A Gam of Melonseed Skiffs
In the brisk breezes of their yearly Midwest rendezvous, Melonheads hold one truth as self-evident: You don't reef a 'seed! From our September 2011 Passage Notes.
Three years ago, on an eastbound flight out of Milwaukee, lifelong sailor Don Traut wistfully peered upon the sunlit waters of Lake Michigan. He was suddenly captivated as the plane’s shadow crossed the lake’s eastern shore.
A turquoise-rimmed pond had appeared, long, broad, and circumscribed by white sand. Prevailing westerlies, slipping over a narrow bank of shoreline, would scarcely be impeded, making the smaller body of water breezy while still protected. Home in Cincinnati, Don called a friend in Indiana, Roger Rodibaugh, who promptly did legwork on the ground, and the Melonseed Skiff Midwest Rendezvous had discovered a new destination.
Fifteen Melonseed Skiffs, a dozen from the Midwest, two from Montréal, and another from Annapolis, Maryland, were towed to Crystal Lake, Michigan, in late July 2009 to sail on waters deserving the name. In 1873, the water level was artificially lowered when the Army Corps of Engineers dug a channel to connect to Lake Michigan. That trench would be plugged, the project a failure, but the swift outrush of water exposed a sandy beach. Shoreline waters sparkle with such clarity that a skipper can be surprised by a sail’s shadow appearing for an instant on the bottom 20 feet below, and looking like surface rock.
Don and Sheila Traut are original members of the Midwest fleet, helping to launch the rendezvous in the 1990s with just three boats. A competitive Laser sailor during his university days, Don now owns a 19-foot Menger Catboat, but he regularly travels with his 14-foot Melonseed and a pair of kayaks. His well-used ivory Catspaw is hull number 33 of the approximately 440 built to date, and was the senior vessel at the rendezvous.
On a still morning, Don and Sheila take to their kayaks at dawn. When the wind fills in, Don assumes his customary pose at Catspaw’s helm. Often he’s down on the lee side, his back comfortably against the cockpit coaming and his feet up to windward, hanging over the rail. The picture seems the epitome of a sailor at ease in his element.
Melonseed sailors are affectionately known as Melonheads. The majority have owned or still own larger boats. Doc Muse-kamp, of Madison, Wisconsin, and his wife Teri, also sail a unique 26-foot Phil Bolger sharpie schooner with leeboards. Doc—a nickname, not a profession—took advantage of a 10-knot breeze to beat to weather to the lake’s opposite shore. Now that the rendezvous has gone to Crystal Lake in successive seasons, after many years at Green Lake, Wisconsin, beating the eight miles to weather to the far end has become a rite of passage. Rewards for the bash include beautiful swimming waters, a well-deserved lunch, and a fast, jubilant run back. The wind fell for the last quarter of a mile as Doc returned in his dark-blue-hulled Indigo, so Teri helped out by pulling on an oar—all worth the effort, as both counted it a great sail. Doc even made his directorial debut, posting a video of the rendezvous on YouTube: