost pulled off the busy highway into our bus stop. After someone, I don't know who, communicated to the driver we wanted to go to the Trier train station, we all dug out the right combination of Deutschmarks, and deposited them in the coin box.

"Almost like home" I thought as I fingered the Marks, about the same size and weight as a quarter. Then I looked up at the passengers, most of the men wearing fedora hats, and many of the older women with "babushka" type scarves, all staring at our group boarding the bus and thought, "Oh, no, no it isn't!"

It was apparent we were as much a novelty to curious passengers as they were to us. They saw Americans all the time, some of them even worked on base or in the housing area, but usually only one or two "Amis" would get on the bus at once, and not all carrying duffel bags. We were being whispered about as we lurched toward the rear of the bus, looking for empty seats. There were eight of us, including Hank, one of my friends from the guidance shop, and some others I didn't really know. We ended up scattered around the bus, somehow concerned we would get separated and not make the journey to Luxembourg, wherever that was.

The bus stopped at several more villages on the sixteen-mile trip through the wooded countryside, picking up occasional riders. The ride down the hill overlooking the Mosel Valley and the city of Trier was one I'll always remember. The beauty of the German countryside never fails to impress me. We crossed over the Mosel River and soon swung into the open-air bus station, filled with buses and people. When the bus came to a halt in the busy bus terminal in Trier, everyone else got off, so we did, too.

Someone had a city map of Trier, I think it was Leonard's, and we made a command decision to walk through the Markt Platz and head toward Germany's oldest building, the Roman "Black Gate," the Porta Nigra. We stood at the Porta Nigra and several of us took photos like any tourist. I didn't have a camera, and most of the others couldn't afford color film. A lot of GI photos of Europe back then were shot in black and white. 

Porta Nigra, Trier, Germany

We referred to the priceless map and struck off in what we thought was the direction of the train station. At first it was fun, goofing along and making mental notes about all of our observations of German civilization. It was apparent we weren't going to find any train station when we were almost out of town. Leonard stopped a passerby, who didn't speak English, but by pointing at the map and making simple hand gestures we gathered we had gone the wrong way from the Porta Nigra. We trudged the long walk back to the massive stonework and turned left, walking down a beautiful, tree lined boulevard. By the time we got to another bus station located just this side of the train station, we were no longer kidding around about being lost. One of the buses coming out of the train station had Bitburg lit up as a destination. It may have been the same bus we had ridden into town.

We stood in the huge, tile-floor train station entrance and tried to figure out where to get train information and buy tickets. Leonard and Mike were the ones who knew what they wanted, so while we waited alongside the ticket window, the young clerk, who spoke broken English, collected money from an assortment of hands and passed back eight, small train tickets. We looked at the tickets as if they were a joke. The train tickets were about the size of an American movie ticket, but made out of thick cardboard, like being cut out of a cardboard box. It was green with a red strip through it. I thought it would make a great souvenir someday.

"I'm famished!", exclaimed Gino, "Let's get something to eat before we go out to the platform. We have twenty minutes before the train comes."

We followed Gino into the train station's tile-walled restaurant and ended up all at the same table, pulling empty chairs from nearby tables. We got some strange looks, apparently we were out of order. Everything on the menu looked expensive. My first lesson in not eating at train stations.

Gino said to the standoffish waiter, "I'll have the Tagesuppe" 

The rest of us ordered open face sandwiches, and of course, draught beer. When we asked Gino what "Tagesuppe" was, he informed us he had a bowl of it before and thought it was delicious. When the waiter brought Gino a soup bowl with what appeared to be broth with a raw egg floating in it, we thought his eyes were stuck open.

"Entshuldigung…," Gino said to the waiter, "What is this?"

The waiter never blinked as he turned and said, "That is the “soup of the day,” just as you ordered."

No one said a word as Gino stared at soup bowl, then slowly picked up his spoon, then repeatedly bashed the hell out of the egg.

Our open-faced sandwiches and beer were served and we were getting back into the spirit of our adventure when, needless to say, someone noticed we had a minute to catch the train. We rushed en masse to the pedestrian tunnel that led to the platform to catch our train. It took two minutes to get to the loading platform, and we watched as our train slowly pulled out of the station in front of us.

"Now what?," I asked, "Should we go back to the ticket seller or can we just get on the next train?"

"Let's make sure," said Leonard, "Let's go back and check to be safe."

The ticket agent was less than pleased with us. We were taking up space in his line and he really didn't like the extra aggravation we were causing. He had to go and find the Bahnhof Meister, a figure who turned out to be as imposing as his title.

The Bahnhof Meister was a big, barrel chested man in his early fifties. He wore a full, dark blue dress uniform, complete with a red leather belt across his tunic and an imposing, official looking hat that might have been worn by an old Field Marshall. He was an imposing figure with absolutely no sense of humor.

He had to sign each one of our tickets on the back to show they were still valid. There wasn't enough room on the tickets to write with much flair. He gruffly spoke to us, without a single indication we were all from the same planet. He turned and pointed at the train board, showing us when and where the next train to Luxembourg would arrive. We had about twenty minutes and decided not to screw up again. We walked up to the platform and plopped our bags down and waited.

In exactly nineteen and a half minutes, a passenger train quietly pulled in on the track behind us. We turned around and watched as people boarded, and within a minute it was underway, heading out of the station. There were no indications of any train any where near our track.

