LEWISTON – Growing up here in the 1940s and ’50s, Clyde Longfellow’s greatest ambition was to one day win the Lewiston Roundup’s saddle bronc competition.
The former rodeo cowboy, now 67, reached that goal twice before a vehicle accident kept him from competing any more. Then his thoughts turned to other pursuits.
“I thought, what else do I really want to do? The one thing that came to mind was sailing,” said Longfellow, who returned to Lewiston from Hermiston, Ore., recently to help work the chutes at the Roundup.
Sailboats may not be an obvious alternative to bucking horses, but for Longfellow the attraction started many years ago, when he and his family were sent by battleship to Okinawa, where his father was stationed.
“I loved every minute of that trip,” he said. “I was probably 7 or 8 years old. I just thought it was the coolest thing going across the water, the constant movement, and I loved the way the water curled off the bow. I got into rodeoing when I was 18 or 19, but I never forgot how much I enjoyed that trip.”
As he got older and his kids grew up, Longfellow began spending more time on boats. He started out with a rowboat, then a small motorboat, and finally a 21-foot powerboat that he took around on weekends.
“Then it got to the point where weekends weren’t long enough,” he said. “That’s where the sailboat kicked in. I took a couple of sailing lessons over about a five-year span. Then I saw two boats on the Internet, in San Diego. I spent a month shopping around there. I saw this one and made an offer; it was the best-equipped boat I could find.”
The sailboat he finally settled on was a 32-footer manufactured by Downeast, named Kismet.
“I was going to put on it No Fences, but it’s bad luck to change the name,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.”
Although he’d never been sailing on the open ocean, Longfellow saddled Kismet up, turned north out of the San Diego harbor and headed to Portland.
“There was one time the wind was blowing about 40, 45 miles per hour. The boat was diving into waves and popping up. That made me kind of nervous,” he said, “but then I thought, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I figured out how to get the sails up and that smoothed things out.”
In the four years he’s had the boat, Longfellow has taken a couple of lengthy trips to the San Juan Islands and farther north into British Columbia. He dreams of sailing to Mexico, then crossing over the Pacific Ocean to the Polynesian islands.
“I just came back (from the San Juans) about three weeks ago,” he said. “I go fishing and crabbing. I saw a lot of whales – killer and humpbacks. One day I got into 300 or 400 dolphins. From a distance I just saw ripples on the surface and thought the wind was coming up. Then I went right through the middle of them and they were diving under the boat. Another time, going through the Straight of Juan de Fuca, I saw a jellyfish. Then pretty soon, I saw about a million more out there.”
Longfellow said he doesn’t meet many cowboys out on the ocean, but he enjoys it all the same.
“I always sail alone,” he said. “But I rodeoed alone, drove truck alone. I’m totally comfortable with myself.”