Jerry Solom has died. He has sailed to the edge of the known world and has sailed over the edge. Which has left his friends and family here on the shore bereft. Jerry was fortunate to have a large family who loved him. He was someone who was interested in others so he had a multitude of friends. I was fortunate to live near him and have regular access to his friendship.
In fact Jerry was my first friend when Teresa and I moved here to Palmville Township. Jerry and Marion and son Terry had also just moved back to Minnesota from Los Angeles. Jerry's father Helmer, also a machinist, thought Jerry was crazy to give up his good job as an airline mechanic. But Jerry wanted to get back to the place he grew up and start his own machine shop.
Jerry and Marion bought an old farm on County Road 122 four miles south of Wannaska. They were both happy to be back among their large extended families. Jerry built a shop south of Mickinock Creek. The creek lacked a bridge. No problem. Jerry built a bridge. He knew I had fished a big bridge plank from the river by our place one spring. and asked if he could use it for his bridge. That plank earned me a lifetime of free repairs to my broken metal items.
Farmers are always breaking their implements, so Jerry was well positioned to make a living. Soon Jerry's reputation spread and he was as busy as he wanted to be. He had a portable welding unit and when he drove out to a farm, he was able to decree that all the parts on the implement between him and the broken section be removed so he could get right to work and move on to the next job.
Jerry's grandfather had been a blacksmith in Greenbush. In a corner of Jerry's shop stood Andrew's forge and tools. Jerry still used the forge for odd jobs such as bending iron rods. He was giving me a demonstration one day when one of the rods burned in half. "That's why you don't want to have too many irons in the fire," Jerry said.
Jerry didn't take his own advice. Building the Indian Summer is the prime example. Jerry and I used to swap books and his favorite subject was ships and the sea. When he started building a 38 foot steel sailboat, no one questioned his ability to do it. The question was why. The first step was to build a rough wooden addition to the shop out of popple poles and slabs to shelter the vessel's frame. Jerry worked in this unheated shed in all seasons, attaching the sheet metal sides and deck to the frame. Jerry and Marion took adult woodworking at the high school during winter evenings to make Indian Summer's cabin furniture. Jerry even built the ship's wheel.
As the years went by, Jerry roughed out a scheme to get the boat down the Mississippi and into the Gulf of Mexico, 1300 miles away. Sailing out of sight of land would require preparation. Jerry studied navigation. He studied Morse code. He learned how to bake bread on a stove top. Finally, in 1992, everything was ready. The popple shed was removed and the crowd cheered as Indian Summer was christened.
Soon after, a semi arrived to transport Indian Summer to the St. Croix River just north of the Twin Cities. Jerry kept his fingers crossed as the hull was lowered into the water, and was relieved when she floated on an even keel. "That was the true test," he said.
That summer, Jerry, Marion, and daughters Mary and Erin motored down the Mississippi as far as St. Louis. The next spring, there was a great flood on the river and Jerry checked nervously with the marina where he had stored Indian Summer. The marina assured him they were screwing extensions onto the pilings his boat was tied to.
That fall, Jerry went south with our son Matt to continue on to New Orleans. Now the river was so low they couldn't get out of the marina and into the river. They returned to Minnesota so Jerry could fabricate homemade dredging equipment, then returned to the marina in the spring. Soon Indian Summer was on her way to New Orleans.
Over the next few years, Jerry made a series of test runs out into the Gulf and down to the Caribbean, honing his skills for the big one, the trip to Norway. Thanks to all his preparation, the trip across the Atlantic went well, with a crew of Terry and another adventurous friend. Jerry was always able to recruit a crew of people with romantic notions of the sea. Some came back for more. Some burned their sailor suits. None ever forgot their time with Jerry.
On the trip to Norway, Jerry stopped in the Shetland Islands north of Scotland. Marion flew to Norway then took a boat to the Shetlands to join Jerry for the final leg to Bergan. They spent the rest of the summer traveling around Norway visiting relatives. Jerry had thoughtfully brought a motorcycle with him to provide transportation. He recalled running into a fellow Minnesotan on a mountain overlook. "This is a joke right? The Minnesota plates," the guy asked. No joke at all.
For the next several years Jerry and Marion cruised along the Atlantic coast of Europe, leaving the boat in marinas for the winter, mainly in Portugal and Ireland. Marion was his faithful First Mate, but her motto was, "The best part of sailing is getting there."
Eventually, Jerry decided the Indian Summer needed to come home. He put out requests for a crew. Terry signed on immediately. A crew of three would be ideal. One member would stand a two hour watch, and then have four hours off for R&R. But that third crew member never appeared. Going west to east across the Atlantic is relatively easy. Coming the other way, you're fighting the current. The third person must have heard about that, because it was just Jerry and Terry who set off from the Hebrides with a full load of water and provisions in late June of 2008.
Two things stand out for me about that trip. Jerry said that during the six week voyage, he and Terry were always wet. There were no big storms, and a few days were calm and warm, but usually the waves were throwing water onto the helmsman. Even the best foul weather gear was not proof against the sea. The best they could hope for was to lay their socks on their chest during the four hours they slept so they'd have at least one dry item when they went back on watch.
The other noteworthy event was replacing the jib halyard at sea. The jib halyard is the line used for raising and lowering the jib, or foresail. During one of his watches, Jerry noticed the jib halyard was fraying at the top of the mast. It would be a very, very bad thing if this line gave way in rough weather. So on one of those calm days, Jerry lowered the foresail and then had Terry hoist him to the top of the mast to run a new line down inside the hollow aluminum mast. When I say "calm day" that is a relative term. Jerry was getting an ultimate carnival ride pitching atop the fifty foot mast. Back on deck, Jerry dug out a small bottle of rum with a couple of swigs left in it, and he and Terry toasted their mission accomplished.
They continued on to Stonington, Maine where my brother Bill lives. It's always good to see a friendly face in a new port. Over the years, Jerry has dealt with many storms, but his biggest challenge was his battle with leukemia. Jerry came out on top, with tremendous support from his family, and his crew at the Mayo Clinic, but the one year ordeal took its toll. He continued to work in the machine shop (no job too big) and sail summers with his family along the coast of Maine.
In 2015, Jerry decided to sail Indian Summer to Florida for a change of scene. I suggested to Steve Reynolds that we go along on the Maine to Boston leg, a journey of 150 nautical miles. "We've been writing about Jerry and his boat in The Raven for the past twenty years," I told Steve. "It's time we actually sailed with him." Steve leapt at the opportunity. We made our way to Stonington and spent four nights and three days cruising across the Gulf of Maine to the seaside town of Hull, south of Boston, where my family lives.
A number of minor things went wrong along the way, things that Jerry knew beforehand would probably go wrong. He also knew he could fix anything that could break on the boat. In fact Jerry liked the challenge of fixing things as they broke. Sure, we could have been enjoying the comforts of the shore a half day sooner, but what could be better than bobbing along on the open sea, under a blue sky, with people you love and who love you back?