Sunday, June 4, 2017

Portraits from the Basement: Father and Son

Oct. 24, 1924

Dear Sir:

I wish to congratulate you upon the very high Regents mark (90% or over) made by your son last June in Plane Geometry [...] Your son has made an excellent start towards securing one of these valuable scholarships [...].

Department of Education
The City of New York

Mr. Joseph E. Barmack: Psychology instructor...who appeals to the feminine side of his pupils...because of his German cut hair and his dark eyes that reflect his personality, so say the girls of his class...a trifle aloof but sympathetic...gentle with sensitive people, but in spite of that, is reputed to be a strict marker...has no vulnerability for feminine wiles...he is completing his PND [sic] at Columbia University...while living at the Psychiatric Institute where he did experiment work...he had to sleep near those that were mentally deficient and under observation...

The Reporter
17 Lexington Avenue
New York

Dear Mr. Barmack:
   We all wish you to make use of the enclosed [safety pin] on your trousers in an effort to save your reputation.
   There are among us a few who will be glad to help you in an accident like yours of last week.
The Girls of Your Psychology Section.

From "Recollections," an Oral History of the Psychology Department of the City College of the City University of New York, by Lawrence Nyman:

[Jos. E. Barmack:] I taught a summer session Psychology 1 course in 1932, two years after receiving my B.S. at C.C.N.Y. and four years before completing the requirements for the Ph.D. ... Half of my 16-hour schedule was uptown and half downtown. I also taught 8 hours in the evening that I had a 24-hour teaching schedule. With this 24-hour teaching load I managed to do research and published a series of papers on the effects of anti hypnotic drugs on boring vs. interesting work.

Yes. I was an eye-witness to the famous President Robinson umbrella incident. It happened in the early thirties. Pres. Robinson had invited a group of touring Italian Fascist students to speak to the student body and to review the ROTC on parade...Some students organized a protest against their visit and tried to bar the party from going into the Stadium. President Robinson asked them to get out of his way--they didn't--he called them guttersnipes and then started to wield his umbrella. The students closed in and the next moment I saw his umbrella fly up in the air. 

[Larry Nyman:] Jeb, I hear you're a pretty good sailor [...]

JEB: Yes, the sailing came much later. When I lived in Larchmont practically every other home owner was a sailor and anxious to convert non-sailors. My two sons were also eager. Then I became intrigued by the fact that I couldn't moor my boat at the Horseshoe Harbor Yacht Club and they were located on quasi-public property. They also had week-end [sic] races. I entered the races and wound up with a silver cup three years later. 

LN: How big was your family and where were you raised?

JEB: My immediate family, in addition to my parents, consisted of an older brother (four years older) and a younger sister (one year younger). We were born and raised in various parts of New York City. In Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx. Generally we lived close to other relatives...My grandmother had been married three times, and our relatives consisted of children of hers, and children that had been brought to her by her various husbands. The family relationships were quite close in spite of this. We lived next to my grandmother who lived to be ninety-three. She was a matriarch. All of my uncles contributed to her support. I never knew my grandfathers nor my father's mother. My father had severe allergies and a heart attack kind of early in life and that left us kind of poor and we worked. I worked from age fifteen on, summers and part-timed during the rest of the year. 

LN: How old were you when your Dad died?

JEB: He died when I was thirty-nine.

LN: What did your Dad do for a living?

JEB: He was a cabinet maker. He went into the business of manufacturing kitchenettes. This activity was not a successful one. He had come here very late in life, in his late thirties, early forties. He had been a Hebrew scholar in Russia and then was called up in the military there. He was wounded three times in various wars and then managed to get away from it. There was no market for any of his skills here. He had to start from scratch.

From a draft essay by John A. Barmack, (Jeb's oldest and my father):

Boating was not in the Barmack gene pool, but on the block of Oak Avenue where we lived, there were a number of boating enthusiasts...Hugh McDonald who lived in the middle of our block...built a beautiful 26' auxiliary sloop named ALTAIR in his backyard where I hung out whenever I could and watched the processes of lofting the lines, setting up the backbone, molding the lead keel, steam bending the oak ribs, and...cutting out and fastening planks. That was my first exposure to the smells of freshly sawn oak, mahogany and teak and my first opportunity to see the tools and skills of traditional boat building at work. 

While in high school, I would work for Mr. McDonald on weekends helping him to restore a 36' Alden Coastwise Cruiser by assisting in the laying of a teak deck and painting the cabin interior. 

Further up the street was Nichol Bissell, who invited us out on his yaw CLEO which he kept at the Horseshoe Harbor Yacht Club...It was Nick who taught me knots and how to splice. 

Our first venture into independent sailing began with the purchase of a 9' cold molded sailing dinghy that had a broken gunwale. Hugh McDonald made his shop available to my father to craft a replacement gunwale to get us started. The oak gunnels, mahogany transom and seats were stripped and finished bright. My dad carefully applied the name, SEA STAR, on the transom in genuine gold leaf outlined in red pin striping and our little yacht was ready for her maiden voyage. My dad built a nifty trailer out of 2 old bicycle forks and wheels to tow our vessel behind our 1949 Mercury to and from the water. We would launch Sea Star from a small spit of land at the end of Pryor Lane near Premium Point and venture out into Long Island Sound to learn sailing. We acquired a used 2 horsepower Evinrude as our auxiliary. 

As we became more proficient, we got infected with the greed for speed. There was a small boat shop in the neighboring town of Mamaroneck run by Robert McKean. He built blue jays and ghosts and was a friend of Nick Bissell. Nick introduced my dad to McKean who provided us with a beautiful new Sitka spruce mast which was significantly taller than the original. A new cotton sail was obtained from Ratsey and Lapthorn in City Island and our dinghy was now moving along quite nicely. Later we would add a small bowsprit and jib and found ourselves hiking out and getting the little round-bottom dinghy to plane. 

Since none of the boat clubs in Larchmont would admit Jews, we ended up getting a mooring in New Rochelle harbor and keeping the dinghy as a tender chained to the municipal dinghy dock. To go sailing, we would drive to New Rochelle, unlock the outboard from the stand in the brick building there used for storing outboards, carry the outboard down to the dock and mount it on the dinghy and then proceed to motor out to THUMPER [subsequent to Sea Star, a 18'6" Winabout sloop] which was moored near the turn in the harbor before going out into Long Island Sound. Of course this whole process was reversed upon our return with the added step of washing out the outboard in a freshwater tank before storing it away. 

The steady improvement in our skills and of our boat kept us in contention for silver every year we raced Thumper and we collected our fair share.

By the early 60s several other Jewish families were taking advantage of this public facility and so it dawned on the leadership of HHYC that it might be appropriate to offer our family the privilege of membership. After all, we had demonstrated that Jews can sail.

My father declined the invitation as it would involve spending additional money to socialize with people at least some of whom hated us. I was disappointed in the decision but was also aware that my brother and I were going to be in college over the next six years and we lived on a college professor's salary. 


by John Barmack

One brisk afternoon this winter, I shot two ducks. I was very proud of these two ducks because I had shot them both on the same pass. So, instead of leaving them for my hunting partner's freezer, I brought them triumphantly home. My Mother said that she would cook them if I would clean them. I took them down in the basement to clean. My Dad came down to supervise, but when I took out the smelly intestines he turned a little pale and retreated upstairs.

