Full Disclosure: I learned about this book when Mr. Geudtner hired my wife to proofread the manuscript (tip to aspiring writers: marry an English major). The sailing questions and occasional chortles coming from her office intrigued me, and I eagerly read the book when Richard sent it to us.
In 1973, Richard Geudtner knew what boat he was looking for: a yawl, aluminum construction, 45 to 50 feet. He found exactly what he wanted in what became Aurora. For the next 34 summers, he and his crew daysailed out of Waukegan and made extended cruises as far as Lake Superior and the North Channel of Lake Huron. Recollections of My Mistress describes the travels and travails of the yearly cruises made by Aurora and her crew.
Travails there are a-plenty. For one thing, getting a 48-foot boat in and out of the available docking spaces is no small feat. Only 7 years old when Geudtner bought her (a story in itself), she needed extensive rebuilding to correct bad design details. Those repairs are described in excellent drawings by the author, a successful architect.
A boat that size cannot be singlehanded, and getting volunteers to crew was a continuing challenge. Geudtner had varying luck in this area, finding people like Jim, who didn’t know much about sailing when he came on board, but who remained for 31 cruises as a reliable hand. And Skip, a master mechanic who could simply touch one part of a new engine and tell the captain that it was ruined (I want him to take care of my car!). And the lieutenant, a young soldier who would leap to do any needed task, even if it included almost falling overboard in the process. Others were not so hot, such as the young man who had to be awakened from bed — the flowerbed of the woman who lived next to the dock in Charlevoix. Geudtner demanded good crew, trained them hard, and deliberately avoided some labor-saving equipment, like roller-furling, in order to challenge them and himself.
Great Lakes sailors will find the descriptions of Lake Michigan harbor towns, Door County, Lake Superior, and the North Channel cruising grounds familiar. Reading about some of the conditions encountered on Aurora’s wanderings are a bit daunting — Aurora frequently dealt with winds of 40 to 50 knots and 5-foot seas, and once was dragged into a North Channel cliff by 80-knot storm winds. Geudtner describes the sail changes and tactics he used to handle these conditions with a sailor’s voice, and he admits when he made mistakes in a way that helps the reader understand what he was thinking and what would have worked better. Crew training and leadership are discussed in a non-preachy way that will be instructive to any skipper.
The book includes a few charts and drawings, hand-made by the author, along with photographs taken over the years. An appendix of sailing terms for the non-sailor might have been useful, and a copy of his “Cruising Manual,” described at length in Chapter 10, would have been of interest.
Thirty-four years on one boat will produce lots of sea stories, and Recollections of My Mistress is a fine collection of some good ones. Midwestern sailors will enjoy the yarns about the people and locations encountered while sailing the Third Coast.