The Bahnhof Meister soon strode out to the platform outside his office and bellowed in German loud enough to be heard all the way back in Bitburg. His face was as red as his belt. We knew what he was saying even though we didn't speak a word of German. We had missed the train yet again! We were waiting by the wrong track and we hadn't understood the blaring loudspeaker. We had just stood there like fence posts while the loudspeakers tried to tell us the train was behind us! 

We were marched once again into his tiny office. He made us sit down, not letting any one of us out of his sight. He had finally filled in every open space on the back of the tickets, and he wasn't taking any chances he'd have to issue new tickets. It was like writing your telephone number on a matchbook match after someone else had already written theirs. He was silent as he rocked back and forth in his chair, watching the clock on the wall. It was not a rocking chair. Every once in a while he would scowl at us, then turn back and look at the clock.

Finally, he stood up and said, "Los!" and strode out of the office. We followed along as he marched to the platform. The train pulled in and stopped with a coach door inches from our feet. The Bahnhof Meister stood stiffly and waited while we boarded the train. The train was slowly rolling before he turned on his heel and strode back into his office.

Leonard, leaning back to look out the coach window said, "Want to bet he's headed for a schnapps?"

The train we boarded was headed from Copenhagen to Paris. Like the bus ride earlier, there weren't many empty seats. Most of the sofa-style, leather covered seats had people sprawled out, scattered around the car. The compartments were just like in the movies, except not as plush. These were the "B" coaches and they were mostly filled. Hank and I found a couple of seats together, but I think Leonard was carefully looking for a good-looking seating partner. I decided that was only in the movies, too, looking at the mostly tired, unhappy looking travelers who mostly didn't even bother to look up.

Soon after leaving Trier, the train crossed over the Mosel and headed southwest toward Wasserbillig, just over the Luxembourg border. We stopped not ten minutes out of Trier while the German locomotive dropped off and was replaced by a Luxembourg diesel. After a few moments we were under way again, and before we could really get settled in, we were pulling into the main train station in the city of Luxembourg. The two cities are less than thirty miles apart.

Surprise! You needed your ticket to get off the train! They don't do this in the movies! Luckily we all scrounged up our mutilated tickets and turned them over to the bemused Luxembourg agents who soon start chatting and laughing among themselves. I wondered what the Bahnhof Meister wrote in that small space.









Saturday, July 22, 2017

Nostalgia

Florida Weekly Newspaper runs an annual writing contest based on a random photograph they post as an inspiration.  I had one of my writings published several years ago (See my blog "Stuff") based on a photo of a doll in a basket on a staircase.  This years photo is an open, European window, which immediately flooded me with memories.  This is the result.
* * * * * 
The photograph in the Florida Weekly immediately flooded me with nostalgia. There is no hope a memoir will ever make it through the gauntlet of astute critics who judge the writing contest, but perhaps I will find a glimmer of understanding when I explain why a photograph of an open, European style window, overlooking a courtyard or narrow street, a scene that most of us have only seen in movies, brings tears to my eyes: A friend of mine fell out of one. He did it backwards, and with his pants down around his ankles.

Nostalgia, by Internet definition, is “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past.” Aah, the unrecoverable past. That period when you alone remember exactly what happened. Even those with you at the time may not share your nostalgia, such as Tom’s recollection of landing on a stack of trash cans in the alley behind the Flamingo Bar in Luxembourg.

Parlez-vous fran├žais?” asked the gendarme, staring down at the semi-conscious, intoxicated young American tangled up among the trash cans. Tom had no idea which country he was in. After all, he arrived in Germany from the United States only that morning and never before heard of Luxembourg. It was also the first time in his life he was legally old enough to drink.

Frank and I also had a problem. We had driven Tom and five other newly arrived airmen to Luxembourg from nearby Bitburg Air Base in Germany for their introduction to the night clubs which surrounded the main train station in Luxembourg City. They’re all closed now, with the changing times of finance and world respect, but in those days, they were a right of passage for many young American servicemen. Tom’s marvelous adventure started without us, and that was a problem.

We were official sponsors for the new arrivals from stateside, all recent graduates of technical school. Our duties included walking them through the procedures of arriving at their new assignment. After myriad sign-ins and drawing their bedding and equipment, assigning them rooms and bunks, getting their paper work squared away, as soon as Retreat, the bugle call played on the base loudspeakers to signal the end of duty day, blared across the base, we became “unofficial” sponsors, and our duties changed.

Who wants to go to Lux for a drink and a chance to meet a French girl?” was the question. The response that night was unanimous. Back then, before European Union, the border crossing at Echternach was at a two-lane, stone bridge, with an old fashioned red and white cross bar that had to be quaintly raised and lowered for each car. Today, you zip across the autobahn bridge high above the town and the Sauer River and don’t realize you’ve crossed a border. But, in those days we had to stop and show our military identification cards, before we were given the priceless, limp wave of the hand that said, “Oh, you again. Go ahead, go ahead!”

Us old guys would sit and drink the fifteen cent beer while the new guys ran around like, well, kids in a candy store. After half an hour or so, we realized Tom had gone to the toilette and had not returned. It got very serious quickly as we had the owners search for our missing ward to no avail. He had disappeared into thin air! To make matters worse, the bars closed exactly at midnight.

The gendarmes walked in at closing time. “Allez!” they said, and we found ourselves standing in the dimly lit street wondering what to do next. We split into teams, slowly driving around, looking in vain through the oddly yellow-lit streets. Soon, Frank said, “Let me head back to base. I’m almost out of gas.!”

