The Ultimate Test Boat
I’ve been the fortunate witness to the rebirth of a boat and the inspiring maturation of a boy. And Practical Sailor readers have unknowingly been along for the ride. For the past five years, boatbuilder Robert Helmick has allowed his Endeavour 42 Lost Boys to serve as a test platform for a wide array of sailing gear featured in these pages.
The remarkable part of this story is that Robert’s son Kameron did much of the installation work. Although diagnosed at age four with autism, Kam has proven to be an astute problem solver.
Now, at the five-year anniversary of our relationship with the crew of Lost Boys, I thought I’d offer a few behind-the-scenes snapshots of our ride.
The dream begins the usual way— with the proverbial project boat, an old Endeavour 42. Robert decides the restoration will afford him more time with Kam, who is fascinated with the workings of toys and machines.
They decide to re-name the boat “Lost Boys,” after the heroes of Never-never Land. Kam applies the letters. The tall looping cursive strokes (burgundy to match the bootstripe) are impeccably aligned. Kam’s memory and eye for details is uncanny.
“Darrell, do you know where the name is from?” he asks.
“The boys who never grow up.”
“That’s right . . . that’s right.”
There is nothing that can’t be fixed, but to list them all on a grease-stained legal pad makes the Camino de Santiago seem like a sprint. New engine, new wiring, new sails, . . . the fuel tank will need to be replaced.
“Piece of cake,” Robert says when the jackstands are finally set.
It’s the first of many times I’ll hear him repeat the phrase when obstacles loom impossibly high.
One Thursday, as if by magic, the heat and the dust and whir of grinders fade away. Lost Boys is back in the water, and Kam holds the wheel. The bow slices through chop into Tampa Bay, toward the setting sun.
“Head for that marker,” Robert tells Kam. He pretends not to touch the wheel, then finally lets go for good.
Robert and I sit in Lost Boys’ cockpit. Kam is out of school for summer break, eager for things to do.
“Dad, can I wax the transom again?”
“Hey Kam, which of those spray waxes works best?” I ask.
“Turtle Wax,” he says, dead certain. “Just don’t leave it on too long.”
“How’s he doing?” I ask Robert when Kam has gone below.
“He installed the aft cabin head almost all by himself,” Robert says. The pride in his voice is unmistakable.
Kam pops his head through the aft hatch, smiling like he owns the world. “I sure did.”
It’s summer again, five years later. Kam is helping install an antenna on the stern. Robert has found a new job, with a new boatbuilder. He talks about his dream—his own manufacturing business, something that might provide Kam with a job and financial security. The realities of Kam turning eighteen are closing in.
“Don’t mention we’re selling the boat,” Robert says. “I don’t want to tell him right now.”
“I wasn’t going to,” I say, still hoping our fortune holds for another year.