The next day they were in the oven.  As their cooking progressed, a strong fishy odor emanated from the oven. When they were through being cooked, this odor had filled the house. My mother took them from the oven. I thought they looked delicious in their golden skin, but my father winced at the sight of them. He served me a whole duck, and my mother and brother each a half. He ate a sandwich. I admit that they did have a rather strong taste, but they tasted pretty good. The taste was like salted duck that had been cooked with a bass in the same pot. My mother and brother took half a forkful a piece and then I had two ducks to eat. "You shot 'em, you cleaned 'em, and now you can eat 'em," said my brother.
I finished off mine and half of the other much to the rest of the family's dismay. I honestly can say that this meal was not the best I had ever eaten. It wasn't the worst though, and I think I would eat it again if only to see the expression on my father's face.


"So You Want to Go to Union College?"
by John Barmack

"So you want to go to Union College. It's a fine school. I'm from the class of thirty-two myself, a Chi Psi man. Yes, the college is full of spirit. Why, I remember back when I was a junior, we used to have big class wars to see who would paint the idol....

"What religion are you? That's a fine thing, to be able to choose your own faith and stick to it. By the way, fraternities at Union are very liberal. They won't hold it against you that your father is a Jew...

"What did you say your dad did? Human engineer, eh. Well personally I don't believe in the stuff. I mean there are engineers and there are engineers. I'm an electrical engineer myself. I don't see how those guys can mess around with philosophy books and get off calling themselves engineers. Oh well, I won't argue the point. 

"You'll find Union to be a great school, you'll really enjoy it. It's been nice talking to you, John, I hope to see you up at Union in September." 

*Mrs. Godfrank, Persons and details of this dialogue are entirely true-to-life and for this reason I would appreciate it if you would not read this in class. Thank you.

November 20, 1959
Union College
Office of the Dean

Dear Mr. & Mrs. Barmack:

   Attached is a copy of a very important letter which we have just sent your son John. As you will see, he has reached a point where his record must show considerable improvement if he is to remain in college.


Dear Folks--

  Well, it is the beginning of the second week since vacation and things are not going well at all. I have not been motivated towards study at all and, in fact, have done almost anything else in order to avoid hitting the books. I have been very depressed about this situation. If things continue at their present pace, I will not even attain a 2.5, much less a 3.0. The proposed work for the Guidance Center has yet to get under way, owing to complications beyond my control. 

   I have subjected myself to a rigorous, painful, and sometimes illuminating self analysis and have come up with a few answers.

   OBSERVATION #1. Among those people whom I chose to associate with here, almost all of them are older than I am.
  ANALYSIS:  I need to love and identify with an older person, you Dad, because I have been unable to do so at home. This represents a void in my life and all substitutions which I attempt to make apparently are not satisfactory. Also, I need to be loved by an older male person and I have not been able to find a satisfactory substitute. In fact, before I realized the motivation behind this substitute-seeking behavior, I was continually disturbed by [illegible]homo-sexual fantasies. I do not blame you, Dad, for this situation, for I am the one who has had the difficulty establishing a [illegible] relationship. In fact, for reasons which we are both aware of, I have avoided any kind of relationship with you. I lament this situation and I hope that it is not too late to change, not only for my own scholastic improvement, but also so that I again may enjoy your company and love. 

  OBSERVATION #2. Living with the Morton's [sic] as well as with the Moss's is anxiety provoking.
  ANALYSIS:  Again this has been and is an attempt at substitution and simply prolongs the state of dependency. I hope, now that I realize this, that I may work toward freeing myself from these feelings and enjoy more fully and on a healthier plane the company of these people who are indeed good friends.

 OBSERVATION #3. This year, more than ever, I miss the companionship of my contemporaries. 
 ANALYSIS: Because of the living situation which I have subjected myself to, resulting from the aforementioned motivation, I do not come in contact with my class mates except in class. This results in an isolated social life. By that I mean, I have sought dates from town and although I have dated quite a bit, it has not been the most rewarding kind of relationship(s). 

  So, this is what I am thinking about. I hope what I have said does not upset you. I am still the optimist when it comes to my career. 

  Much love,

P.S. Would you please sign the enclosed waiver.

