From the Classroom to the Med

Henry Danielson


Membership and education fuel a lifetime of boating adventures

My wife, Julie, and I learned the piloting and navigation skills from United States Power Squadrons that allowed us to sail virtually anywhere. None of this would be possible without United States Power Squadrons education, and for that, we are forever grateful.

The beginning

At 15, I saw plans for a 17-foot outboard cruiser, Sea Knight, in a magazine and wondered if my dad and I could build it. After much family discussion, we ordered the plans and built the Glen L-designed, fiberglass-covered cruiser we called Poly Ester in the garage. But there was a caveat: I had to take a boating course. What? It was 1960. Me, taking a boating course with all those old guys? But my dad insisted, and I’m glad he did.

Before long, I could plot a course on a chart and change magnetic to true headings. I learned about deviation and variation, and I could apply them to chart work. I learned about boating safety and rules of the road. Dad and I never missed a class. We joined Chautauqua Squadron in western New York. He became a regular member; I was an apprentice. Seamanship, Piloting and Weather courses all followed. We participated in predicted log contests in summer and fall. At 16, I drove my dad to our first fall conference in Buffalo, New York, on my learner’s permit. What fun, what interesting people!

When I left for college, Grove City was far from water to have a squadron. Graduation brought marriage to Julie and two years of Peace Corps service. The corps sent us to Likoma Island in Lake Malawi, Central Africa, where we taught school. We lived on a beautiful tropical island in a lake about the size of Lake Erie.

Poly Ester on Lake Chautauqua. The author is about to take his aunts and cousin for a ride.

The island had snakes, crocodiles and 5,000 residents but no cars or electricity. We found wonderful students, eager to learn.

Back home in 1969, I got a job in western New York, teaching high school English. Our first summer, we bought a Pearson 22 sailboat, which we named Twiga (Swahili for “giraffe”). We sailed and raced the boat. Suddenly, I found myself piloting for real on a Great Lake, and my squadron training became important! We didn’t have a house, but we had a sailboat, and we could cruise.

From the family cottage in Eastern Lake Ontario, we began to explore. We visited Stoney Island, Chaumont, Sackets Harbor and the St. Lawrence River. We visited Canada and soon familiarized ourselves with Kingston and the Bay of Quinte. We explored. We raced on Sundays. We learned.

Rejoining United States Power Squadrons

When our old friends from Chautauqua Squadron got wind of our sailing adventures, they invited us to speak at a dinner meeting. Before long, I was again a squadron member. The squadron needed someone to help teach the boating course, so I volunteered. That year, I taught the class at Jamestown, New York, with fellow members. Next, I taught at Barcelona, New York, on Lake Erie, and for several years, I taught the course farther east at Dunkirk.

We offered the boating course each spring and fall. I became editor of our monthly squadron newsletter, The Sou’wester. Julie also became a member, and together we took Piloting, Sail, Marine Electronics and Engine Maintenance, along with Advanced Piloting. Julie, a chemistry teacher, enjoyed the challenge of teaching and taught Advanced Piloting in winter in the dining room of our Ashville, New York, home. Of course, we also enjoyed Cooperative Charting. Julie organized regular Sunday morning hunts for geodetic survey markers. We found errors on charts and reported them.

Twiga sails Lake Ontario.

Twiga got old. We replaced it in 1976, with a Morgan 27, Temerity. Lake Huron’s North Channel became our new cruising ground. We found our way by sighting landmarks, marking the chart, finding headings and converting them from magnetic to true as we plotted them on the chart. Later, LORAN, along with tide and current tables, helped us explore the coast of Maine. It was fascinating.

In 1988, we bought a new Tartan 31, Trilogy. After passing Junior Navigation and getting our ham radio licenses, we purchased a $1,100 GPS, which we were told would “never be cheaper.” Equipped with our new GPS and sextant, we sailed Trilogy to Bermuda and back for our 25th anniversary in 1992.

The following year, the GPS failed at night in the middle of Lake Ontario. Bearings from the light on Galloo Island and the Oswego power plant confirmed our position, and because we had a hand-bearing compass, parallel rules and dividers on board, we could mark our position on a chart for a fix. Our United States Power Squadrons training made navigation easy.

Over the years, we sailed twice to Lake Superior and then to Chicago through wonderful Lake Michigan. Oh, about that GPS: They couldn’t fix it, but when we test drove a Cadillac, the dealer gave us a free handheld GPS!

Retirement and more sailing

At the turn of the 20th century, we retired, left western New York and sailed for Florida and the Bahamas. Magic!

Tapestry to the Caribbean and across the Atlantic

Needing more fresh water and electricity aboard, we found a 9-year-old Nauticat 35, Tapestry, in Annapolis, Maryland, which proved to be the answer. We sailed it south to our winter home in Englewood, Florida. From there, we headed south to the Caribbean, first to the Bahamas and then further south to the Virgin Islands.

Island after island enchanted us. We met wonderful people, saw amazing places in the Virgins, St. Lucia, St. Martin, Nevis, St. Kitts and Antigua.

In 2003, we met a man who had just bought a used charter boat and was fitting it out to cross the Atlantic. He challenged us to do the same and directed us to the World Cruising Club. Could we? Would we, a pair of retired schoolteachers, sail across the Atlantic to Bermuda, the Azores and England? Could we conquer the Mediterranean? The Black Sea? What if we got sick? What if we were hurt?

You’ll have to read the book to find out what happened. “Island People: Deep Water Dreams” explores the Caribbean and carries us across the Atlantic and through the Mediterranean.

Henry Danielson

Retired schoolteachers Past Commander Henry and Julie Danielson have built their lives around boating and sailing. They’ve cruised much of the Western Hemisphere using what they learned in United States Power Squadrons courses. The couple lives in Englewood, Florida, where they still sail regularly, and in western New York, where they teach sailing at Dunkirk Yacht Club.

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The Ensign magazine is an official channel of United States Power Squadrons, America’s Boating Club, a volunteer organization whose members teach boating skills and best practices to help improve the safety of our nation’s waterways. Learn more.

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