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About Mike Jastrzebski
From Writer to Sailor and Back.
All my life I’ve been a reader, a writer, and a wanderer.
By the time I was six, I was reading up to two books a week. I read every Hardy Boys book I could get my hands on, but back then the closest libraries refused to put that kind of literary trash in our hands. Still, reading was my passion and my grades suffered for it, but I couldn’t break the habit. Mysteries, fantasies, science fiction, westerns, it didn’t seem to matter.
I wrote my first short story when I was seven.
After I finished school, I tried to fit writing into the everyday work routine of a regular job, mostly sales and management. Not a lot, but a little here, a little there. It always seemed like there was never enough time to write and read and work. I even opened a bookstore with the hope it would give me more time to write. Of course, that didn’t happen. I wrote less than ever.
I guess I’m a slow learner.
When I was in my mid-twenties, I bought a VW van. The purchase was followed by a brilliant idea I had. I figured my wife and I could move to Maine with our two-year-old son, and I would build a log cabin and write. For some reason she agreed. We lived in a tent for seven months while I built a 16’x20’ cabin, but by the time I finished we were out of money. So, I went to work in a local woolen mill. We lived in Maine for two years and during that time I wrote short stories, and although I received nice rejections, I didn’t sell any of my work.
After leaving Maine we eventually ended up in Minnesota.
We owned and operated two sewing machine stores, and we bought a 100-year-old farmhouse with two barns attached to each other. The one barn was enormous, but the other barn was waiting to fall apart. I tore it down and did enough work on the large barn to make it sound. It’s still standing thirty plus years later. I also gutted and remodeled the farmhouse while we raised our kids. Eventually we divorced.
That’s when I met Mary. What a trip that turned out to be!
Mary and a friend who had a boat taught me how to sail, then we bought a twenty-five-year-old 36’ Islander sailboat, but the boat was docked in a marina in Hammond Indiana. That meant we had to move the boat somewhere closer to where we lived. With the help of four friends, one of whom was a minister, we began our first adventure together. We sailed the boat all the way up Lake Michigan, and as we approached the Mackinac Bridge, Mary and I got married on the boat in the middle of Lake Michigan. We then traveled through the Soo Locks and across Lake Superior to a marina near Duluth, Minnesota. Between this marina and the Knife River Marina further up the North Shore, we spent three years sailing on Lake Superior.
Then Mary said, “Mike you need to quit your job.”
Why? Because Mary was all in for my writing, but first my new job was to get our boat, Rough Draft, ready for cruising so we could live and travel on the boat full time. Now if you’re not familiar with Minnesota, it gets blistering cold. It was not unusual to have windchill temperatures of 30 degrees below zero for days on end, and lots and lots of snow. That meant we had to take the boat further south. So, we had the boat trucked to a boatyard closer to where we lived, and I worked on getting the boat ready for cruising when the weather was nice, and I wrote Mind Demons during the bad weather.
Bon voyage winters.
In the summer of 2003, we had Rough Draft trucked to Lake Pepin along the Mississippi River. We moved aboard then sailed Rough Draft down the Mississippi to the Ohio River. Halfway along the Ohio our engine quit, and we had to be towed to Kentucky Lake for repairs. A week later and after a short trip down the Kentucky River we entered the Tennessee Tombigby Waterway. We motored down the Waterway into Mobile Bay and the Dog River in Mobile, Alabama.
The curse of Hurricane Katrina.
We lived in Mobile for two years as I worked on my writing, while Mary took a job as a massage therapist at the Marriot Hotel across the bay from Mobile. I wrote Dog River Blues while we were living on the boat in Mobile.
Hurricane Katrina not only washed away Mary’s job, but it also ran our boat up into someone’s back yard along the river. It took several days to find the boat and we were lucky nothing had been stolen, but Rough Draft was stuck in the muddy ground nestled next to two other sailboats. We were lucky we had insurance on the boat. Most of the damage to the boat, over $17,000 worth, was cosmetic, so we had it hoisted back into the river. A lot of work and six months later, we were headed to Key West.
Key West, strange acquaintances and writing at anchor.
It’s true, there are a lot of strange people in Key West, but that’s what makes the Keys interesting. We anchored in the Garrison Bight Mooring field and once again Mary went to work doing massage therapy and I wrote Key Lime Blues while living in the mooring field. We only stayed in Key West for three months. Mary had only been able to get part time work and the spa planned on closing for renovations, so we moved on.
I met writers galore.
Our next stop was Fort Lauderdale, where we docked the boat behind a small apartment complex built in the 1940’s. We stayed there for five years. The first day we were there we ran into author Christine Kling, who I had met the previous year at a writers’ conference. Chris docked her boat at the next complex over from where we were, and we became good friends. As there were only a dozen or so people living in our complex, we got to know them all. During the time we lived in Fort Lauderdale I met and became friends with many writers, some of whom were members of a writers group I joined. I wrote and published The Storm Killer followed by Key Lime Blues, Mind Demons, and Dog River Blues.
The most interesting person I’ve ever met.
We met Big John McLaughlin one morning at the beach. It was only a one mile walk to the beach so Mary and I would go there for coffee three or four mornings a week. We met a couple, Bob and Betty, who we became friends with, and we would sit in our folding chairs under a small grove of palm trees and drink coffee as we got to know each other. One morning Big John came by and joined us for coffee, and soon it was a regular get-together. What made Big John so interesting? Big John was a Hollywood stunt diver, a shark wrangler, a treasure hunter, and more. John would tell us stories, and frankly they were so wild, that I found it hard to believe him. Then we’d go back to the boat and there would be an email from John complete with pictures that validated every story he told. I kept in touch occasionally with John until he died in 2020 at the age of 93. I’d give anything to hear just one more of his stories.
On to the Bahamas.
We made two trips to the Bahamas, buddy boating with Christine Kling. The trip from Lauderdale to Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas was 179 miles, and we ran into quite a few sailors we knew. The second trip was not quite as fun. Our engine began overheating by the time we reached the Bahamas. Despite our engine troubles we were able to make our way to Marsh Harbor where we sat at anchor while I wrote Stranded Naked Blues. We were able to sail most of the way back to the states and I was then able to fix the overheating problem.
Coming to an end.
I fixed the engine and we headed to St. Augustine, Florida where we spent a year writing and enjoying the history of the city. From there we headed up to Chesapeake Bay, then back down to Florida. We stayed at the Titusville Marina upon our return where I wrote Drop Dead, Gorgeous and the first draft of Witch Haven, Florida. After weathering three more hurricanes we sold the boat and moved to Dothan, Alabama where I continue to write. In total, we spent sixteen years living and traveling on our sailboat, Rough Draft.
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