September 11, 1959

Dear Dr. Barmack:

   I think John got a lot closer to the reality of his situation in his near commitment to the Army although I am, frankly, dubious that this will remain long with him. He does need to be more independent of you in fact before he can begin to be more detached from his emotional struggle with you and your ideology and develop a greater sense of personal identity. 

  I have written to Dr. [xxx] in Schenectady and asked John to get in touch with him. If he can form a good relationship, his college experience may be enough of a separation from you so that he can achieve more independence. 


Dr. Lewis M. ___

[Also dated September 11, 1959]:

Dear Dr. Barmack:

...The following data should supply you with the information needed to submit to your insurance company:

I first saw John on March 27, 1957, and treated him through August, 1958, for an obsessive-compulsive neurosis which was blocking his academic progress. At that time he entered Union College and did not receive psychiatric treatment until he returned to see me on July 2, 1959. At that time I recommended psychological tests and, on the basis of these and evaluation of John's emotional status at the time, I advised continued psychotherapy. I have seen John this summer for a total of 20 sessions at a fee of $20 per session, amounting to a total of $400.  In addition, I have advised John to continue with psychotherapy while he is at college next year. 

Very truly yours,

Lewis M. __

December 7, 1959

Dear Dr. & Mrs. Barmack:

I appreciate your letter about John and wish that I might honestly be of some real help to you.

As you know, he has ability to spare, but thus far has never been able to bring it to bear on his academic work.  How deep-seated a problem this is, I can only guess, but something more than greets the eye must be a part of the picture.

I have him in class this semester and have observed that in the last week or so he has begun to show some interest. He last quiz was a very interesting performance in that he handled part of the material beautifully and missed completely on other parts.  I wish I knew how to get him really working up to capacity.

  Sincerely yours,

  Dean of the College

January 12, 1960

Dear Dr. Barmack:

This is just a note to say that maybe things are beginning to look up a little for John. He has certainly come to life in class and may be developing a real interest.  On the quizzes he has shown some much better work.

We hope that things will continue to go in this direction.

Sincerely yours,

Dean of the College


From "A Dissertation on Happiness" by John Barmack 

The meaning of happiness today is to possess a new car, T-V set, wall-to-wall carpeting, and to be able to put one's children through college. If a person can "keep up with the Joneses," in his mind, he is happy...Is this really happiness?

Happiness is satisfaction, not material satisfaction but satisfaction with one's self. A great many people of today compare themselves with people who are superior, either in materials or personality. These people overlook their own good qualities and prefer to compare their failings with someone who excels in their failing...Often times, this defeatist attitude leads to a severe emotional disturbance.

John A. Barmack

This is my second attempt at formulating my conception of a healthy personality. Originally, my notion was to create a synthesis of existentialism and Freudian theory...This enthusiasm soon dissolved when I realized that the two systems were incompatible. 

...Ever since I can remember, I have been extremely negativistic towards my father. I will not go into the derivation of this neurotic impulsiveness because, although it is pertinent, I do not care to make this information public knowledge.  ...My father is an orthodox Freudian psychologist. Although I have accepted Freudian psychological theory on an intellectual level for some time now, for me to present it as my conception of healthy personality would have meant that I would have been in agreement with my Father...

...Although I wanted to complete this assignment, I couldn't because I saw the faults that were evident in the hypothesis. Only after long and careful study of the sources of my proposed theory did I face up to reality and return to my previous belief in Freudian theory. It has been a difficult journey. 


Socrates was a conceited genius....

The conceit of Socrates was at a very sublimated level. The oracle said that Socrates was the most intelligent man in the world. Socrates set about to check this statement. However, in the book, The Last Days of Socrates, it is implied that he assumed the statement to be true and went about proving it...

Socrates' conceit is the trait which led to his downfall. However, even with this fault, he was probably one of the greatest philosophers of all times....

