Sitting in front of my computer, I was cruising through news sites when out of nowhere, I was suddenly overcome with an overwhelming seat-jarring desire to get a sailboat! This was very odd because I’d never had a sailboat, I didn’t know how to sail, and I’d never even been sailing. My wife was in the same boat. (Yes, the pun was intended.) Sailing was one of those things we had on the backburner of our minds as something nice to try in the future, but it was in the very far distant future . . . not NOW. Especially “not now” with three kids in college!! Being a rather portly fellow, I could understand a sudden compelling desire to get a milkshake or buy some new cooking tool, but not a sailboat!
Simply out of curiosity, I went to a search engine and typed in “used sailboats,” and it returned over a million web pages. (This was in the days before search engines were able to return search pages relative to your location.) I opened the first page and my screen filled with about fifty thumbnail pictures of used sailboats from all over the world. I started clicking on the pics to enlarge them to see what the boats looked like. Towards the bottom of the page, a boat caught my eye. On enlarging the pic, I thought to myself, “Now that’s a cool looking twenty-two-foot sailboat. Oddly, that building behind the boat and part of the street looks really familiar. Holy Cow, that’s in Vermilion, Ohio, by Lake Erie; I’ve driven by that building a bunch of times!!” Sitting back in my chair somewhat stunned and baffled all at the same time, I knew that was the boat I was supposed to pursue.
In two weeks we would be attending a Labor Day family reunion at a little church campground called Beulah Beach located on the shore of Lake Erie. The boat was located in Vermilion, Ohio, a small quaint old fishing village just twenty minutes away! I called the boat dealer and found out the boat had not been purchased and was still for sale. I spent the next two weeks reading up on the ins and outs of buying a used sailboat. The next day after the reunion, my wife and I drove into Vermilion to look at the boat. We pulled in the lot where the boat was sitting, and I marveled seeing the building and part of the road that had jumped out at me in the picture on my computer two weeks before.
I started climbing around looking the boat over when the salesman from the dealership across the road walked up. He was a pleasant guy, and he answered my questions about the boat and provided additional information. He gave us the asking price. My wife and I looked at each other, so I verbalized what we were both thinking at the moment. I said to the salesman, “To be honest with you, this is crazy that we are even looking at a boat. We don’t even really know why we’re here or what we’re even thinking . . . since we actually have three kids in college!” He was a really good salesman; he looked us both in the eye and said, “If you have three kids in college, then you NEED a sailboat!” We laughed, offered him a reduced price from what he’d quoted us, whereupon he went across the street to his office to check and shortly returned with an “accepted” response; we shook hands and realized that we had just bought ourselves a boat! Oh boy!
“By the way,” he said, “I see the owner of the boat is coming up the hill across the street if you’d like to meet him.” We walked across the street and met this friendly Swedish gentleman. My wife and I went in to the boat dealership, signed the paperwork, came out and the former owner of the boat was waiting for us. “Would you to like for me to show you some things about the boat?” he asked. I said, “Sure,” but before heading back over to the sailboat, we decided to walk to a shop for some lunch; he graciously bought us sub sandwiches and we walked down to the water’s edge by a small museum lighthouse and sat on some rocks. It was a beautiful day with clear blue skies and the sound of waves churning up on the sand with the cries of seagulls floating in the wind overhead.
He took a bite of his sub and asked, “So, how long have you folks been sailing?” My wife and I looked at each other and looked at him and smiled. He looked puzzled and said, “Do you know how to sail?” We slowly shook our heads “no.” With astonishment, he said while kind of squinting at us, “Have you EVER been sailing?” “Uh, Noooooo,” I said. He burst out laughing, “So you just bought my sailboat, and you not only don’t know how to sail, but you’ve never even been sailing!?!” “Yep,” I said with a grin. He looked at both of us, shaking his head and with a smile asked, “Ok, well would you like to go sailing right now?”
We walked over to his house–he had one of the nice houses along the Vermilion River that poured out into Lake Erie. In his backyard was a dock with a twenty-seven-foot sailboat. We got in, he motored out to the river, and on out into Lake Erie. My wife and I were still working on our subs and pop as we sailed for the next two hours. By the time we got back on land, my wife and I were hooked on sailing! We will always be grateful to that fine Swedish man for that sail. We took our new-used boat to Indian Lake for the winter, and the next spring I took yachting lessons and got to crew with the trainers during races. It was awesome! I was so excited after the yachting course to take my boat sailing that I took my wife up to Indian Lake the next weekend. The wind was blowing hard, and there were even whitecaps on Indian Lake, which was rare. As I readied the boat, my wife said into the wind, “Do you notice there are no other boats on the lake??” I retorted, “Good, that’s less boats for me to accidentally hit!”
