Editorial June 2001 Issue

In the Matter of Boatbuying...

It helps if you're not some sort of swivel-necked Lothario, panting after every transom that glides by. It helps if you have a calm, sober, longstanding view of what kind of boat suits you, and what you plan to do with it.

I have a friend who fell in love early with the Westsail 32. This was a few years after Robin Knox-Johnston bobbed around the world in Suhaili. It didn't matter that Suhaili's speed made good was about 4 knots, or that RKJ would have preferred going in a much faster boat—this other fella loved the salty look and sense of security exuded by the heavy teak double-ender, and when the Westsail was introduced, that was that. Now he has one, and he's happy. Never looked at another boat.

Or take the case of our own Nick Nicholson, who built Calypso alongside his house for 10 years, planning all that time to sail her around the world. He kept his eye on the sparrow, and now he's most of the way around.

It helps if you disdain fiberglass and enjoy nothing more than strapping on kneepads and spending a long weekend with a short piece of sandpaper. It helps, for that matter, if you disdain wood, or lead keels, or L-shaped settees. Any strong belief or conviction that will eliminate candidates or whole classes of candidates, can make these matters simpler.

I do not, alas, fit the Presbyterian profile. Since we're all close friends here, I can tell you about the file I keep, unabashedly called "Boats I Want." The list includes, but is not limited (in the production category) to the Alerion Express 28, the Express 37 (it’s a Schumacher thing) the Farrier F-24 MkII (or the F-31), the Freedom 30 (or 35), the J/29, and the J/105. I also want, at various moments, a Concordia yawl, some Sparkman & Stephens CCA-era boats (or anything Rosenfeld photographed in about 1958), some McCurdy & Rhodes designs, any of Dick Newick's early plywood trimarans, and, for chasteness of spirit, a Laser, which is what I have.

How would it be, I wonder, if I were sailing along at six knots on my Ohlson 38 in a crisp fall breeze, with a kettle simmering on the stove and the morning sun glowing through the mainsail, if a Dragonfly tri came tearing past at 18 knots in a welter of spray, with the crew whooping and hollering? Would I be envious? Sure, I would. But then I put myself in their shoes—everything on board is soaked, I have to trim the chute constantly, because 16 knots feels dead in the water compared to 18, and as we pass that gorgeous Ohlson I catch a whiff of fresh-brewed coffee. Some of us will never be happy. It's a curse.

As we all know, there's a big difference between the impulses involved in wanting boats and the realities of having them. A good match is certainly possible, but only when we can answer the three following questions with a clear mind: 1. Where are you going to go? 2. Who are you going to go with? 3. How much time do you have?

Each of those questions opens to reveal qualifications, provisos, and rationalizations. These are booby traps. The way to spot them is to try the word "someday" in the mix: "I can't really handle a 40-footer right now, but someday..." "Right now my spouse doesn't like to sail, but someday..." "Right now I only have a week off every summer when I can go sailing , but someday..."

Maybe all those things will change, and your someday will come. So buy the someday boat then, not now. Now, have the boat that suits your present life. If you have time to daysail, own a daysailer. If you have a week off in the summer, don't pay for a big boat all year long— charter. If you really just want to sneak away and cruise the coast, you don't need an offshore boat. How many times have you seen someone sit at the dock or on a mooring all summer on 10 tons of boat, fiddling with the watermaker, for want of an extra hand?

The trick is to have the boat that lets you cast off and go.

— D.L.

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