Federal prison crossed my mind as I finally headed across the tranquil Luxembourg countryside headed back to Bitburg. Court martial was obviously unavoidable.

Frank ran toward me as I walked into the four-story barracks. “He’s here! Tom is here!” We ran to the fourth floor, where Tom was snoring in his bunk. We dumped him on the floor and demanded an explanation.

The Luxembourg police drove me to the border crossing, flagged down the first car headed to Bitburg, and put me in it! The driver dropped me off in front of the barracks.”

What were you doing sitting in the window?” We asked.

Well, I wasn’t going to get one of those diseases from the toilet seat!” he said.

Aah, Nostalgia.



Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Genius!

I’m a genius! I know because I just took a test on Face Book and they told me so!

The post in my feed said, “Only a genius can see the hidden figure!” then showed a number written in salmon colored, globule style patches on a speckled green background. I saw it immediately, so, to establish my undoubted intellectual superiority over those who couldn’t see the number, I quickly clicked on the link, and lo and behold, the genius that I must be, I got sucked down the rabbit hole of click-bait.

Oh, not the insidious ads that pop up on your screen every search you do, magically presenting your old searches so you can’t possibly continue without some interaction on my part. You know, like clicking on whatever pops up just to see what colors they have. No. I’m talking about click bait. Those are the feeds and sidebars that catch your eye that usually state, “You won’t believe what...” followed by something based on your past searches. Or the other perennial favorite,"Thirty-seven images you won't believe..." 

Trust me, ain’t nothing accidental in the Internet wonderland.

One of the most common bait for clicktraps is the fourth grade English test passed off as “Only one in 100 can pass this test!” then they give you a sentence where their, they’re or there is the proper answer to a meaningless question. I always love to see tests I had to pass to get into Junior High School being passed off as intellectual prowess! Good ol’ Southwest High School. Or was it West Miami Jr High? Maybe it was Olympia Heights elementary! I remember Mr. White in sixth grade explaining gerunds, and Mrs. Saunders in tenth grade trying to unravel the three year reign of confusion with a frustrating but memorable lesson on present participles.

Amazing, I can conjugate a verb – within reason – and always remember loose with two “Ohs” is the opposite of tight! Hey, I nail quite a few of those tests, and even share the results with thousands and thousands of new fans around the world.

According to Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clickbait

  • Clickbait  - is a pejorative term for web content that is aimed at generating online advertising revenue, especially at the expense of quality or accuracy, relying on sensationalist headlines or eye-catching thumbnail pictures to attract click-throughs and to encourage forwarding of the material over online social networks.[ Clickbait headlines typically aim to exploit the "curiosity gap", providing just enough information to make readers curious, but not enough to satisfy their curiosity without clicking through to the linked content.”

  • "From a historical perspective, the techniques employed by clickbait authors can be considered derivative of yellow journalism, which presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines that include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism”

My very favorite click-bait, though is the first one, where color vision is misrepresented  to represent intelligence instead of visual acuity. Since – or is it sense – I have 100 percent color accuracy, I got to twist wires together for the Air Force and later a computer manufacturing company that no longer needs people like me since they no longer make computers.


Regardless – or is it irregardless, since that strange aberration has now been added to Webster’s Dictionary as a real word – geniuses with my native ability have been relegated to taking meaningless tests on Face book and supplying data mining companies around the world of our likes and dislikes, much less our friend’s lists and all their – or is it they’re? - contact info.

But, hey I’m a genius. Facebook told me so!






George

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Cruising - In the Beginning

The unidentified captain of the M/S Sunward
congratulates Mrs Versie Stubblefield Mindling
My mom got me interested in leisure cruising at the beginning of the fledgling industry. Not the port-of-call cruising made famous in the movies of the pre-World War II era, where ships sailed from New York to London or Honolulu to Hong Kong. Those transoceanic cruises may still exist today, but the world of cruising was forever altered by Knut Kloster and Ted Arison in Miami. Their first ship, a converted car ferry, the M/S Sunward, started an entire industry. 

The Port of Miami was a commercial port back then, before the basin cruise industry was created, revolutionizing more than just Miami or a way of vacationing. 

The Dodge Island passenger terminal construction project was well underway when I shipped a Volkswagen from Antwerp to the P&O dock at Pier 2 in 1965, but it would still be a year before Knut Kloster and Ted Arison, the original owners and founders of the Norwegian Caribbean Line, initiated their first cruises from the new Port of Miami. There was no terminal dedicated just for passenger ships then, just a working port that butted up against Bayfront Park and shared space with local charter deep-sea fishing boats and freighters of all shapes and sizes headed to and from ports all over the Caribbean. 






With the allure of the exotic, nearby Bahamas - which incidentally supplied almost all of the ships with waiters, maids, cooks and just about every non-officer position - Miami was the perfect place to initiate a three or four day leisure cruise. 

Miami had a huge para-mutual market that enticed tourist dollars during the "season," or winter months, from horse tracks such as Tropical Park, Hialeah, and Gulfstream, and the many dog tracks and Jai Alai frontons that tourists loved. But, while the glamorous hotels on Miami Beach may have had Sinatra or Sammy Davis, Jr, they didn't have gambling.

The new cruise ships picked up the missing piece as soon as they passed outside the twelve-mile U.S. territorial boundary headed on its easy going, laid back trip to Nassau or Freeport. Croupiers pulled the velvet covers off the roulette wheels and dealers broke open new decks of cards, and the one-arm bandits, the slot machines, were unlocked as soon as the ship cleared the imaginary line and the crowds poured in. 


