Parting is such sweet boating sorrow
Posted on 25 November 2008
While I am not yet preparing to implement my final wishes according to my will, I have decided to record some of the more important demands, including who is going to take care of my beloved Erewhon.
My classic Sailmaster 22, which will outlast me, deserves to be cared for in fine fashion, since she cannot look after her own needs and would deteriorate if ignored for long. I am not like some selfish boat owners I have read about who decreed in their final wishes that their boat be towed out to sea and scuttled when they “pass on.” As for my next most important possession, my home, I’ll let my three sons handle that issue with no restrictions whatsoever.
I will alert my youngest son, Scottie, that he will inherit my sailboat when the time comes for me to change course and join that eternal regatta in the sky, where summer never ends and the wind always blows. The rest of my vast estate (ha-ha) will be fairly divided among my three boys. It may be regarded as unfair to put the sole responsibility of my boat on one survivor, but he has asked for it in his actions, although he may not realize it.
Scottie, whom I have dubbed “TIO” (short for The Innocent One), has not yet committed to the long hours involved in maintaining my 1962 vintage vessel. Regardless, I will inform him that he is the chosen one, and that’s how it is. The reason is partly because he is still single and the only one really interested in sailing. A growing family, demanding wife and household duties will not interfere with his nautical mission and threaten my wrath if he comes up short in those duties.
He also should be prepared for a voice from heaven advising him when under way to pay attention to his course and accordingly head up or fall off the wind. This gift could be looked upon as a curse or a blessing, but that is up to him, since I cannot take Erewhon with me, although I may make inquiries to the Great Dockmaster in the afterlife.
If I live to be 100, however, that’s another matter, because age may be a factor for Scottie when he turns 70. It will not be a pleasant scene with a nagging, land-bound geezer in a battery-powered go-cart shaking his cane at him and, as the former owner, telling him how to do things. But perhaps this will increase his urge to get away from the dock and out on the water.
There are many operational things I must point out to Scottie, including what I have replaced and when, and what might need replacing in the future. For example, this spring I installed a double-braided main halyard with a spliced stainless thimble. It replaced a 7-year-old halyard that was beginning to flatten out and show wear. A main halyard breaking aloft is enough of a problem, which is why I leave the shackle permanently attached to the head of the sail.
I am embarrassed to admit I do not permit him to take out the boat without me on board. I recall once, about 10 years ago, signing over the title to him and making him the legal owner in an effort to get him more committed to sailing. “I used to tell people, when asked, that I owned a sailboat but was not permitted to take it out unless the former owner was on board,” Scottie recalls, laughing.
My other two sons, Eric and Mark, have other interests. Eric’s sports are is surfing and bicycling, and he and his wife, Mary, have two pugs. Mark is a biker, hiker and world traveler, and he and Betsy have one child. I used to drag along the trio and force them to cruise with me when they were youngsters, but Scottie was the only one who became interested.
Back in the mid-1970s, Scottie and a friend were on hand when my sailboat was swamped and went to the bottom of the Tred Avon RiverOxford, Md., during a surprise gale with hurricane-force gusts. But that did not dim his enthusiasm, as one might expect after such an ordeal. I sold that 28-foot Westphal the day it was raised and towed to the dock, and I completely lost track of this Biscayne Bay racer, which some derisively called a “Westsink.” No love lost there. in
My first cruising boat was an old 32-foot Scandinavian sloop I bought in the late 1960s and sold in the mid-’70s when I went over from wood to fiberglass. I dearly loved that boat and kept track of this first Erewhon, occasionally encountering her under sail on the Bay, although I could never get up the courage to ask the owner if she still leaked. At one point, I purged the entire interior and sailed in that mahogany and oak skeleton the entire summer, tending to leaks announced by small spurting geysers that were plugged only to spring up somewhere else in whack-a-mole fashion.
This Viking 32 was out of sight for many years, but not out of mind, until I got a call from a reader in the early ’80s informing me he thought he came across my old boat, which I had written about sentimentally in a Chesapeake Bay magazine. That boat taught me to sail, paint and finish wood because she had a varnished mahogany hull. I never learned anything about engine mechanics, however, because soon after I bought her the engine died, and I learned to do without. Memories of good times with her are on display all about my home, in framed photographs on tables, hanging from walls and in old home movies transferred to videotape by Scottie.
The word I got from the stranger was that Erewhon — renamed Curlew — had sunk at her slip in a forlorn boatyard off the Patapsco River and was hauled out. Since the yard had a reputation for being the last home for terminal cases, I figured I’d better get over there quickly to have a final look. I was boatless at the time and didn’t want to be seduced by an old love that may not have aged gracefully, but I could not resist the urge to see and touch her again after almost 20 years.
Upon entering the yard, I encountered a man up on the hill breaking up a wooden boat and started poking around and walking the docks. No Curlew. A yard worker came up, and I told him what I was looking for, adding that the boat had an aluminum mast that I would know immediately because of all the fittings I had added. “There’s a tall aluminum mast standing upright over there between two boats,” he said as he pointed. It was definitely my old mast, but there was no boat attached.
“We save a lot of stuff here,” said the worker, leading me into a dark shed with shopping carts filled with boat parts. “See anything you recognize?”
I did: two winch pedestals with heavy bronze winches still attached to sawed-off mahogany coamings, six bronze oval porthole covers, part of the bow stem with a stainless steel guard at the pointy end, and a Whale Gusher bilge pump — all my stuff.
I asked the yard manager to check her records on a sloop named Curlew. She found that the boat was hauled out in May 1986 after sinking at the dock. One of her last owners lived nearby, and I looked him up. He owned Curlew from 1983 to 1986 and traded her to a carpenter for some housework. A carpenter — how appropriate.
“But what happened to the boat?” I asked the manager, who broke the news that her remains were “carted up to the hill.” The hill? Did she mean the Hill of Death? Searching in the hilltop weeds, I found the sad remains of my Erewhon — a large hunk of lead ballast with the garboard and some sawed-off frames and sistered frames attached. I would know that bilge anywhere because my blood ran in it.
I interrupted a man cutting up a powerboat for firewood and asked what happened to the rest of my old boat. “Real heavy, she was, put together strong,” he said. “She burned real nice and crackly in the fireplace.”
My dear old Erewhon as kindling? I returned to the hulk, knelt down and touched it gently. It was like grieving over some great sea creature that had beached itself. I was relieved I did not bring a camera.
I thought of Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), whose last dying word in the final scene of the classic film “Citizen Kane” was a whispered, “Rosebud” — the cherished sled of his childhood, presumed lost but ending up being hurled into a fire as a worthless possession. My own Rosebud was a missing, cherished sled of adulthood that provided pleasure on the water. Erewhon, unknown to me, was nearby, but when I found her it was too late, and she, like Rosebud, also perished in flames.
I returned to the boatyard office to inform the manager that I, indeed, found my old boat. “I’m sorry,” she said. I left with one bronze sheet winch, a parting sentimental gift that now serves as a bookend to prop up a row of sailing books.