Excerpts from John's papers for PHILOSOPHY 17-B sec. 1 

Aquinas proposes that because few men are capable of gaining the divine truth by reason, even after exhaustive effort, and because of the hindrances of worldly things upon man's drive to gain these divine truths, that the divine truth, obtainable by reason, should be presented to mankind as objects of faith...I cannot accept this line of reasoning.

The young man of our problem must take action against the dictator to which he is opposed if he has truly accepted existentialism as described by Jean-Paul Sartre...

Returning to the young man of our problem, it is obvious that he must act on his feelings of dissatisfaction with the regime in power...

In the young man's "plan," he has rejected the government. In order to give credence to the rejection, he must choose out of the limitless realm of possibility a course of action. If he does not, there is no validity to his dissatisfaction. He is admitting to determinism, which is categorically opposed to the existentialism which he claims he has adopted.

Fromm's concept of man is similar to the existentialist view held by Sartre. Fromm conceives of man, the individual and the species, as continually being born. Because of his ability to reason and thus alter nature to his fancy, (as opposed to animals who react to nature) man transcends nature and is condemned to a dichotomous existence composed of an animal, life-giving body and reason.

I accept Freud's concept of libido as the principle motivating force. This concept is supported by scientific experimentation. 

Physical birth represents the stage where man loses his unity with nature. This loss provokes anxiety. This anxiety can be dissipated only when the individual finds a satisfactory human substitute for the natural phenomena. The maturing child is faced with the problem of finding a suitable substitute, progressing, leaving the womb; or regressing characterized by incest. 

The concept of alienation plays an important part in the derivation of Fromm's hypothesis that there can be an insane society. Fromm sees twentieth-century man as having won his freedom from clerical and secular authorities but at the same time being afraid of this new freedom. "He was afraid of the newly won freedom; he had achieved [quoting Fromm] 'freedom from' without yet having achieved 'freedom to' -- to be himself, to be productive, to be fully awake. Thus he tried to escape from freedom." 

I find myself in disagreement with Maslowe's concept of the healthy personality as the self-actualized man...Maslowe considers love as a need above safety and psychological needs. I maintain that in order to be healthy, love must permeate all aspects of human behavior because love is the quality which results from the union of animal instincts and human qualities and is the quality which enables man to deal with his dichotomous situation.

My father graduated from Union College and went on to pursue a Masters in Psychology at Northeastern University.  However, he flunked out of Northeastern and took an MBA from Harvard Business School instead.

This is the only photo that I have found of Joseph E. Barmack and John A. Barmack, together:

End Notes...

Neal Barmack (two years younger than John)

With regard to my brother's description of the Horseshoe Harbor Yacht Club episode, here is my recollection.  

The neighborhood in which our family lived was called Larchmont Manor.  This neighborhood included some prime public property along the coast of Long Island Sound.  The property was located about 0.5 miles from our home and  consisted of a public park open to all, a public beach open only to residents of Larchmont Manor, and Horseshoe Harbor Yacht Club.  

HHYC was a private club open only to members.  Jews could not be members.  Our family had several acquaintances who were members of HHYC and we often went sailing with them on their boats.  

After we became interested in sailing, it would have been convenient for us to moor our boat at HHYC and use its launch service.  Instead, we had to moor our boat in New Rochelle harbor, about four miles away.  

After several years, two Jewish families met with my father to discuss mooring their boats in Horseshoe Harbor and using the launch service of HHYC.  My father was the person responsible for making the case to the president of the HHYC, a known anti-Semite.  

The president of HHYC sent a "delegate," a club member who lived on our street, to persuade my father that the community was not ready for the social change that my father proposed.  He argued that most of the members of HHYC were not anti-Semitic, and suggested we wait until a new club president was elected.  

My father's response was simple enough:  Facilities paid for by the public should be open to the public.  The issue was separate from the right of a private club to choose its members.  

Following this meeting, my father reiterated this point in a proposal  that he sent to the board of HHYC.  

