The Critical Mass

One last chance to sail with Chasing the Wind

chasingPut this on your bucket list: I’m doing a reading and book talk for Chasing the Wind: The Humble, Epic Century of a Sailor at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Rundel Building of the Downtown Central Library, and it might be the last one.

It’s been nine months since we self-published the book. The hero of the book, Ernie Coleman, and I did talks and readings at book clubs, old folks’ homes, grocery stores, gift shops and folk-music concerts. It’s sold well, and I’ve been touched at how people have told us they really like the book.

Ernie’s story one of an average man, a carpenter, a kid raised in the Great Depression. Married four times – two wives died tragically – he acquired a half-dozen children along the way. He’s a clever fellow who’s scrapped to survive in a fashion that seems quaint today. Testing himself as a teenager by swimming across lakes, building homes from foraged lumber, running a Navy carpentry shop as though he were a member of the scamming crew of McHale’s Navy. And a self-taught championship sailor who’s a legend on Lake Ontario.

Yet when Ernie was with me, at most of these events, I didn’t speak much of the biggest thing in his life. The Battle of Savo Island, the first naval engagement of the Guadalcanal campaign during World War II. It was the worst open-sea defeat ever inflicted on the United States Navy. Three American cruisers and one Australian cruiser were sunk by the Japanese in a 20-minute battle, with the loss of more than 1,000 Allied sailors. Ernie’s ship, Vincennes, was among those lost. And more than 300 of his shipmates went with it.

As is the case with so many survivors of the many horrors of World War II, Ernie couldn’t speak of it, lest the nightmares of men screaming in the burning water return to him. At our book talks, he’d go one and on about sailing. If anyone asked him about the war, he’d simply point at the book and say, “It’s in there.”

Sunday’s talk is a part of the library’s “Rochester’s Rich History Series… How We Became Who We Are,” in the Rundel Memorial Building, 115 S. Main St. That’s the older of the two library buildings, the cooler old building, supposedly haunted, its marble facade chiseled with the old inscriptions like, “The Shadows will be behind you if you walk into the light.” I’ll be in the third-floor Rundel Auditorium.

It’s the first event I’ve done since Ernie passed away on Dec. 26 at age 96. I’ll talk about how the book came about. I’ll read two small sections from the book. One about sailing, one about the war. I’ll take questions if there are any. I’ll have some copies to sell as well.

I’m thinking this might be my last Chasing the Wind event because I don’t have any more on the schedule, and I have to turn my attention to a few other projects that are begging to be completed. I suppose, if someone asks nice, I might do another event to promote Chasing the Wind. I don’t think I’d mind. But the truth is, I’m afraid of doing it now without Ernie there as well.

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