Former Iowa Congressman and U.S. Senator John Culver was among those who eulogized Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy in Boston last night.
Culver met Kennedy in 1950 when the two were freshmen at Harvard, but it was a story about an event in 1953 when the two were in summer school. Over the course of about 15 minutes, Culver told the story of his first sailing trip on Kennedy’s boat and it had the crowd erupting in gales of laughter.
“We only got about 200 miracle yards out and I lost the, um, sandwiches,” Culver said, tactfully explaining how was overcome with nausea on the boat. The crowd erupted in laughter. “I thought I was going to die and I’ve never been so miserable and I’m hanging over the side of the boat and he’s screaming at me.”
According to Culver’s account, it was a nearly a gale the day he and Kennedy set out on the 26-foot boat.“This friend of mine that I thought I knew quite well started screaming at me, shouting at me. I was terrified and after a while I was more terrified of him than the storm,” Culver said. “…So he kept screaming at me: The spinnaker! The jib! The port side! Secure that, you know, whatever!’ — and you know, Ted’s not always easy to understand when you know what he’s talking about.” Culver’s story was being punctuated with laughter from the assembled friends and family, but at this point the crowd both laughed and applauded.
“The incredible roar, now, of the ocean and the waves and this little, tiny — it’s like a cork on the (ocean) and we’re being bounced all over — and it’s my fault!” Culver said, to more laughter. As Culver tells the story, he had warned Kennedy he was no sailor.
“I said, ‘I come from Iowa and the only boats I ever saw were barges on the Mississippi River. And he said, ‘There’s nothing to it. There’s nothing to it,'” Culver said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “How many times did we all hear Ted say: ‘There’s nothing to it?'”
Culver’s first sailing trip lasted more than 48 hours, involved sleeping overnight in the boat, and a sailing competition he did not comprehend.
“I didn’t even see any of the other boats, but we kept going around and around and around,” Culver said. “Finally, this thing was mercifully over and Ted seemed satisfied. Probably I was satisfied — I lived through it.”
The emcee introduced the chorus to sing another song after Culver’s turn at the microphone, joking that they might not be able to sing because their sides may have been in stitches from all the laughter Culver’s tale had engendered. However, Culver’s speech had concluded with a poignant farewell.
“In the following years I was very, very fortunate to take many, many sailboat trips with Ted…always full of fun, always full of joy and full of laughter and Ted was awfully good about it — I never learned to sail and but Teddy always gave me a pass on those voyages and for that I’m always grateful and for those memories. Smooth sailing, Teddy,” Culver said, then gestured to Kennedy’s coffin, ending with: “Talk to you” — a reference to meeting up with Kennedy again on a distant shore.
Culver is the father of Iowa Governor Chet Culver and both father and son were at the invitation-only celebration last night in Boston.