In the lower left-hand corner of the proposal he had typed, "Copies: 7."  

I wondered why so many copies. Who else was he sending them to?

"No one...yet," my father said.  

In response to my father's proposal, the board of HHYC decided that Jews could moor their boats in the harbor and use the launch service, and would be charged the same rate as HHYC members. 

The issue of harbor access resolved, more complicated questions arose for us. How should we respond to our peers [neighbors, acquaintances and friends] who had not found the club's practice of religious discrimination particularly troubling? 

After a few weeks of mooring our boat at Horseshoe Harbor, the HHYC board invited us to participate in their weekly summer races.  We did participate, and won the yearly title two or three times.  Perhaps, after a year or two, if we had applied for membership in HHYC, our application would have been approved.  

With regard to HHYC membership, it was never discussed.  Rather,  the conversation that I overheard focused on our sole interest in mooring our boat at HHYC and the use of the launch.  I never heard any interest by my father in becoming a club member.  I think that once you have experienced discrimination, you are always suspicious of new people and new organizations.  (I am.)   

After we had moored our boat at HHYC for about one year, my brother, always enthusiastic to push the envelope, brought home a black professor from Union College, and informed my father that they were going out for a sail.  

My father argued that HHYC members would view this as a deliberate provocation from the Jews--which, of course, was my brother's fondest wish.  In any event, my brother and his professor had a nice sail, and managed to return without social upheaval.  

Sunday School Attendance Medals

At the ages of six and eight, when some of our friends started going to church for Sunday school, our parents decided to send us to a Presbyterian church for religious instruction.  (I was a close friend of the son of the Presbyterian minister; and the church, as well as the minister’s house at which we often played, were adjacent to our elementary school.)  Our parents would later rationalize this choice as an attempt to help us achieve a broader-based religious training. However, in retrospect, it seems clear to me that our parents were trying to shield their children from the kind of discrimination that they had experienced.  Perhaps my father was particularly motivated by having grown up in poverty, and under the guidance of his father, a Hebrew scholar, who had had difficulty earning a living in the new country.   

At the age of 14, students in the Presbyterian church were confirmed as full members.  Realizing the mistake he had made by sending us to church, my father asked both John and I to reject confirmation.  

I was relieved, since I had long been bored with the inept instruction of Sunday mornings, and confused about the hypocrisy of having to take my “good attendance” medals (from church) off my sport jacket when we went to my aunt May’s for Seder.  So, I stopped going to Sunday school, stripped the medals permanently from my jacket, and never looked back.  

John opted for confirmation, which, naturally, fueled the Freudian father-son dynamic.  

Both my brother and father were imperfect beings. From my perspective, they seemed locked into a pattern of relating to one another that precluded good will or compromise. When challenged, my father reverted to a Freudian approach to resolving father-son conflict that dictated John receive psychotherapy.

Jessica Barmack, John's Daughter

I remember a moment when I was five or six, and my relationship with my grandfather took a decisive turn. We were outside in the back yard, where he had installed a fantastic dinosaur birdbath which he had constructed in the basement, his metal shop. It had green metal leaves hanging loosely from its mouth, (clearly an herbivore, not a predator--an important point).  The birds loved the bath, and I loved the dinosaur.

My grandfather also had, scattered throughout the house, other small, but no less fanciful creatures made of silverware, coins, broken umbrellas and other durable bits: A giraffe, an ostrich with a hole (in the base of the sculpture) in which to hide its head.

In addition to all of this, my grandfather had strung up a lawn chair with naval rope from the tall evergreens in his front yard. I, or one of my cousins, would sit in the lawn chair. Grandpa fastened a seatbelt that he had fashioned across our lap; and then, using some kind of pulley that he had devised, he would hoist the chair up and pull on another rope, and we would swing very high in an arc through the air, twenty or thirty feet off the ground.  We never tired of it.