A Chalks' seaplane takes off in front of the M/S Starward in Government Cut, Miami, 1969

Drinks were cheap - the cruise lines paid no alcohol taxes as they didn't buy it in the U.S. - and the food was outstanding. Word spread quickly and cruising began to find a dedicated following.

My mother was Executive Housekeeper for the Lindsey Hopkins Vocational School hotel, part of the Dade County school system in 1969. The school hotel was nationally renowned for the staff and students it produced, and Norwegian Caribbean Cruise Line approached Dade County Schools to have a hotel housekeeping instructor teach on-board classes to the ship’s staff about hotel housekeeping. 












That instructor on several cruises was my mom, accompanied by my dad, who dutifully inspected the quality of the bar stock. The photos they brought back had always been in the back of my mind, and when my wife and I finally got to take our first cruise some twenty years later, a three day weekend cruise to Nassau, also aboard an NCL ship, the M/S Sunward II, we were hooked. 

I still have the M/S Sunward's original ship's memento plate from my mom's teaching cruise mounted on the wall in my office.










The S/S Norway and us.





©  George Mindling 2017  All Rights Reserved
All photos by George Mindling © 2017

Saturday, July 9, 2016

How Can I Say It on Face-off book?



How innocent we were just a few short years ago when we cautiously signed up for Facebook, and how thrilled we were to see our very own images and comments on the Internet. Photographs of our families and friends were welcomed and enjoyed, so much so that we actually looked forward to logging on every chance we had to see if something new had been posted, or if someone had commented on one of our priceless posts. How proud we were to first endorse our political candidates, naively and blissfully thinking our Facebook friends felt the same way.

Facebook is now an unexpected, and often unwanted, display of the current state of rudeness and ignorance that dominates our popular American culture. In fact, there is no better medium to judge the current state of American callousness than the popular free Internet service used by just about anyone with a Personal Computer or a Smart Phone. If you have ever posted any political viewpoints or supported a political candidate on your Facebook page, you know what I'm writing about. It's rapidly becoming Face-Off book.

Just like the old CB radios, the lowest common denominators quickly rose to the top with personal insults and soon made it impossible to post a political or social view without someone wanting to pee on your pant leg. The first time it happens you can't help but be shocked. “Why am I being insulted, if not actually verbally assaulted by someone I thought was a friend?” The answer is easy: They never had Personal Effectiveness Training.

The company I retired from spent a considerable amount of time and money sending every employee to a PEP, or Personal Effectiveness Program so we would learn not to call our customers stupid. Customers have a nasty habit of throwing your products out in the street after a frustrated employee ignominiously calls them untrained or incompetent or even worse, an idiot. Company revenues always suffer from that response, no matter how accurate it may be.

That's how I ended up in the seventies in the Admiral Bimbo hotel in Atlanta with a roommate who drank a 1.75 liter bottle of vodka in just two days. We were sent to Atlanta from all over our region to attend the mandatory civility class to learn not to tell anyone to go stick it in their ear. I'm not sure how much my roomie absorbed, other than the 90 proof Smirnoff, - yes, in those days it was 90 proof - but I did my best to benefit from the course. I learned to listen carefully when confronted with people who were their own worst enemies, at least technically. I was once coached by a manager who advised me to get my point across without swinging a bat. She actually said a 2x4, but there are many who don't know what that is. 

The training helped me through the years with more than just irate customers who had inadvertently unplugged their own machines or created situations that were occasionally hazardous. I learned to suffer the sting of uninformed Khans who dared not lose face in front of their collective hordes. But I never expected the training to be as important as it is today, thanks mainly to Facebook.

After someone belligerently or insultingly contradicts something I post on Facebook, I go to that person's homepage to see where they stand politically or socially. Not surprisingly, many dumpers don't post their viewpoints on their own pages, but they don't hesitate a second to pollute your page to show you the errors of your ways. I call these types “snipers.” They shoot at you from unseen positions and you have no idea how they picked you as a target. After all, they're on your friends list, aren't they?

If on the other hand, the comment they post on my page is an intelligent, factual comment or viewpoint, I'll leave it up, and comment on their post. All too often though, the comment is at best inaccurate, at times irrelevant, and at worst, slanderous.

So, what's up? You didn't intend your personal beliefs or opinions to be posted in a sports bar full of rowdy customers upset their team just got the devil beat out of them, but face it, these are new times and, unfortunately that's what has happened. Your beliefs and opinions are no longer for just your friends. In reality, Facebook, and just about anything else on the Internet is as impersonal as texting. People who wouldn't insult you to your face have no reservations about discussing the error of your thinking in front of a room full of people they don't know. That “room” is rather big as it encompasses everyone who can see your Facebook account. You know, millions and millions of "friends."

Responding to a contradictory post is balanced on the question of how much you value your friend. If they really can't refrain from attacking you or others who comment on your positions, I simply delete them as friends. It's all self explanatory, isn't it? If they don't care about my feelings, why should I bother about theirs? Their statements show who they really are, not who they think they are. Or, you can indignantly defend yourself and argue your point. If you paid close attention to the PEP training, you can adeptly tell them to stick it in their ear and make them look forward to the experience. Arguing, though, is a waste of time. You aren't going to change anyone's mind. As William McAdoo said, "It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in argument." Here's where I think back to my PEP and wonder if it's even worth a response.

