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Under Way

Finding equilibrium in a shifting season

Finding equilibrium in a shifting season

pring is a moving target. Just when you think you’ve gotten a bead on her, she sidesteps you for a few more days.

I knew I had had it up to here with winter when I found myself dreaming of boats one night. I can only recall the dénouement. I am standing in a twin-

outboard powered boat, the engines are trimmed up all the way out of the water — and they’re running.

“Damn,” I think to myself, “this isn’t right.” But the guy at the helm is a mechanic and a friend who, as the saying goes, has forgotten more about outboards than most of us will ever know. So who am I to argue? Everything seems OK. Suddenly, the engine overheat alarms are blaring, and I feel better immediately because logic has been restored to this fuzzy parallel universe. “See, I knew you couldn’t do that,” I say to myself.

But just as quickly, I realize the outboard horn is really the alarm clock, and 5:15 a.m. is here again. It’s dark and cold outside, and the boat is still under wraps.

Six days before the vernal equinox marking spring, a cold, wet snow hurries sideways down Commercial Street in Portland, Maine. I zip my jacket to my chin and tilt my head away from the cold blast as I make my way on foot to the Maine Boatbuilders Show ( ). But inside the old railroad foundry where this celebration of boats and craftsmanship is held, spring already is in full throat. Like-minded souls catch up with old friends, and talk turns to boats and refit projects and the season ahead.

For me, this gathering in late March is a harbinger of spring, like the osprey returning to their great cluttered nests, the river herring to their secret breeding ponds, the change in bird song at dawn, the angle of light early and again at twilight.

The show is a rich melding of the timeless (a replica of Nat Herreshoff’s lapstrake cat-ketch Coquina) with the traditional (no shortage of proper Maine lobster skiffs). And for those leaning toward something more contemporary, Samoset Boatworks of Boothbay had hull No. 1 (unfinished) of its Doug Zurn-designed Samoset 30 on display.

Jamie Lowell of Even Keel Marine Specialties and I debated the merits of 2-stroke vs. 4-stroke power on his Royal Lowell-designed 22-footer, which originally was the Sisu hull. That’s the nice thing about this show; you get answers straight from the horse’s mouth, from the person actually building the boat, not just preparing marketing materials.

At long last, thoughts can finally be distilled into action, potential energy converted to kinetic. Sandpaper, a varnish brush, rollers and paint trays, a Tyvek suit — soon enough, we will be up to our collective elbows in sanding dust, bottom paint, epoxy and God knows what else. Can’t wait.

I stop my show meanderings and visit for a few minutes with Ted Boynton, who runs the Sound Boatworks dealership in Westbrook, Conn., a veritable stone’s throw from Soundings’ home port in Essex. We make loose plans to get out on the Connecticut River this spring on one of his new boats, catch some school-size stripers and talk about boats.

Then he shares with me a comment he heard a passerby make. “This show is about living,” says Boynton. “Isn’t that perfect? That really nailed it.”

I stand in a cemetery overlooking the tidal river that flows past my boyhood home. A cool breeze off the bay sails against the ebb, and the sun, low in the late-afternoon sky, is in my eyes. I squint into the glare and blink my eyes clear. Bending, I touch an open palm to dark, freshly turned earth, warming already as we in the Northern Hemisphere lean in toward our star.

Spring is a moving target. She rolls through her cycles: birth, death, rejuvenation. You get caught off guard, and suddenly you find terra firma shifting, too. So you follow the old ways and traditions, trying not to skip any corners as you work on the boat through April.

My goal this spring is to gather three generations — my 88-year-old father, 8-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter, and myself — on the boat for an hour or two of fishing. We will release the lines and head down river, where the banks widen and the bay begins, searching for a bit of peace and permanence in the ever-moving waters of spring.

“The ship tore on, leaving such a furrow in the sea as when a cannonball, missent, becomes a ploughshare and turns up the level field.”

— Herman Melville