For all of that, my grandfather, until this one summer afternoon when we were grilling steaks outside, had struck me as a forbidding character. I felt shy around him. I didn't even know what to call him. Everyone else called him Jeb, but that didn't seem fitting for me. So, with my mother nearby, I ventured to give him a name that I would call him, which was Grandpa.

I don't remember exactly what I said--the words I used to dub him. It was probably something like, "I like the dinosaur, Grandpa." What I do remember well is how his face changed when he heard me call him Grandpa.  Evidently, he approved. That always-stern, impassive expression yielded to something soft, warm, sweet, and easily moved to sentiment.

This glimpse beneath the Teflon surface was not lost on me.

My father never caught a glimpse of that side of Grandpa: behind the fortifications that he must have had his reasons for building.  Of course, young granddaughters, (like  gentle dogs), can often slip past the guards and find themselves suddenly in the sunny courtyard of the castle.

My grandfather never managed to tell me in words that he loved me, but from that point on, I was never in doubt. I imagined that his love was so great, that he had to hold it back lest it burst forth like a flash flood, overwhelming those he loved, and emptying out himself. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe his emotions were thin and tepid. But the eyes suggested otherwise.

Both my grandfather and my father, I think, wrestled with their emotions, but in different ways. My father's feelings were more apparent, except when they became heavy and wore him down. At such times, he seemed to sink under the weight of that cloak, becoming still and absent, like a stone.  My grandfather, by contrast, could be inscrutable and withholding, but no less intense. Except for boating, they challenged their energies differently.

Boating was something positive that my grandfather and father could share, and into which they could pour all their talents, energy, and (in my father's case) considerable muscle.  They both continued to sail long after my father and his brother Neal left home and struck out on their own.

Jeb was content to own a relatively small daysailer, yet loved to race any boat within view.

My father went on to bigger and bigger boats. He became involved in multihulls early on (1975), which  combined size and speed.  Dad had one of the first big sailing catamarans (28') in the Boston area, named Two If By Sea.  She was so fast, (28 knots per hour), that she was not allowed to race against monohulls (with top speeds of 13-14 kph). There would be no contest: Dad would have left them all far behind.

My father would buy as much boat as he could possibly manage, and then some.  He took risks, and capsized his own boats intentionally or unintentionally several times. He sought out and won the friendship of some of the finest boat designers, builders, and engineers of his day. He learned to use a sextant, and pushed the limits of his skills in navigation and racing.

I was on Two If By Sea at 1 am one cold Atlantic night when we were sailing back from Cape Cod to Nahant. We were, for some time, lost, and the waves were rising. I knew better than to complain that I was cold, wet, and tired. I wasn't really worried, not terribly. I knew that Dad was lost, mortified, and unhappy at the moment; but I trusted that he could sort it through and figure it out, which he did. We got to our mooring in Nahant only to discover that the dock had been dismantled or washed away. In any event, it was gone, so there was no way to shore from our mooring except to get in the water.  But the tide was high, and there was no beach: just a steep seawall bordered by large rocks. As we deliberated, the tide drew us perilously close to the rocks.

Fortunately, Dad had devoted friends, salt-of-the-earth types who happened to live exactly there, in the very first house beyond the sea wall.  They quickly surmised our predicament, and came out to meet us with a rowboat.  I recall them getting in the water and fending us off the rocks. I remember a few unsuccessful passes at the mooring--my father's beautiful girlfriend at the bow, reaching and missing her mark time and again, and the tension between the two of them building to a crescendo.

There was something my father used to say about that particular boat that gave me courage that night, and which speaks directly to who my father was. He would remind me that the hulls of Two If By Sea were made of fiberglass, which floated. Even if she capsized, she would float. Even if she was broken into bits, each bit would float. There would always be something to hold on to, and by which to stay afloat.