It was so windy I could only use my main sail. As the wind picked up even more, I had to reef my sail (make it smaller) to keep my mast from being ripped from my little boat! I was loving it! I was laughing with delight as we flew across the waves while my wife was screaming with terror!! Years later I met a Norwegian who had sailed his wife and daughter from the North Pole to the South Pole. Seeking some sage advice on sailing, I asked him what advice he would give to a new sailor like myself. Expecting to hear something about wind or navigation he said, “The most important rule is–don’t scare your wife!” “Gee, I already broke that one!” I said. We both laughed.
The idea of the sailing ministry started when we noticed the Lord bringing people into our lives with spiritual problems that wanted to go sailing. After the sails were up and we cut the noisy motor, the sound of the wind in the sails and the gurgle of water as we glided across the lake created an atmosphere conducive to folks opening up to talk about their spiritual problems. Or, because of sailing with us, folks often felt closer to us and would open up later to talk about their problems. Either way, we would share with them how God can solve their problems and then have the opportunity and honor to pray with them. In between those ‘ministry sails’ we would take out friends and family. We even had a blind guy that learned to sail! But that’s a story for another time. All in all, boats will come and go, but these spiritual issues are eternal and really do matter to God. After all, didn’t Jesus set a great precedent for us . . . it seems to me He tended to hang around the water and boats a good bit!
During those five years of sailing, I kept thinking we needed a logo for our ministry and future website. One day I stopped in a public restroom and entered a stall. Sitting down, I noticed a neatly folded piece of toilet paper laying on a small shelf just above the toilet paper rolls. Someone had made a rough sketch of Jesus hanging on the cross with a boat pilot wheel and anchor in the background and, strangely, had left it in this stall! The message jumped out at me: Jesus is our Savior, our Pilot, and our Anchor in the storms of life. An artist friend of mine named Don made a great logo from those elements–only the cross is empty because Jesus has risen!
On our little boat, we could only sleep four cramped people, and I started thinking about getting a bigger boat. Big to me was a thirty-foot boat that could sleep six, and then we could take folks out for overnight sails. Having spent a lot of time on Lake Erie growing up and attending Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory located on Gibraltar Island in the Bass Islands, I really wanted to sail on Lake Erie. However, the other part of me was thinking, “This is a really dumb idea!” We could barely afford the little boat; how on earth could we ever afford a boat five or ten times what we paid!
One day while visiting Beulah Beach, my wife and I headed over to look at the Sandusky Harbor Marina. As we walk out the dock, I’m looking at all these beautiful sailboats and feel like I’m shopping! I said to myself, “This is crazy! We can’t afford a big boat!” I didn’t notice it at first because of all the other sailboats, but as we got closer to the end of the dock, I saw a sixty-five-foot double-masted schooner! It was so big, it was moored at the end of the dock! Being a sailboat fan, I was wowed! Then we noticed a wood box with brochures about the boat. As I started reading, I got so excited, I almost fell off the dock! This boat belonged to a sailing ministry!!
The boat was called “The Journey” and was part of B-About Sailing Ministry. They would take troubled kids out sailing and walk them through a program on boat safety, confidence building, and most importantly, share with them about the Love of Jesus! The next week I called the ministry, and we were invited to their next meeting at the marina. B-About Ministry is part of the Christian Boater’s Association (CBA), which is a larger body of folks who are Christians and love boating. We met about eight folks, and they were awesome friendly folk! What I was most impressed about was we hardly talked about boats–the focus was on Jesus!!
I told one of the leaders that I was looking for a used thirty-foot boat and had been praying about it for some time. Not long after, I received a forwarded email from the leader from a fellow in Texas. This man and his wife had had a sailing ministry, but sadly due to arthritis and cancer, they could no longer sail. The email said they wanted to give their boat to someone, but only if they would use it in a sailing ministry. They had a Cal29, a twenty-nine foot, eight-inch boat with a new diesel engine that would sleep six! That was close enough to thirty feet for me! I emailed him back, told him about our ministry; he replied and said, “The boat is yours!” What? . . . Really? A FREE big boat! No Way! . . . Only God!
Little boat–Big boat–Big FREE Boat–and a HUGE Praise the Lord!!!
Copyright © 2010 by William D. (Nick) Nichols