Thirty years of Satori By Jerry Welch

Looking down from my lakeside home, towards the clear blue waters of the Portage Lakes, I see with the usual delight, my aging and still beautiful sailboat, SATORI. It seems nearly impossible for me to realize that it has been thirty years this spring (April 11 1978 to be exact!) since this lovely boat came into my life. I was a young lad of only 20 then, and making the decision to purchase a “mini-cruising sailboat” for nearly $3000 dollars, was a pretty big deal at the time!

This Venture 17 boat and I have been through a lot over these past 3 decades, sailing many thousands of miles together, on Lake Erie and my home waters of the Portage Lakes. She has become a trusted friend and companion, and the bond that only sailors know they can have with a boat, is strong and pervasive. Most of my time on Satori has been solo, and we have come to know each other well over all these years. I have sanded and varnished her mahogany wood trim and tiller many many times, scrubbed and waxed her deck and hull, applied anti-fouling paint to her bottom in an early annual springtime ritual, and mended her sails and replaced sheets and lines.

Most people who have never owned boats would have a hard time understanding the kinship one can develop with a boat. I own a rather large number of boats, some pretty unique and unusual. I seem to have developed a reputation for collecting odd boats over the past years, which suits me just fine! Turning 50 this year has also been a bit of a humbling experience, as I realize that this boy trapped in this aging guy’s body, will likely need to make some adjustments in his life soon! Nah, who am I kidding? I hope I never lose the sense of wonder I still have, the appreciation for things of beauty, whether it is a finely varnished tiller, the curve of a billowing sail against the backdrop of a cloud pocked blue sky, the reflections of clouds in water, as I drift in wood / canvas canoe, serene and happy in my watery element. Water and sky are my home!

Satori will always be a very special boat to me, no matter how many other boats come into my life, it is hard to articulate the value of a thirty year bond on a sailor’s soul. I have slept comfortably in her tiny but snug cabin, my 6’ 3” body perfectly at home. I have cooked meals out in the cockpit, as she self steers across international waters to Canada on the big waters of Lake Erie to the north. We have ridden out sudden storms together, surviving a brutal knockdown in 10-12 foot waves, praying and consoling each other through more trials and tribulations than I can ever remember. I have awakened early to the sound of ducks and geese moving about, watching the mists rise off the rosy glints of dawn on calm summer waters.

This special boat has been my therapy, my counselor through many of life’s stresses and disappointments. How many times I have cast off her lines with many things on my mind, and after only a few moments under way, felt a sense of release and calm that has value beyond most things in this busy, tense world. It is hard to remain stressed out, when you are sailing! There has always been this magical mystery associated with a boat moving under its own power, by a force that you cannot see, that you only can feel and hear. Sailors develop a nautical “sixth sense” I think, that enables you to feel or intuit changes in wind and waves and weather, that go beyond our normal sensory perceptions. Often I find myself tweaking sail trim, adjusting the tiller, without any conscious effort of it happening on my part!

When I gave this boat the name “Satori” thirty years ago, and applied her name and a colorful rainbow Buddha below on the white transom of this boat, I never thought I would be writing about her so many years later! Satori is a Japanese Zen Buddhist word meaning “sudden illumination or enlightenment”, and perfectly expresses the connection and transcendental spirit that has been fostered between boat and sailor over these many years. I feel at home with this boat, I know her strengths and weaknesses as my own. I know how hard I can push her, and when I need to ease up and let her breathe and take it easy. I plan to take some special commemorative voyages with her this year, by way of small celebration and appreciation for all we have shared. I hope we will be sailing together for many more years to come! 5/9/08 jrw