In Remembrance:
Douglas Kohl


by Tom Cox, with assistance from Dave Brandt, Jim Kohl, John Bryngelson and Fritz Kilander

For a number of Ten Mile's long-time south shore residents, many happy memories are of Doug Kohl, who died last October of pancreatic cancer. He was 79. (Doug's obituary can be found here.)

Doug arrived at Ten Mile in 1940 as a teenager when his parents, Wes and Amy Kohl, purchased a cabin at the Shady Shores development just east of the former Camp Hillaway.

It was also in 1940, when I was five, that my family first visited Ten Mile, renting a cabin at Fernhurst, just west of Hillaway. Soon I was old enough to take delighted notice of the little hydroplane - "Bug," Doug called it - that on calm mornings often came zipping by our dock. One day I was thrilled to have the Bug turn my way, buzz in and stop. That was Doug's and my first meeting (he would have been about 20). Hardly had we said hello than he offered me a ride. Of course, I accepted. Off we roared, skimming over the water at what seemed like lightning speed (sans life jacket - no one seemed to worry about them much in those days). So began one of the most influential friendships of my childhood.

As it happened, my parents, Harold and Virginia Cox, were close friends of Larry and June Bryngelson, near neighbors of the Kohls and next-door neighbors to George and Gertrude Brandt, whose son, Dave was a good friend of Doug's. When we visited the Bryngelson's, I often hung around the Brandt boat house watching Dave and Doug work on one of their boat-related projects.

In those days, there was a sign on the outside of the boathouse:


One of Doug's boats was a beautiful wooden 12-foot Larson runabout powered by a "war surplus" 22-horsepower Johnson outboard, the same motor, I believe, that powered Bug I (and its successor, Bug II). I recall thrilling rides in that boat. (I don't recall ever having anteed up the 25 cents.) Doug would drive at speed (probably 21 mph) and then suddenly make a sharp turn, so that the gunnel I was sitting against dipped below the wake. I was thrilled and frightened by those high-speed turns, but Doug assured me that we wouldn't capsize.

Quite a few of us along the south shore learned to water ski behind Doug's runabout. According to Dave, Doug may have had Ten Mile's first water skis. He made them himself by shaping a plain board and then gluing, screwing and bracing a short board on the front to form the tip. The "shoes" were an old pair of moccasins nailed on the boards. They didn't really hold one's feet in very well, but they were safe, because one's feet would slip out quite readily in a fall. Doug could drop one ski and ski on just the other, on which he nailed another moccasin behind the first one. He also built a single ski about 15 inches wide and only 4 feet long with two moccasins side by side. He made the front of the ski by gluing multiple layers of three-quarter inch boards together and then planing them to a nice curve.

I was intensely interested in "Bug I" and "Bug II." When I was about 12, Doug offered to design a "bug" for me. The idea was that I was going to build it myself, but in fact in the summer of '47 or '48 Doug spent a great deal of time under the white pine in front of our cabin with me and my Dad working on that boat. It was really Doug who built it more than we. In later years my sons Geoff and Dave and I went on to build two hydroplanes. But it was Doug who first inspired my interest in boats with his Bug I and Bug II back in the mid-forties.

In time, Doug's interest shifted from power boating to sailing. Dave Brandt recalls that after Doug began to concentrate on catamarans in the early 70's, he never ran his runabout again. He gave his motor to Bill Rumpel, a young neighbor, and helped Bill build a hydroplane for it. Meanwhile, Doug hauled his boat into the woods where it lay for about 20 years. About 10 years ago, Doug let Dave remove some of the hardware. Then Doug took a big saw and cut the boat up into pieces about two feet long and took them to the landfill. "Why he didn't sell the boat in the beginning is a mystery."

Doug's first catamaran, of his own design, was, as Dave describes it, "a heavy old monster made of Masonite." I remember being impressed that he could design and build such a craft, which was stable and swift, and sailed circles around the C boats on the lake. I'll never forget the moonlight cruise on which Doug took me and my wife, Sarah, when we were on our honeymoon at Ten Mile in 1960.

Since his shoreline was rocky and steep, to store his catamaran Doug built a tall wooden A-frame anchored in a concrete foundation at the water's edge. Dave recalls that with a big winch, Doug would swing the A-frame out, hook the catamaran to it and winch up the frame and with it the boat until the frame was vertical. The boat simply hung there in the air, safe from winds and waves.

