WINTRHOP HARBOR, Ill. — Two books rest next to each other on the bookshelf in the rear bedroom of Bob Meador’s sailboat, “Moondance.”
The one to the right is called “Trouble Shooting Marine Diesels” and the book on the left has “United Methodist Hymnal” printed down the spine.
Meador is going to need both this weekend.
The 51-year-old Mendota resident and pastor of the Ohio and Red Oak United Methodist Churches will be competing in the Great Lakes Singlehanded Society’s race from Chicago to Mackinac Island at the northern tip of Michigan beginning Saturday morning.
The solo trip could take Meador three days to finish. That’s three days by himself on Lake Michigan with only the waves, his boat and his books to keep him company.
“Certainly there is some level of concern,” Meador says. “It’s 287 miles of sailing, and the most difficult part of it in terms of navigation and boat management is the last part where I’ll be the most tired.”
Meador will only be able to sleep 20-30 minutes at a time during the trip, though he will certainly take a number of naps. While sleeping, the sailboat will be on autopilot and the radar will alert him immediately if something like land or other boats gets within a dangerous range of Moondance.
This is Meador’s first attempt at the 9-year-old race, a precursor to the more famous 100-year-old Chicago-to-Mackinac Island Sailboat Race that begins in late July. The difference between the two races is that Meador will be by himself while the latter sailboat racers will have crews.
“It’s the challenge, the adventure, to help establish for myself that I can do it,” Meador says. “That being over 50, I’m not ancient yet.”
This is no mid-life crisis, though. This will be a spiritual journey for Meador as much as a physical one. He has been a Methodist pastor for five years and is married to the pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Mendota, Maryann Meador.
“For me, it really is a spiritual experience,” Meador says. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to get close to God. Sailing is being totally at the mercy of wind and waves, a part of the energy of God’s creation. It’s a chance — especially when I’m out sailing alone — it’s a chance to communicate with God in ways that aren’t as easy for me to do in a faith-filled community. Although I do communicate with God in that context, too.”
After going to a skipper’s meeting in Chicago on Thursday, Meador will be visiting two members of his congregation with health problems today before going back to Winthrop Harbor on the border of Illinois and Wisconsin to take his boat to Chicago for the Saturday race.
On Wednesday, Meador was getting his boat ready for the race at Winthrop Harbor. He’s a young-looking 51 with medium-length blonde hair and a beard that can’t decide between blond and gray. He has no socks on with his loafers and has on a purple shirt that would look right on either a ship’s captain or a Methodist pastor.
“Sailing is part of my self-care,” Meador says. “It’s part of my spiritual renewal. I don’t think there’s any way to get closer to God, at least for me, than to put myself in nature’s hands, which is what sailing’s all about.”
Meador has been sailing since he was 4 years old but hasn’t been in a competitive race in 25 years. He raced 182-pound boats in high school in Dallas, Tex., but then quit racing not long after graduating from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.
“As a teenager and young adult, I did race sailboats and it was always a lot of fun, a lot of challenges,” Meador says. “Occasionally it was very important to win. But mostly it was important to compete, try to get the best out of the boat, to do the best that you could. And I still like that.”
This new race will be quite different from those races, though.
It will be the longest he has ever been on water by himself, and this boat weighs 29,000 pounds.
“In my later years, I’ve done quite a bit of cruising on sailboats in open water, larger boats like this one,” Meador says. “And I very much enjoy that. I enjoy the ability to get up and leave the wheel and go fix a cup of coffee and come back and everything still be going.”
He will be taking every precaution with this race from upping his calorie intake from 2,000 to 5,000 a day to a boatload of safety equipment that will cover almost any eventuality in the Coast Guard-monitored race.
“There is concern there,” Meador says. “Enough that I’m going to make a very sincere effort to pace myself, to get some rest, to keep the energy intake — the proteins and the calories — up there so that I will be able to handle that part, to be able to deal with whatever happens if something on the boat breaks. A sailboat is using the wind — the more of it, the better — and putting a lot of stress on the systems. There is a tendency for things to break.”
Meador plans on averaging 5-6 knots to Mackinac Island, while some of the other boats will go much faster, finishing the race in 18-20 hours. But speed isn’t nearly as important to Meador as safety and enjoying himself on the trip.
“I’m going to be reasonably comfortable on this trip,” Meador says. He says he is looking forward to watching the sun set with a bag of popcorn and a mug of hot chocolate.
He has a fully equipped kitchen beneath the deck with a stove, a microwave and a refrigerator, though he doesn’t plan on cooking much.
For the most part, he’ll eat snack foods like beef jerky, nuts, chips and salsa to keep his energy up on the long journey.
“It’s not a time to be concerned about a diet,” Meador says.
He’ll have plenty of other things to be concerned with on this trip, though, like making it to Mackinac Island “still on the boat and the boat still on water.”
But Meador has faith he will make it along with two certain books on his shelf he can consult if he’s ever in need of spiritual or maritime maintenance.
“I’m not sure whether this experience is going to have an element of ordeal in it or just adventure,” Meador says. “If it’s an ordeal, I’m not necessarily anxious to put myself through challenges that are difficult if I’ve already done it. But if it’s fun, if it’s an adventure, and certainly I may do it again.”