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Fun isn't measured by the size of the boat

Cleaning out my boat bag a couple of weekends ago, I found some damp notes I’d written quite awhile back tucked away in one of the side pockets. The timing of the find was serendipitous, given the “less is more” theme of several of the stories in this issue, starting with Chris Landry’s piece on what you can buy new for $35K or less and finishing with Eric Sorensen’s report on Eastern and Seaway boats.I took the notes one August evening more than a year ago while swinging on the hook aboard my little 43-year-old open boat, which we had given a second life in the form of a stem-to-stern “functional restoration.” I bought it for a song and put it together as funds permitted with the help of a friend. Never owed me a dime.

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Earlier that same day I had edited a story on three big center consoles with price tags upward of $300,000, the kind of number that just might make you catch your breath for what are essentially open boats. Most of us, I think, can appreciate these large offshore runners as the marvels of technology and engineering that they are. And I stop and stare whenever I see a boat like that running hard and well in a good sea. Of course, I usually follow that with a crack about being happy I’m not the one paying for the fuel. Still, it’s hard not to applaud their raw power and gawk at the speed they can travel across a windy, white-capped sound. I couldn’t run like that even if I didn’t mind banging my fillings loose.
The price, however, puts them well out of reach of many folks on the water today. And for many others, I suspect, they beg the question of whether they really deliver a quarter-million-dollars-plus worth of pleasure and satisfaction. They clearly are a far cry from the seven boats in this month’s “Lean boats for lean budgets” feature, except in terms of the fun they deliver. That’s something any of the choices in our small-boat fleet can serve up just as easily — perhaps better, under the right circumstances — as their larger cousins.
A good, small boat is simple, versatile and economical. That’s their beauty. They are miserly on fuel and relatively easy to operate, maintain, berth, trailer and store. And during these times of economic uncertainty, when we’re all watching our dollars closely, they don’t break the bank.
As with any boat, the keys to the kingdom lie in matching the boat to the waters and the intended use. If you’re running to the sandbar or beach, small boats are perfect. Inshore fishing, gunkholing, harbor cruising, tubing — perfect. You’re not going to race across gusty, open water at turn-your-cap-on-backward speed, run 30 miles offshore or ferry around your kid’s entire soccer team, although the latter scenario might be reason enough to go small.
Another nice thing is the diversity available today within the small-boat armada. Rich regional distinctiveness is evident in design, styling and features — consider the variations among a Down East skiff, a bayboat and a panga. The boats also vary significantly in the choice and combination of materials, construction methods and power.
As I’ve written before, the small boats of today are different from those of yore. In terms of beam and freeboard, they often are “bigger” for their LOA than their forebears and, therefore, are simply capable of doing more. Size for size, they are faster, have greater range, can carry more people, and so on, than perhaps your first boat or your father’s. You can still find them stripped down and narrow as a string bean if that’s to your liking, but the trend is toward packing in more of the features you’d typically find on a larger boat.
The formula for saving money and having fun is not that difficult: moderate size, moderate power and moderate speeds. I quote from my notes taken in August 2010:

“I’m on the hook in 3-1/2 feet of water behind the Naps. Light S.W. breeze. Flat-ass calm. A very hot day but lovely evening. I swam, scrubbed the boat and am now writing with my shirt off at 6:35 in this nice light 75 yards from shore. I hear the bugle of a herring gull behind me on the rocky shore. The chalky sound of terns. A smattering of bait fish somewhere within earshot of the boat. Green crabs work their way across the sandy bottom. What would I be doing differently if I had a $300,000 center console?”

"The day for the launching arrived. ... She was gently baptized with a conservative amount if Mississippi corn whiskey poured from a stone jug, properly anointed with a liveral amount of tobacco juice, and named the Hurricane."

- Ray Kauffman

This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue.