Digest>Archives> Jul/Aug 2020

The Old Skipper Reaches Port

By Dr. Edwin A. Brown


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Vintage image of Michigan’s St Martin Island ...

Editor’s Note: The following story is from the “Messenger,” as told by Dr. Edwin A. Brown of the Westside Methodist Church in West Lake, Ohio in July of 1961.

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This image of St. Martin Island Lighthouse keeper ...

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Norris Mihill Works (1873-1962) was the ...

My admiration for the great Indian leader and saint, Mahatma Gandhi, once led to a long and enduring friendship.

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Dr. Edwin A. Brown who wrote this story in 1961 ...

Years ago when I was a pastor in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I was searching for a place where I could spend a few days – following the Gandhi idea – in solitude. Mr. Norris M. Works, the Assistant Superintendent of Lighthouses in northern Lake Michigan, who was a member of my church, suggested that I contact David Kincaide on lonely St. Martin Island at the north end of the lake. I wrote “The Skipper,” as I soon learned to call him, and he invited me to be his guest at the lighthouse. Thus began a friendship that deepened and grew richer across twenty-six years.

He met me on Washington Island and took me over to St. Martin Island Light Station in the lighthouse boat.

Each day after breakfast, I would pack my knapsack and hike over those lonely and rock-strewn shores rarely trod by human feet. Only those who have practiced being utterly alone with oneself and God, in such a setting, can know the indescribable peace and serenity that comes to the soul. I shall never forget those days if I live a thousand years.

It was in the hours that I spent with the Skipper at the lighthouse, watching him work, imbibing the lore of the lakes, that I learned to admire and love him. He seemed to sense what I wanted, and he went out of his way to make it possible. One evening, just at sunset, he let me spend a memorable hour alone at the top of the lighthouse, 75 feet up. The lake was quiet and one could see it reaching away for miles on every side, save that of the island whose cedars and birches stood dark against the setting sun. “The hush of evening” (how little we who live in the city understand what that means) was over all.

On another evening, I noticed that a bell-buoy some three miles out in the ship channel had gone out. The next morning, with a high sea running, the Skipper prepared to go out and light it. He asked me to go, but with one look at the sea, I declined. A mile off shore, and his boat would go out of sight in the trough of the waves. It was only because he was a superb seaman that he was able to bring his skiff up to that huge buoy heaving in the sea, make it fast, climb on the buoy, re-light it, and get home safely.

He gave me the most terrifying and the most wonderful ride of my life on my way home after my first visit. We were up at 4:30a.m., and he came back from the dock saying: “The sea is rising, and if we don’t get away from the dock in fifteen minutes, we can’t get away at all.” That was a bit disturbing, but it was even more so when the boat shot down the runway into the lake and a great wave hit it and tumbled me down beside the engine. My fear subsided a bit when I saw him turn and smile at me. That was a memorable ride, as our small boat rode those great seas for an hour. He let me take the wheel as we neared the harbor on Washington Island.

We were yearly visitors at the home of the old Skipper in the years of his retirement on Washington Island. For nearly ten years of that time, his wife was an invalid, and part of that time he took care of her like a baby. I have never seen greater devotion nor tenderness. Through it all, he kept his home as immaculate as he had kept the lighthouse.

The “Old Skipper” knew danger. Once, while he was keeper at the Racine Reef Lighthouse, the foundation cracked in the great storm of 1911, but there was no way to escape. Once in mid-winter, he started to walk to St. Martin Island over the ice when a snowstorm obscured the landmarks, and it was only by following a wolf that he saw in the distance that he kept from walking out into the lake.

Another time as he neared St. Martin Island and was fighting heavy seas, the wind suddenly turned and pushed his boat steadily toward the cliffs. Suddenly, a big sea hit the boat and rolled it over on its side so that the water began to come in at the window by the wheel. “I was just getting ready to get out and walk,” he said to me with a smile, “when it rolled back and I was able to make it around the point.” Such experiences leave a mark on a man.

For 32 years, I believe it was, that David P. Kincaide, Jr. was the keeper of the St. Martin Island Lighthouse. For most of those years, he was kept from attending church and he never joined one. But I got a glimpse of his deeper side when I was on St. Martin Island with the sky full of stars. I had walked down to the dock and was sitting there alone, listening to the whispering of the water at my feet and the mysterious sound coming from the forest. After a while, I saw him coming down through the night. He seated himself by my side, and for a while he was quiet, and then with a sweep of his hand to the sky, he said, “No man can see that, without believing in God, can he?” Then we sat for a while in silent communion with each other and with God under the wonder of the night sky.

I saw him twice this past spring, after two coronary attacks had laid him low. The last time I saw him, we prayed together. A few weeks later, without warning, the summons came: “the Old Skipper” reached port.

“O Lord, the Old Skipper was not a saint, but he had the making of a saint within him. And when, by Thy forgiving grace, the disciplined of Thy Spirit have done their perfect work in him, if you can, a light to care for and he will be happy. Amen.”

This story appeared in the Jul/Aug 2020 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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