Doug got rid of his first cat one winter by dragging it out on the ice and setting it on fire (no longer an environmental "best practice"!). Eventually Doug bought commercially made NACRA catamarans, and for those he built a wooden ramp on which to secure them.
Doug's sailing wasn't limited to Ten Mile. According to his son, Jim, "The big deal was the Lake of the Woods International Sailing Regatta. . . . The race would start at Kenora, Canada and last a week with 5 days of racing 20-30 miles per day." In 1967, Doug and his daughter, Nancy, sailed in the Regatta, but the results are unknown. Then, in 1970, Doug and Jim sailed to first place with 69 boats in the race. "The boat was the Bug IV, designating the fourth major incarnation of Doug's always evolving catamaran."

In those "early" days, it wasn't uncommon for the young people to gather for evening parties on the east shore. Though I was ten years his junior, Doug would sometimes offer to pick me up in his runabout. I remember his bringing me back across the water late at night, under a starlit sky, with lightning flashing on the far horizon, and wondering whether I'd arrive home safe and sound. I always did. Doug, following in the footsteps of this educator-musician-father, was also a keyboardist. I remember his wonderful riffs on the Hammond at gatherings in his cabin.

In 1960, John Bryngelson moved from his family's south shore cabin to his own cabin on the north shore. Last fall, John wrote: "My memories of Doug go back to my teenage years at Ten Mile Lake. Doug and his friend, Dave Brandt, taught me how to water ski and gave me many superb rides behind their speedboats. It was always a treat when Doug would come walking down the front path by the lake and could be enticed in to my parents' cabin. He was knowledgeable about so many subjects and conveyed it in such a gentle and kind way."

Later last fall John shared another memory: "...(Doug) was known as the 'Ten Mile Lake Monster' to my kids. When we would come across the lake to visit my parents and slowed down as we approached their dock, if Doug was in the water he would scare my kids by thrashing around in the lake and shouting that he was the Ten Mile Lake Monster. ..."

About Doug's marriage, Dave Brandt recalls that Doug and Marian eloped and were married in Iowa in The Little Brown Church in the Vale, with Dave serving as Doug's best man.

In 1980, Doug met long-time Ten Mile resident Fritz Kilander. Fritz wrote to me in February:

   On Ten Mile Lake having fun, out playing with the wind in a Hobie Cat one day in the summer of 1980; when out of nowhere a big white Catamaran flew by me like if I was standing still.
   It was long and wide with "5.5" on the sides.
   This was my introduction to Doug Kohl and his sailboat and the start of a one-of-a-kind friendship.

Nineteen years later, in May, 1999, Doug wrote to Fritz:

Hi Fritz,
   Hope the winter went well for you. I put my dock in the lake at the end of April thinking that the lake level wouldn't rise until June when we usually have a lot of rain! So, I rushed up there last Thursday and put 100# of weight on the end so the whitecaps from the northwest wind wouldn't damage anything.
   I'm writing to you to know if you would like another catamaran to add to your beach! My dermatologist has recommended that I stay out of the sun...that sun block just won't do. So reluctantly, I must give up sailing.
   The NACRA 5.5 has seats and is not fitted for trapezes. The trampoline is in good shape. The sail is used, of course, but is in good shape.
   If you think you might be interested, go over and take a look. The mast is up and rigged so it is ready to go. Of course, if you want it, we could sail it over to your place. It is designed to be a single handed boat but it works well with two people. I won't set a price; I'd consider it a gift, if you want it. I'd like someone, such as yourself, who likes the thrill of sailing a cat to have the boat.

Then, in July of that same summer, Doug wrote again:

   I've enclosed a little history of the 5.5. I borrowed a trailer to haul the boat (in boxes) to Ten Mile and when I returned the trailer the dealer's place was surrounded by police ... they had gone out of business. I almost lost my investment. ... If I had been a day later...
   I do have a favor to request from you. A little later in August I'd appreciate you to tow my rowing boat over to your place and let me store it over winter.
   I'll get in touch the next time I'm at the cabin.

Doug never again sailed his beloved catamaran; he never retrieved his rowboat, and thus made a gift of it, as well, to Fritz.

I was deeply saddened when Dave Brandt alerted me to Doug's death last fall. For many years Doug and his family were a gracious presence on Ten Mile, and Doug himself was a profound and beloved influence in the lives of many of us now older folks who were fortunate in the "early years" to have summered on the south shore and to have counted Doug Kohl as our neighbor and friend.

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Revised: June 30, 2016.

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