That, in a nutshell, was my dad: pitched in battle against the elements--wind and sea, and his own nature.  I think he would have found his true calling as a captain in the era of tall boats. Of course, he couldn't have been a whaler; he was far too sensitive for that.

Two If By Sea just outside of Boston Harbor in front of the Regina Maris.

Excerpts from "The Lure of Catamarans" by John Barmack

Multihull enthusiasts tended to be advanced tinkerers who flouted convention and were willing to try out new ideas. To be sure, not all of these ideas were good ones, nor did they always produce structurally sound or esthetically pleasing vessels. The spirit of adventure demonstrated by multihull enthusiasts, however, produced numerous innovations the cumulative contributions of which in recent times have trashed most of the known ocean racing records.

I became particularly interested in the work of...West Coast cat designer Hugo Myers, a Ph.D. in applied mathematics, who used his computer and engineering skills to...optimize speed in catamaran hull design.

An inveterate tinkerer, I decided that I wanted to make a few changes in the design [of the molds for the hulls of the boat that would become Two If By Sea]. Fully prepared for an avalanche of scientific reasons why my ideas were outrageously foolish, I called Dr. Myers and asked about: changing the cross beams from H-beams to circular tubes for esthetic reasons; moving the aft cross beam back two feet to shorten the tillers, [etcetera]. After a pause which I imagined was his effort to figure out how to deal with this nut case, Hugo responded, "Sounds good, John. Try it and let me know how it works out."

The first race in which Two If By Sea was entered included both monohulls and multihulls and was run out of Boston Harbor on a windy day. My friend Peter diCicco was crew, and the multihulls were the last of three groups to get the starting gun. By the first mark, we had passed all but a few of the largest boats. By the finish, no one else was in sight and the committee boat was not yet back on station, as they did not expect any boat to finish so quickly.

Multihull sailors were generally treated by owners of traditional boats with disdain, begrudging curiosity, or as freaks. I enjoyed playing on their prejudices by sailing in among them at speeds twice what they could achieve--relishing their vain efforts to pretend not to see us as we passed them to leeward--very adolescent, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Excerpts from "Catamaran Capsize" by John Barmack

Tom and Nigel Bligh sailed by in their MacGregor 36 HMS Bounty as I was at my mooring and suggested that I sail with them that afternoon, as I was alone. Instead of taking them up on their kind offer, I challenged them to a race to Cuttyhunk Island and said I would give them a head start of the time it would take me to complete getting underway. Off they went, and I followed ten minutes later.

Alliance [John's catamaran, also a MacGregor 36] was speeding along in the mid-teens on a close reach as she cleared Padanaram Harbor, and I was confident that I would catch HMS Bounty. As Alliance came out from the protection of the shore, a gust hit and lifted the weather hull high in the air. I lost my balance and slid down the trampoline to the lee side, which put me out of reach of the sheet releases.

Alliance tried her best to keep from going over and hung there for what seemed like forever (perhaps five seconds). I desperately tried to claw my way back up to the weather side to release the sheets, but was too late to prevent capsize.

The mast did not go under right away, giving me time to launch the retrieve gear that floated free of the cabin. Alliance slowly settled into a fully capsized position, with the bows high and the sterns partially sunk.

I set about putting my idea for righting her into practice. I rerouted the anchor bridle to the underside of Alliance (now facing up) and led the anchor line aft between the hulls. A passing fishing boat offered assistance. I passed him the anchor line and asked him to tow the overturned cat directly aft, slowly. The sterns sunk further, creating their own braking force; the mast and sails acted as a brake, too, and the bows came up and over with the mast and sails undamaged from the experience.

Alliance was safely at her mooring and free of all water within an hour. I was making my way to shore on the New Bedford Yacht Club launch, thinking that I might just get away without being ribbed unmercifully by Tom Bligh. But then I looked back at Alliance and, to my chagrin, observed that the top six feet of the mast was covered with mud. That did not go undetected by the good Captain Bligh.