A Healthy Addiction

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Photo of Mary South - Editor in Cheif - Soundings Magazine

Mary South

Once upon a time, I was not obsessed with boats. I was a busy mid-career professional — a book editor— who made the mistake of relocating for a position because it paid well (a relative term, given my trade). Off I went to an inland area, a few hours from the coast, and I threw myself into my work, busied in my off hours by a house-hunt and then minor renovations, and enjoying the change of pace from city life.

One day, about two years into my new situation, I looked around my office and noticed that it was oddly decorated, though I had done it myself. Nearly every wall had photos of boats: a working tug, a trawler, a North Sea fishing boat, a buyboat, a pilot boat, a lightship … It must have started slowly, this odd enchantment with the beauty of boats — particularly workboats — but I didn’t remember when or how or… why.

“On life’s vast ocean diversely we sail. Reason’s the card, but passion the gale.” — Alexander Pope

Of course, my strange taste in décor was much more than that: within a year I had quit my job, sold my house, bought and moved aboard a 30-ton, 40-foot steel boat and gone to seamanship school. I never looked back. Now, more than a decade later, I have periods when I feel I may be cured, times when I think a house that faces the sea is as good as a boat. It never lasts more than an hour or two, if that.

Just this morning I saw a friends’ online post for a 1946 Sonny Hodgdon lobster boat. Totally restored, 27 ½ feet with a beam of 8 feet, 9 inches and a draft of 2 feet, 8 inches. She is powered by an old 50-horsepower Gray Marine engine and has a cozy forward cabin finished in classic Herreshoff style. (I may have drooled on myself a little.)

Earlier, I had perused my personal email to see what arrived overnight and as my eye scanned the list of fundraising requests, news updates and marketing crap, I saw it: Shipsforsale Sweden. Let me tell you, this newsletter which links to a website (shipsforsale.com) is not for the faint of heart, weak-willed or seriously impulsive shopper. Its boat offerings are arranged in categories that include rescue vessels, navy patrol ships, tugboats, passenger ships … you get the idea. There are always a handful of icebreakers some nut-job I am entirely compatible with has refit to accommodate cruising to the world’s most remote locations in rugged comfort.

Of course, I have made my living in marine journalism for the last decade, which hasn’t helped. I had some hope, at one point, that the old axiom that warns don’t ruin what you’re passionate about by making it your profession was true, and that it would at least tamp down my enthusiasm. (Sure, the way gasoline smothers a fire.)

As I look at the issue you now hold in your hands, I can honestly say there’s not a boat in here I wouldn’t love to have — though I could, of course, spend a happy afternoon ranking them for my own amusement. A Chesapeake skipjack? Hell, yeah. A Watch Hill 15? You better believe it. How about the Helmsman 38E? That looks like a perfect way to do the Great Loop. I am counting the days until I get aboard Back Cove’s new 34O and have a run around Penobscot Bay. In fact, even when George Michelsen Foy’s excellent tale puts me on the bridge of El Faro, headed toward her doom, I can feel the allure of a ship at sea and the calling that put the crew on the ill-fated voyage in the first place.

As my colleague, friend and fellow- sufferer Pim said to me this morning, “Well, if you’re going to be addicted to something, I guess this is one of the healthier options?” (His voice did go up at the end, suggesting the question mark.)

Let’s try to look at our shared affliction that way. And maybe we should come up with a secret handshake, too.

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue.