Great Lakes’ sailors often have one thing in common – a fascination and respect for the water. Following are the experiences and memories Caseville native Mike Quinn shared with me in the form of a written memoir, which he complemented with additional sailing memories during a 2014 interview. His journey as a sailor started as a boy growing up on the shores of Saginaw Bay, and a saltwater adventure followed before he made his way to the Great Lakes. All photos are courtesy of Mike Quinn unless otherwise stated.
Mike Quinn, the son of James and Barb Quinn of Caseville, took an early interest in boats and the water, especially after his mother bought an 18-foot aluminum outboard for her seven children to enjoy on Saginaw Bay. So proficient did the Quinn clan become at water skiing that they would wait for two-foot waves before they bothered to go out. Around the age of 15, Mike, along with his two younger brothers, went on their first big adventure – a trip out to Charity Island. Mike appreciated growing up in Caseville on the shores of Saginaw Bay, a place with an island offshore, the island complete with an abandoned lighthouse to explore.
When Mike was only seven years old, his dad died. His mom, who would have a 30-year career teaching school in Caseville, took her seven children on summer vacations that included seeing the sights in Florida, Maine, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and more. As a result, Mike caught the traveling bug.
With Mike’s combined love of traveling and spending time on the water, he decided to make a living keeping both his passions in mind. After graduating from Caseville High School in 1968, Mike traveled to Kings Point, New York, where he would attend the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. The Academy was a four-year college. Cadets would spend the first year in the classroom before going out to sea during the second year; the final two years would involve additional classroom time.
Mike quickly learned there were many rituals a first-year cadet, or plebe, had to endure. Some of these rituals made sense, others not so much. When walking in a hallway in any building, new cadets had to walk six inches from the starboard, or right, wall, leaving the rest of the hallway open for upperclassmen. First-year cadets were not allowed to leave the Academy’s grounds until later in the first year, and another lesson Mike immediately learned was posture during mealtime: A cadet needed to sit upright at the mess hall table with his stomach touching the table.
While many lessons were learned in the classroom that first year, others – not so scholarly – were learned outside of it. One standout memory came to be when, the night before a home football game against Hofstra University, a night patrol guarding campus discovered a bunch of “long hairs” trying to burn an “H” in the middle of the football field. A few of the offending “long hairs” were captured and taken back to the Academy’s barracks. There, the trespassers were promptly relieved of their long hair – with their newly shaved heads, the vandals might have even passed for cadets!
New York State Maritime College, located at Fort Schuyler, was located just across Little Neck Bay from Kings Point. They had their own large training ship that was docked right at their school. Someone in Mike’s company had the bright idea to row the mile and a half across the bay to leave their mark. And so it was on a chilly November night, 11 men – Mike included – quietly lowered a lifeboat into Long Island Sound taking extra care not to make any noise lest their secret mission be revealed before they could complete it. They rowed in the dark across Little Neck Bay and painted on the side of the training ship in twelve-foot-high letters “KP 72,” their graduation year. The side of the ship faced the Throgs Neck Bridge and was on display for all to see!
The Merchant Marine Academy provided many memorable experiences for Mike, one of which took place on January 20, 1969: the Academy bused their entire student body – 14 buses filled with 900 cadets – from Long Island to Washington D.C. where they marched in Richard Nixon’s Inauguration Day Parade. Imagine the urinal lines when this bus caravan pulled into a rest stop for a bathroom break!
Be sure to look for the continuation next month to learn more about Mike's saltwater experiences before he eventually sails on the Great Lakes...
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