Steve Charles—About this time last week I was 30 miles out on Lake Michigan riding the bow of John Buford’s 27-foot Coronado sailboat, a hood-snapping northwest wind in my face as I splashed through two-foot seas on one of the most beautiful summer days I’ve ever seen. (See a photo album here.)
Stratus and cumulus clouds scudded across the sun, a few building up along the coastline, changing the light on the inland sea every five minutes—from silver to gray to blue. The rigging sang and chattered in the wind, tapping the mast in rhythm with the rise and fall of the Folly, which was on the final day of the final leg of her multi-year voyage from Corpus Christi, Texas to North Point Marina, Wisconsin, via the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean, and various Great Lakes. And John had been at the helm for all of it, the “experience” he thought he needed after he retired from the Army.

“I guess you could say I have an adventurous spirit,” John told me.

You could say that. He had never heard of Wabash, decided to attend after one visit (he encountered Professor of English Walt Fertig, who gave he and his father a tour after finishing his own task of collecting horse chestnuts in the arboretum!). He was a Spanish major here, but spent his junior year (1968) in Colombia. He married his childhood sweetheart, worked special ops in Panama in the pre-Noriego days (learned to fly while he was there), played a key role in the nation-building efforts in Bosnia, helped establish a university, eventually returned to his hometown of Orangeville, IL and bought one landmark building to live in, established a community dinner theater to save another, and now produces, acts, and directs plays there. And he just learned to play the tuba to add to the many other instruments he plays…

No point in giving away the whole story, which we’ll carry in the Winter issue of WM, but John might actually be understated the facts when he says he has an “adventurous spirit.”

So when faced with the dilemma of how to move his boat from Corpus Christi to Virginia (where his wife, then U.S. Army Col. Caryl Buford, now Caryl Buford, U.S. Army (Retired, had been reassigned), he decided, after a few months of sailing, to do it himself. And when Caryl retired and the couple moved full-time to Orangeville, John finished that work by moving Folly as close as he could get her to his current address.
For this final leg, from Charlevoix, MI to North Point, he was ably assisted by Jack Spurway ’69, whom he had reconnected with at this year’s Big Bash. They were catching up when John mentioned the boat, Jack mentioned his own boatbuilding projects at the Wooden Boat School, and someone (it might have been Caryl) suggested Jack help out. As the unofficial chronicler of Jack’s marine adventures, I squeezed my way onto Folly on the last and most beautiful day of the trip.
As I said, we’ll have more about John, his work, and his voyage in an upcoming issue of WM. The best thing about my day on Folly? So much to choose from: meeting John is an adventure in its own rite, and having those generous conversations on the bow of a sailboat headed home on a beautiful day, even better.
Then there was the view of Chicago from the lake. And catching up with Jack, hearing him describe the pleasures of just sitting and staring at the vastness of the water, a similar serenity one experiences gazing at the coals of a campfire late at night.
About 2/3 of the way through the 12-hour trip and after I’d gotten soaked riding through the spray on the bow, John suggested I dry off in “the best seat of the house,” and I took his advice. That “best seat” is just in front of the mast where you can throw down a cushion, lie down, and, if you’re as tired as I was, be rocked to sleep by the rise and fall of the boat. Best nap I’ve had since sleeping up on the Laurentian Shield in the Boundary Waters wilderness two years ago (though this one I took with one hand firmly grasping the rail, like a bird sleeping on a wire!)
Looking forward to learning more about John’s work in Orangeville and writing about it all this fall.