Limulus The Man
Were someone to write a book about our father, they might consider calling it Limulus, The Man.
As many of you gathered here today to remember Dick Fontaine know, he was a long time member, and the son of one of founding fathers of the Low Tide Yacht Club. Low Tide uses the horseshoe crab –know scientifically as Limulus Polyfeemus - as its burgee symbol. Limulus is one of the world’s oldest and most fascinating creatures, having lived on earth some 100 million years before the dinosaur. Yet it inhabits the beaches of the Atlantic coast from Maine to the Yucatan almost exactly as it did eons ago.
Dad proudly displayed the Limulus on his heart, on his hats and on the spreaders of his boats. Like our Dad it is a symbol of longevity, adaptability, stability and sustenance.
A man does not get to be the last surviving member of his family and group of friends without suffering deep and enduring losses. Like the Limulus, Dad was not afraid to shed his old skin, and start a-new in love and marriage, friendship and community. We thank Kathy for being the newest friend that he has brought into our lives. He will be missed by his community at “the Ridge” in Valrico, Florida as deeply as he missed his New Bedford friends and family who passed before him.
For all of his accomplishments it is for his love of family and sailing that he will be most remembered and through which he has cast the widest net - while having never strayed very far from his birth place. He raised his nine children just around the corner from the home that he grew up in at 508 Brock Avenue, in the South End of New Bedford, not more than a mile or so from his sister Claire, her husband Norm and their five children.
He was the model of stability going to work every day for 43 years at the My Bread Baking Company in the North End. He called home every afternoon to see how many loaves of bread Mom needed before arriving for dinner at six o’clock. Often he would go out after dinner to a Serra Club or CFM meeting, a Board of Appeals hearing or to call BINGO on Friday night at St James.
He enjoyed summer afternoons at the pool on East Rodney French overflowing with children and grandchildren, friends and family. He loved his yard full of four seasons of activity from twigging and yard work to wiffle-ball, overnight jamborees, and water stops for road races. He was deeply committed to serving his church and his community but loved nothing more than being at home with his family.
It just so happens that being home also included being at sail on the waters of his beloved Buzzards Bay. Dad grew up with two older brothers, Guy and Roger, who were sailors and they were raised by a father who was also a sailor. (Making me the son of a son of a sailor). His childhood best friends were his cousins Andy and Charlie, also life long sailors. Shortly after Mom and Dad moved our growing family (6 and counting) from Campbell to Butler Street in 1963, Dad began developing issues related to his increased responsibilities at work and at home. By his telling he went to his doctor to discuss his concerns and the doctor agreed that he needed to find a healthy outlet for stress relief. His doctor suggested golf. Dad tried it but didn’t like it.
He knew what he needed and he went out and bought himself a Beetle Cat. Sailing was his balm. He and his growing family quickly outgrew the little cat boat and the cat boat became a Pearson Ensign. The Ensign become one of a fleet of Person 26’s and at one time our family had the Pearson 26, a Rhodes 19 and two Beetle Cats, all moored at Davey’s Locker beach at the foot of Butler Street.
With this little fleet of boats my father lived his dream – being with his family and being in sailboats on Buzzards Bay. It is no coincidence that his two sons have made their living in sailing and sailboats and that all of his children love being on or in the water. Dad passed on the art and religion of sailing to his children and countless others. Anyone who got close to him on the water knew he was the real deal. He preferred sailing a boat with a tiller to one with a wheel because he could “feel it’ better with his fingers on the tiller. As a true sailor he was not afraid, indeed he was called, to get as close to the wind as possible – to that sacred place where skipper and boat meet wind and water to go as fast as physics will allow. He could tell when his competitors were “pinching it”, and he would work their mistake to his advantage.
He was an uncomplicated man in an increasingly complicated world - his compass, the tell-tales on his jib, and his innate instincts were the only instruments he employed. (There were times we all thought he could have used a depth finder. Anyone who ever sailed with our Dad knew when he was in that up-wind groove – he’d be down on the leeward side of the boat as it heeled into the Bay, his short leg fully extended out onto the tiller, his calf twitching, and his jaw clenched to the wind with his Jamerberd often in the lead.
As much as he loved tacking up to the windward mark he knew when to ease the sheets and fall off into a reach. There is no point of sail that he loved more than the broad reach home from Quicks Hole on a Sunday afternoon, his boat laden with family and extended family, the sun falling into the western horizon behind Penikese and Nonquit. He called it a Nantucket Sleigh Ride and we sang our way home on songs our aunts taught us and candy our mother gave us. (If you knew Ellie you know what a special treat that was). Our family, with our Dad at the helm, sailed home among a small fleet of other boats, skippered by his best friends. We were families in community on the water of our father’s youth – living his dream every summer Sunday.
When we made our return approach home off Fort Rodman and passed Old Bartlemy we could feel the heat of the city rising up before us, Dad would hitch up his shorts and, in a round about way, thank God for the good fortune that we enjoyed. (If we were not in church I would let you what he really said).
Our father, our own Limulus, was survivor - a man of deep, enduring, and active faith who will rest in everlasting peace; and he deserves such splendid relief.
He leaves us to carry on in our lives with the hope and optimism that he brought to every day of his full and rich life; one day at a time.
He is in our genes, hearts, minds and in our souls; and in the boys ties.
When you find yourself in deep or troubled waters, doubtful of which way to tack - pray to him. Listen for his voice on the wind. He will be there saying,
“The fog will burn off.”
“The sun will come out.”
“The wind will pick up.”
“Stick with me, kid.”
(Chuck Fontaine, December 5, 2011)