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Remembering: Jake Jackman

Warren Samuel Jackman:  never knew that man, but I did know a chap who was known as Jake.

We first met in the early seventies when he rejoined Queen City Yacht Club after years in Lorne Park while he and Cathy raised their three girls.  Even after an absence of some twenty years he was at home – there was still the same crew of characters about that he’d known in the 40s and 50s.  He was able to pick up where he’d left off with the fun and high-jinx for which the club was infamous.

But the club had changed.  The ladies no longer sat ashore while their men raced, hoping to be invited to sail on Sunday afternoon.  Now women sailed, and the boats were bigger. The Jackmans brought a 24-footer into the club, which for them at least, had standing headroom.  When they weren’t away sailing they joined the growing company of weekend live-aboards who spent Saturday evenings at BBQs, potluck dinners and cocktail parties on the tennis court, where many a grand time was had by all.

There is a disease that is common to the boating fraternity:  it’s called two-foot-itis, and Jake developed a very bad case indeed when he skipped a number of the two-foots and commissioned his 37’ Alberg, ‘Bronwen’ which was shampooed and waxed and gifted with the multi-dollar extras to which yachtsmen fall prey.  Oddly, and perhaps sensibly – if sense can be used on a sailor - Jake eventually developed reverse two-foot-itis, when he bought a 31’ Corvette, ‘Cadenza’.  That was the year we purchased a Corvette too, so we raced each other from port to port or tucked in to holes on Toronto island where only a couple of centreboarders could moor.

One of the most onerous maintenance jobs on any sailboat is changing the oil in its auxiliary engine, usually located in the lowest and most inaccessible spot in the bilge.  Jake fitted into these niches better than longer skippers, but he still got himself into trouble one memorable muggy, windless Saturday.  Strive as he might to do his customary meticulous job, unbeknownst to him some of the oil escaped into the bilge.  Job done, Jake pumped his bilge, and a pint, or maybe a quart or so of lovely black goo went overboard.
Poor Jake was mortified when he learned that he’d contaminated the boot tops of some eight boats.  But being the kind of guy he was, he immediately jumped to the task of cleaning up the havoc he’d created.  Armed with detergent, rags and brushes he climbed into his trusty inflatable dinghy and proceeded to clean the waterline of every boat affected.  Word of his efforts crept down the line of boats, and as Jake cleaned each one he was offered a small libation to keep up his spirits, and his liquid intake – a necessity on a hot, sunny day.  After about five hours of effort, up one side of each vessel and down the other, Jake appeared to be having some difficulty when he climbed from his dinghy back aboard Bronwen.  What apparently escaped his mind was that he and Cathy had been invited aboard another vessel for dinner.  He didn’t make it.  Too much sun – or too much tipple?

Jake and Cathy had six glorious years of retirement in Chudleigh, Devon. In 1987-88 Louise and I were their most frequent visitors. We had to admire Jake’s acquisitions of riding hat and cricket bat.  He had no use for either, but that was immaterial.  By then, Lawrense and Else Reid were also retired in Chudleigh.  When they went off for a visit, Jake bought every ornamental pink flamingo in Devon, and we stuck them in Reid’s lawn in time for their return.  Larry, of course, hated the things.  Jake must have driven us thousands of miles showing us ancient sites he had discovered and expounding on the eccentricities of the English.  And he did it without setting wheel to an M-road.  In between points of interest we saw a lot of hedgerows!

Because of his spirit of kindness and helpfulness, Jake developed an interest in small engine design as he did the fine work for his friend, the one-armed live-steam hobbyist.  As a result, he came up to London to attend the Amateur Engineering Show.  Only a week or two later, he returned to see the indoor London Boat Show, the biggest in the world.   His curiosity to learn how things worked and his love of boats – even Fiberglas boats - were simply insatiable.

The Jackmans were forced to return to Canada because of Cathy’s health.  But by then we were building a home in Muskoka.  Another golden opportunity for Jake, who set his engineering skills to work as we built our fancy decks and outside stairs to the lake level.  He expounded on the correct application of leverage as the (young) men next door did the grunt work to move boulders.  And he supervised tree felling when a big pine had to come down.

Cathy passed away in 1991 as she and Jake were settling in to a home in Canmore, Alberta.  We were going south to live on our sailboat for the winter.  We invited Jake to join us so from January 2nd through May 1st.  That’s a very long time to have a guest aboard; with Jake it was easy.  We have memories of him devising new docking methods (not necessarily successful), of nights of philosophising under a tropic moon, of screaming up Biscayne Bay under main only while Jake queried how well the mast was stepped – he wasn’t the only one who wondered about that.  When we had two other guests aboard for a week or so and he got chucked out of his stateroom, he elected to sleep out in the cockpit, where we found him one very cold  morning sound asleep with watchcap on head – and steam rising with every breath.

Our fondest memory of that cruise with Jake is The Letter.  Jake’s mail was forwarded, as was ours.  He was still writing notes of appreciation for condolences received and mailing them at every opportunity.  Except for The Letter. It was stamped and ready for mailing, inscribed in Jake’s very distinctive style.  (Have we mentioned that calligraphy was yet another of his interests?)  It sat about on the salon table for weeks.  It couldn’t help but rouse Louise’s curiosity, especially after she noticed it was addressed to a Mrs Nancy Bush.  Of course, Louise began to query Jake, ever so subtly, and little by little we learned the love story you have all heard by now.  “Jake!  Mail the letter!”  Finally he did, and the relationship they had suspended 50 years earlier culminated in their marriage a year later.

Fast forward a couple of years.  Our sailboat in Florida is sold and we have decided a trawler with two big engines is the answer for those shallow waters.  We haven’t seen much of Jake and Nancy, but of course when told of our new prize they come for a look.  Jake immediately became involved, discussing improvements, suggesting ways of effecting them, and illustrating his generosity and metal-working skills by presenting the vessel with the finest chrome-plated lever handle for a windlass that anyone has ever seen.
When Jake had put in enough hours of effort we invited him and Nancy to join us on our Great Adventure, across the lake, through the Erie Barge Canal (where an extra pair of hands is almost obligatory), down the Hudson into New York City, then into the Atlantic until we could get back inside to Chesapeake Bay.  How much persuasion it took on Jake’s part, how much say Nancy had in the decision, we’ll never know, and I’m not about to pry, but 75 years young and a virtual non-boater, she stepped aboard and crewed all the way to Annapolis before she and Jake decided it was time to get back to the sanity of their Don Mills home.

Most of our sailing friends have swallowed the anchor now.  Even boatless Jake remained involved with Queen City, and we have returned there with him and Nancy on several occasions.  The summers of our younger years were for boats and yacht clubs and a life style we had difficulty leaving behind.  Jake in particular never let the memories go.  As you no doubt have gathered, we have had a pretty darn good relationship over the past few years.  A “few years” for Louise and me and our friendship with Jake go back almost 40 years.

A number of years ago, full of dinner and maybe a touch of scotch, Jake lamented that Queen City no longer had any characters.  He erred.  He was one of the great ones.  So, folks, lets cherish the memory of Warren Samuel Jackman, knowing we have gained through our associations with him.

Bert and Louise Barraclough