When someone posts offensive or incorrect responses on my page, I can't help but think they never heard President Abraham Lincoln's quote, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

Sometimes I have to remember that myself.

George

Monday, March 14, 2016

Death of a One Design: the Clearwater Optimist Pram

One my first writing submissions was to Sailing World magazine in April, 1987, about the impending demise of the Clearwater Optimist Pram. Written after the last Clearwater Optimist Pram Association sanctioned regatta, held in Key Largo, it was my second submission to a sailing magazine. The mostly-a-rejection letter from editor Chris Hufstader was encouraging however, asking for a shorter, less detailed article and better, higher detailed black and white photos to be used in a later issue.  The article never happened [ed note: at least to the best of my knowledge.] 

A recent meeting with a youth sailing group in Port Charlotte led me to dig out my old files and the article about youth sailing was one of the files I found stuffed in an old envelope. Here is the original article, complete with the originally submitted photos. 

George
******************************************************************************************* 

"They didn't invite prams!” my daughter wailed as she read the racing flyer for the 1985 Junior Orange Bowl Regatta. She had taken 2nd place in her age division the previous year in the Clearwater Optimist Pram class. This year, however, the event was only for International Optimist Dinghies.

The previous Jr. Orange Bowl regattas had separate competition for each class, the prams and the dinghies sailing for separate trophies. The regatta organizers, the Coral Reef Yacht Club, fearful of a small turnout in prams, elected to concentrate on the dinghy, called the IOD, [today universally called the "Opti"] and drop the pram altogether.

Two separate classes for the funny little 7 foot, spit-rigged, blunt-bow boat that has been familiar in Florida waters for many years? Yes, the Pram and the Dinghy are different boats, with separate USYRU governing bodies to sanction their respective events. Both classes are identified by the 0 with the over-struck I. The pram sail, however, is identified by it's affiliated club or group. LYC for Lauderdale Yacht Club, MYC for Miami Yacht Club, SSS for the Sarasota Sailing Squadron for example, followed by the assigned number. The IOD sails are all identified with a country's letters followed by the nationally assigned number.

International Optimist Dinghy, sailed by Josh Rosen and Clearwater Optimist Pram, sailed by Monica Mindling

The boats seem identical to the casual observer. In fact, many skippers can't tell a wooden IOD hull from a fiberglass pram hull when they are down-rigged and sitting side by side. Everyone is accustomed, however, to seeing the two boats built the other way around, as the IOD today is usually fiberglass and the traditional pram a varnished mahogany. Both are racing boats. Anyone who has ever attended one of the many youth regattas on the Florida circuit can attest to that fact. The pram, however, is facing a shorter schedule with fewer and fewer regattas. Why? What has happened and what is happening to the boat that started one of the most popular racing classes in the world? How did the odd predicament of two boats with the same insignia come about anyway?

The "Soapbox Derby" was directly responsible for the creation of the original pram. Optimist Club of Clearwater member Ernie Green had been promoting an idea of a "waterborne orange crate derby" as an alternative to the four wheeled, home-built creations that would more aptly suit Florida's climate and mostly flat terrain. Colonel Clifford McKay spoke to the club in August, 1947, suggesting a year-round activity to occupy the local boys and girls. With plenty of sailing water at it's disposal and a want for a project to combat juvenile delinquency (remember those days?), the Optimist Club of Clearwater found the answer. The timing was perfect. Local boat builder Clark Mills, who also designed the Windmill, another one-design, had the answer in a design that a father and son (or daughter) could build in the backyard and sail in a fleet of boats that were all built to the same specifications. The club quickly voted on adopting the pram as their youth project and the Clearwater Optimist pram was born. To build a fleet of boats was a task that would need help. Local merchants were asked to sponsor boats. For $75.00 a sponsor could have his trade name or store name painted on the side of the hull. No one was concerned about USYRU officials, who today would be gasping for air, when the fleet set sail with 29 boats boldly emblazoned with names of proud sponsors.
The last sanctioned COPCA regatta
A similar fleet soon was formed in nearby Dunedin. Col. McKay traveled Florida widely extolling the virtues of youth sailing. Ernie Green loaded prams in one of his moving vans and visited neighboring towns where youthful skippers put on sailing and racing demonstrations for interested parents and potential sponsors.

The Clearwater group was to suffer a major setback in April 1949 when a fire wiped out 20 of the 29 boats in it's fleet. An appeal was made over local radio station WTAN by Howard Hartley. The marvelous response from the people of Clearwater not only replaced the original 20 lost in the fire, but added 22 more! The launching ceremony was held July 2nd, 1949, and a new chapter in sailing was opened. The popularity of the pram spread quickly to Florida's east coast. The Miami Yacht Club started pram classes in 1951 that have been held twice a year, for 5 months each, ever since. The Lauderdale Yacht Club, Coconut Grove Sailing Club, Coral Reef Yacht Club, and the Biscayne Bay Club became involved and before long, regattas were sprouting up on both coasts. In Ft Myers, the Royal Palm Sailing Club, and further north, the St. Petersburg Yacht club. An interesting observation is that four of the mentioned clubs are members of SORC, the Southern Ocean Racing Conference.

