Editorial April 1, 2000 Issue

Boatless

Last month I reported the selling of Viva, the Tartan 44 (Practical Sailor test boat) we owned for six years.

How does it feel being boatless for the first time in 30 years?

Weird!

As with most things, there is some good and bad in this.

First, the good. Deciding when to schedule the winter haul-out is always vexing. Come October, the northerly gales start to blow through Rhode Island, some as damaging as a hurricane. Whether you keep your boat on a mooring in Newport Harbor, as we do, or at a dock, storms are a worry. Our mooring is exposed to the northwest, where the fetch is several miles. Many a day Iíve stood on the yacht club dock and watched my boat gallantly riding the breaking wavesóbow up, bow down. It is then you wonder whether the chafing gear on the pendant has slipped. Should you struggle out there in the dinghy to take a look? Youíll get your ass wet for sure. And if you donít?

Inevitably, however, there are some fine sailing days in November, and if you haul prematurely, you miss out. What to do?

This year I didnít have to make that decision. When the gales came, I sat smugly in my office watching the whitecaps on the bay and listening to the wind shriek through the rigging of boats docked at the nearby marina. The Hood Stoway masts are the worst, emitting a terrifying, banshee wail. No worries about chafing gear or loose boat covers.

And what did I do when the weather turned fine, the air crisp and the leaves turning red, yellow and gold?

ďOPB,Ē my friends advised.

And thatís what I did, sailed on other peopleís boats.

Financially, being boatless was like getting a pay raise. I threw away the yard contract, canceled the insurance policy and ignored the state registration card. Saved well over two grand.

I could get used to that, but I canít get used to the emptiness.

Each issue of Soundings (the fat boating newspaper with thousands of classified ads) brings temptation. First I look for any Tartan 41s or 44s, partly to see if I sold Viva for a fair price, and partly with the half-baked thought of jumping back into one. Seldom are they advertised, so I turn to multihulls. Very expensive, most of them, but Iíve always had a yen for the affordable 1970-era Iroquois 30 Mk II. Not sure Iíd take one to Bermuda, but it would be great for the Bahamas.

Next I check out motorsailers, dreaming about the Inside Passage to Alaska, where winds are fluky and the currents strong. I picture myself seated inside the pilothouse, a cup of hot coffee steaming the windshield. I rub away the mist to get a better view of the fjord ahead and the great blue glacier creeping down to the sea. The Cape Dory 300 MS would be ideal, but Iíd have to truck it to Seattle. Moreover, where am I going to find the time to cruise Alaska?

If I really want to do the Inside Passage, maybe Iíll have to charter, or persuade one of my friends in the Pacific Northwest to let me tag along.

OPB. Their money, their worry.

But itís not the same as being master of your own vessel. You miss out on the satisfaction of tinkering and fixing things well, miss the independence to go where and when you want, miss the mysterious bond that develops between a man and his boat.

As I write, the wind is blowing like stink and the office windows are rattling. Open on my desk is the latest issue of Soundings. Each pulls me in a different direction. But soon the daffodils will bloom, the grass turn green and the wintry blasts become fragrant zephyrs.

I guess being boatless for a short period is sort of like giving up drinking for a month. Once you resume, you appreciate all the more a cold beer on a hot day, and a reach beyond the harbor wall onward toward the beckoning blue.

óDan Spurr

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