Morton, on the other hand, offers a more active ride. His boat, Wind Dancer, is a smaller, lighter craft that will hold only two other people. The trip begins with a quick lecture about how the passengers are going to have to help by ducking under the boom and scrambling to the other side of the boat as a counterbalance against the wind every time it “comes about” (sailing jargon for changing direction).
Morton also doesn’t sing on his boat. He does philosophize, however, about how zigzagging across the lake is like navigating life.
“If you want go straight ahead, get a motorboat,” he said. “Sailboats go with the wind, and sometimes the wind isn’t blowing the exact direction you want to go, so you adjust. That’s what happens in life, too.”
Morton jokingly claims that he was shanghaied into offering rides.
“I noticed that Werner always had passengers with him, but I had no idea where they were coming from,” he said. “Then one day, I was pulling up to the dock in my boat, and Werner was offering two people a ride. He said to them, ‘I don’t have enough room in my boat for you, but Bill will take you.’ How was I supposed to back out of that? So I said, ‘OK, I will.’ ”
One thing that Meybaum and Morton have in common — beyond their passion for sailing, of course — is a gentle presence. They’re “very unthreatening,” is the way Morton puts it.
There’s something about going up to complete strangers and asking if they want to go for a ride that smacks of unsavory shenanigans. They get some strange looks, Morton said, but once people realize that they’re trustworthy, most folks are eager to climb aboard.
Creating new memories
For Meybaum, offering sailboat rides is a form of karmic payback and a way of reconnecting with a childhood in which happiness was all too fleeting.
The first five years of his life “were made in heaven. I grew up on a farm in East Prussia. But then the war [World War II] shut down my childhood.”
He was separated from the rest of his family for six months — something that left him battling separation anxiety for most of his life, he said — before finally being reunited in a refugee camp where he would spend the next 10 years.
When he was 17, he was sitting with a friend watching sailboats ply Aussenalster Lake in Hamburg, West Germany.
“We were wondering to ourselves how the boats could sail into the wind as well as with the wind,” he said. “We went up to this stranger — which took a lot of courage in Germany in those days, a lot of courage — and asked if we could go for a ride. And he said, ‘Sure, jump in.’ ”
Meybaum, who emigrated to the United States when he was 19 and ended up in the Twin Cities when he married a Minnesotan, describes that afternoon as “about the only joyful memory of my childhood after we left the farm in East Prussia.”
Morton’s introduction to sailing was less traumatic. He was just trying to avoid hurting his family’s feelings.
“My wife and three sons went in together to buy me sailing lessons for a birthday present,” he said. “I thought, ‘What do I need with sailing lessons?’ But I took them. I discovered that sailing is infectious — and I got infected.”
The Lake Calhoun sailing community has rallied around them, especially after Meybaum suffered a stroke — his second — last year. They’ve donated equipment and helped pay the buoy fee for his boat. James Michelau, John Hart and Devlin Shaughnessy, among others, will take people out on Magic if Meybaum isn’t able, while others, like Aaron Kontz, follow Morton’s lead and offer rides on their own boats.
Michelau, Hart, Shaughnessy and Kontz all had their very first sailboat rides for free, courtesy of Meybaum, of course.