The Clearwater Optimist Club was the sanctioning body for the class. Rule changes were voted on and generally accepted as proposed by club members. The popularity of the new, inexpensive boat was spread by several magazine articles extolling the virtues of the pram and the benefits of youth sailing. The Clearwater Optimist Prams even caught the eye of the City of Miami and the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. The second Pram National Championship was held in the Miami Marine Stadium in 1970. Unlimited hydros do very well there because the wind-protected facility was designed for power boat racing, but it was a disaster for the prams. The preliminaries for the Nationals were sailed in Biscayne Bay, but the finals were sailed in the Marine Stadium. The young sailors simply sat in the protected waters and floated aimlessly in front of the grandstands. It was an one hundred boat float. First time sailing spectators were less than impressed. The pram, however, was firmly entrenched with the sailing groups that used them.


Back in 1954 Axel Damgaard, a Danish architect, introduced the pram to the Vordingborg Sailing Club of Denmark. Several were built according to the standard pram plans and it wasn't long until the boxy, hard chined little dinghy spread across sailing groups throughout Denmark. Olympic champion Paul Elvstrom became involved in 1957 and in 1959 the first regatta between Denmark and Norway took place. Sweden joined them in 1960 and a governing body was formed in Denmark to control the increasingly popular class. Regattas spread to Germany and England. An American delegation even competed in Denmark in 1964 and it was becoming more and more obvious an international body would be required to govern the burgeoning class. Viggo Jacobsen of Denmark became the first chairman of the International Optimist Dinghy Organization in 1965. The first International regatta held in the U.S. under IODA sanctioning was held in Miami in 1966.

However, several major changes were made to the original Clark Mills design in the migration to the International rules. First, the sail was slightly larger and the shape was altered to allow the use of two battens. There are no battens in the original Clearwater pram sail. The main sheet was no longer controlled from the end of the boom but from a center boom ratchet attachment, much as a Laser style versus the Force Five style of control. The dagger board was redesigned and the rudder was completely new. Instead of the pram's round inverted P shape, the IOD rudder now was a squarish, angled shape with the same width, top to bottom. The most important changes were made to the control the skipper had over running adjustments while under sail. The pram skipper could adjust sprit tension, down haul, vang, outhaul and even a jibe tensioner. The IOD skippers worked only the sheet. The changes to the hull were minimal, but enough that a properly built pram would fail to measure in against the stricter requirements of the IOD.


The American clubs were impressed with the speed the dinghies had over the prams and the fact the skippers could concentrate on racing tactics. Also, of course, it was a truly international class. As the lOD caught on with Florida skippers, many of the clubs began adding two classes to the youth regattas. Having separate starts over the same marked course for the prams and the 10D's. The Clearwater Optimist Club elected not to adopt the IOD rules and decided not to modify the pram to the new format as one factor was obvious; cost. The new IOD's with certificate were far more expensive than a pram, and they tended to be far harder to certify if home built. Trying to refit all of the current prams would not only be next to impossible, it might have killed the class altogether. The pram group suffered its second major setback as the IOD became more and more popular because of its international organization. By the middle of 1971, the pram group was for all practical purposes dormant. But enter Susan Bankston, of Largo, Florida. Susan's daughter, Debbie, became interested in pram sailing. It wasn't long until Sue became the spark-plug for the prams revival. Due to Sue's efforts, a real organizing body was founded specifically to govern the Clearwater Optimist Pram.

The Clearwater Optimist Pram Class Association, or COPCA, applied for USYRU membership. It scheduled four sanctioned events a year in addition to the multitude of individual club regattas. Each club had a delegate member in addition to the club officers. COPCA elected to tighten the rules, requiring rigid control of hull numbers and the Measurer's design rules. Strict rules were put in place to insure standardization by the boat builders. The pram class was designed to develop progressive sailors, not progressive constructors. Several well documented and publicized blatant admissions of cheating by some of the young skippers did the pram group no good. COPCA faced the problems by stiffening the signature over a COPCA stamp on strictly measured sails. The rules were still not as rigid as the IOD, but they solved the problems. At the 1978 Championships in Dunedin, Florida, Chief Measurer Fred Dinger noted that of 47 boats measured for specification tolerances, 23 boats, or 48% of the fleet, were rejectable to IOD tolerances. Judges and race committee members were enforcing the "no sculling, no rocking no ooching" rules with new enthusiasm and the protest committees became as proficient as anyone design class sailed anywhere. Most of the skippers were as knowledgeable of the rule book as the adult club members. As one protest committee member once told me after a particularly long drawn out protest, "Do you know what its like to be in a room full of twelve year old Ted Turners?"

The four events were the Florida State Championships, the Pram Nationals, The Pram Internationals, and the Clark Mills regatta. Several clubs became annual sponsors for these events and began a lasting association with the venerable pram. By the Early 80's, 60 boat pram fleets were again common. The Annual Miami Yacht Club December regatta in 1981 registered 103 boats, 60 in prams and 35 in IOD's, with the remainder in Laser M-rigs. The 1986 Nationals, sailed at Key Biscayne Yacht Club, had over fifty prams. That year was the current zenith as pram registration has gradually slipped backwards against the IOD.

Last year's (1987) Florida State championship had only 35 entrants. Today, the clubs that like to promote youth sailing are still using the wooden pram as a training boat but finding the competition is finer tuned and more visible in the IOD class. As one past US National champion in prams once remarked, "No one is interested in buying my pram, a championship boat, just because it is a pram."

While the COPCA pram regatta schedule seems to be full, missing a regatta isn't a traumatic event. Missing an IOD event is. Many parents find it hard to devote the time and money necessary to run the full IOD schedule, particularly if there is more than one skipper in the family. The pram group, while just as fervent in their support of their skippers, tend to make the outings a tailgate party rather than an event of Olympic importance. However, most of the IOD skippers still find prams to race when it comes time for the pram states and nationals. Almost all of the top IOD skippers have shelves filled with pram trophies. The age groups for the two classes are the same, eight through the year of the 15th birthday. COPCA has traditionally sponsored the fifteen to eighteen year olds in the Laser M rig, now switched officially to the Laser Radial, at the same regattas. Various groups pressure COPCA at times to change boats, depending on who sells what and when, and whether a particular boat favors a particular club, or even a particular skipper. 

Consistency has been COPCA's strong point, however, and maintaining the pram as the sanctioned design has been its strength as well as its weakness. In the last several years, traditional sites, dates and clubs have slipped away from COPCA. The Pram Nationals are no longer held at the Key Biscayne Yacht Club on Easter weekend. KBYC now hosts an IOD event that weekend instead. Coconut Grove Sailing Club has dropped the Clearwater prams altogether, even from their annual October youth regatta. New clubs are cautiously picking up the open dates. The newly revived youth group at the Royal Palm Sailing Club held the 1986 State Championships, and the Upper Keys Sailing Club of Key Largo, Fl, hosted the 1987 Nationals. At the Key Largo National event there were 22 prams and 7 Laser radials, a far cry from past Nationals. At the Key Biscayne regatta the week before there were 35 IOD's. The cost of traveling and staying on Florida's Gold Coast is not cheap, especially at the height of the season, and many parents are finding themselves making a choice between the pram and the IOD.

This isn't the first ebb the pram youth program has suffered. It has rebounded from inactivity as each successive group finds this inexpensive, safe and reliable little boat. It has withstood attacks from new designs, schedule changes, financial binds and rules changes. It will be around a long time to come. It would be interesting to survey the adult sailing population to see how many learned to sail in Clark Mill's little square boat
George Mindling
Chief Measurer, Clearwater Optimist Pram Class Association 1986-1987
Miami, FL



Monday, November 9, 2015

Half Full

I never really thought much about philosophy. Well, except that it doesn't pay very well. I've listened to many philosophical conversations over the years and decided a lot of people are really good at fooling other people. But, then again I'm a techie, and have been ever since the Air Force stuck a wrench in my hand back when I was eighteen and said, “Here, turn this.”

Philosophy has always seemed to be for those who had too much time on their hands, or an independent income that didn't rely on any particular skills or talent. I always laugh at pseudo-intellectual questions such as whether or not a tree falling in the woods really makes a noise if one of our arrogant, entitled humanoid species that coexists with everything else on this planet isn't around to hear it. That pretty much sums up my desire to engage in time-consuming, inconsequential exercises that keep me from going fishing.

Relationships? I have always treated other people pretty much the way they treat me. It seems to work, and I seem to be relatively happy for a 72-year-old white male who is supposed to be continually grumpy and upset about something or other. Well, from what I gather from television and the books I read at any rate. Apparently being happy at my age is like flagging yourself as being senile.

So, when the planned tour of the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile museum at the Cape Canaveral Air Force by our TAC Missileer Association earlier this year was canceled, I was disappointed but not discouraged. When the museum people offered to seat us in the press area for the launch of an Atlas V the same day as a substitute, I was thrilled.

When, just twenty-four hours before the scheduled event was to take place, the launch was scrubbed, I was once again disappointed, And, once again, when the staff at the museum came through and reinstated the original cape tour, I was once again thrilled. Our group spent two days touring both the Cape Kennedy Space Flight Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. We were among the fortunate few who get to tour the entire Cape, from our old pads at 21 and 22, to the Shuttle pads 39 A and B on the other side of the Banana River. With a little luck, I might get to see the launch after all, it was rescheduled to the following day when I would be visiting an old friend down in Vero Beach, some 80 miles south.

Some things are just not meant to be, a philosophical person may say, but I prefer to think we were just looking the wrong way when the Atlas V lifted slowly through the cloudless sky. We were ready, my friend and I, having set up lawn chairs under two huge shade trees, ready to watch the delayed show of immense power and technical skill. My friend's wife approached us as the scheduled time passed and asked why we were looking the wrong direction. Sure enough, moving to the other side of the tree, we could see the faint, disappearing contrail of the long departed missile as it headed down-range. Still, it was great to renew old friendships and catch up on old times. The missile was just anti-climatic.

The weather was great and it was time for me to head home after three days away. I had also managed to visit old friends in Orlando on the first day of my trip, and again on the evening of the second night when I met up with an old high-school friend for the first time in 55 years down in Cocoa Beach. Things just couldn't get much better.

Traffic was light as I headed across the state from Ft. Pierce toward home on Florida's west coast. The road is good, even after it drops to two lanes as it heads almost arrow-straight across the cattle country of Florida's mid-section. As I sped along, a flock of vultures gathered around some kind of road kill on the side of the road caught my eye. One of the birds in the flock was white. I slowed and at the first possible place, turned around and drove back to the congregation that included mostly Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures, or buzzards as everyone knows them, and two out-of-place Crested Caracaras. I got four photographs before they got apprehensive and flew off.

I was home within an hour, soon showered and fed, and before too long, back in the familiar grasp of my PC. Later in the day, I posted one of the Caracara photos on Facebook along with a comment I made about not seeing the launch. One of my friends commented I'm a “Glass is half-filled” kind of guy. Well, yes I guess that would sum up my philosophy, if I had one.






Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Like a Rock

I carefully selected the old photographs I envisioned for our walk-in video, the background video accompanied by knock-your-socks-off music every corporation puts on the big screen at the beginning of every major corporate event. Or sometimes, as we have done in the past, played on the video playback units of the huge tour buses as we headed toward one of our special venues. 

While I thought the big tour buses would be a great way to show the video as the audience is basically captive, I found out at the 2009 Dayton reunion that wasn't always true as two old missilemen in front of me on the bus jabbered about a faded memory they shared from fifty years ago while my masterpiece played to the few who bothered to look up. I decided I would do it differently this year. I would make this one so dynamic they wouldn't even have to turn up their hearing aids. I was going to evoke memories that would bring tears to their eyes.

Visions of people wildly clapping, joyous at the marvelous integration of our nostalgic photographs from days gone by with the soul-stirring words and powerful guitar of Bob Seger's classic anthem, “Like a Rock,” flashed before me. This would be the third such video I've done for the TAC Missileers Association and my last, so I decided to keep it short and powerful. This video would have no Air Force anthems or bugle calls of Reveille. No, this would pluck the strings of everyone's heart as they saw themselves as we were some fifty years ago, standing tall as missilemen on combat duty in Okinawa, Taiwan, Korea, and Germany, overlaid by photographs from recent reunions showing us as we are now. Just over five minutes long, including every single unit's patch shown in chronological order with its own label, I knew I had a masterpiece. 

I pondered contacting the publisher of “Like a Rock,” or even Bob Seger himself to get permission to use the song, but decided it was far easier to ask forgiveness than permission. Besides, it was only going to be used once. I didn't plan on uploading the video so no one would know I'd used his music without permission. I rationalized he would allow using the song if he saw the video, so I wasn't worried. After testing the final video on my wife, who couldn't attend the upcoming TAC Missileer Reunion in Orlando because of her class schedule, really liked the video. I burned three copies to DVD as we used three buses the last time we visited an Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. I was ready, one for each bus. We had two tours scheduled at the nearby Cape Canaveral, but only Friday would we have all of our people together at one time.


There are two separate, distinct parts of the Cape. The civilian NASA part, which was our Thursday tour, houses the Kennedy Space Flight Center and includes the huge Vehicle Assembly Building, shuttle launch pads 39A and 39B and the Saturn V display hangar. The KSFC is located west of the Banana River. All other launch pads, such as the ones used for Apollo and Gemini, are on the east side of the river known as the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which we were scheduled to visit on Friday. The Air Force Station also houses the Air Force Space and Missile museum. Unfortunately, it is a military establishment and has been on security code Bravo since March. 

The museum was closed to the public and all tours were canceled, but only after our association had already reserved a tour. As a gesture of good will, the folks who run the AF Space and Missile Museum invited us to watch the launch of an Atlas V on Friday as their guests instead. Being invited to watch the launch of an Atlas V from the press area was a remarkable event for our group, the TAC Missileers Association. The consolation was as exciting as the scheduled tour as many of our association members have never seen a live launch.


Saturn V
Atlas V at pad 41
Pad 21 A & B Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
Our first bus trip on Thursday from the Embassy Suites on International Drive in Orlando to the Kennedy Space Fight Center didn't include all of our attendees as some elected to visit Mickey and his friends, or more productively, the Morse Museum of Art in Winter Park that houses the Tiffany collection. Only two buses made the trip, but it didn't matter, I lost two of the three video disks anyway. As long as I had all three for the trip on Friday to watch the Atlas V GPS IIF-11 launch from pad 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air force Station, my dream would be fulfilled.


Murphy was riding on our NASA bus on Thursday – yes, NASA runs its own tour buses around the Kennedy Space Flight Center as part of the admission ticket – and as we passed pad 41 off in the distance on the other side of the river – where we could see the Atlas being readied for launch – our bus driver casually mentioned it was an Atlas V mission scheduled for Friday that had been scrubbed.

After an agonizing night for our organizers and the marvelous people at the Space and Missile Museum, the original Cape tour was reinstated to compensate for the scrubbed launch. So, on Friday morning, armed with the only Walk-in DVD I could find, I was ready to show the video on each of the three buses in succession.

While many of the members had little connection with the one pad that was special to all the veterans from my particular system, the marvelous volunteer tour guides let us stop at Pad 21A and B, and get off the buses. Special memories from the early sixties swept through the few who knew the place, and as we all know, we'll never be back. As we pulled out of the Museum parking lot, I handed the DVD to the driver to play on the bus system. A great time for the video, you'd think, but cries of protest from two women in the front of the bus put a crushing end to my vision.

“Turn off that horrible music!” wailed one gray-haired woman even before the TAC Missileer logo rolled onto the display screen. A second woman immediately picked up the complaint, loudly protesting that the music I specifically selected to get everyone's attention was awful. The bus driver quickly stopped the video and that was that. I put away the DVD, disgusted that the two women who stopped the video weren't even missilemen. They outranked everyone on the bus: they were wives.


Saturday morning was filled with goodbyes and handshakes and promises to meet again in two years in Las Vegas. We know we won't all make it to the next reunion, our ranks get thinner every year. I started my truck and rolled south and thought about the video, “Like a Rock.” Yeah, we were like rocks back then. Young, smart – or dumb as rocks depending on your point of view – but we were the best. Well trained and dedicated to our beliefs. We did what we were trained to do, and we did it better than everyone else. Yes, we were rocks back then, but that was a long, long time ago. Way back before we got married or began wearing hearing aids.