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Good choices

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It’s been an odd summer. I had planned to spend a few months working from Matinicus Island, Maine, but fate intervened with other less-pleasant notions. It happens, and I recognize that I’ve reached an age where it’s likely to happen more often.

Also, for the first time in 12 years, I don’t own a boat. There were some panicky moments in the beginning, when I wondered who am I without a boat? Even when I have been unable to get out on the water, having the option to cast off those lines and head over the horizon has been a big part of my life — not just a comfort but my identity: I am a boater.

It’s silly, but I had to sit with this for a while until I recognized that, of course, I’m exactly the same: I’m still a boater. I just don’t have a boat.

Well, that’s fixed easily enough. Right?

I received more than one letter this month suggesting a Pulsifer Hampton 22 would be the boat for me, and these arrived just as I wiped the drool from my keyboard while comparing online listings for the Pulsifer Hampton (Soundings readers are smart!) to Pointers, Seaways, Handy Billys, Bristol Skiffs and Jericho Bays.

It was really no contest. The Pulsifer Hampton was love at first sight. She is based on the Casco Bay Hampton, a well-known lobster boat built by Charlie Gomes in the first half of the last century. She’s a strip-planked boat with a fine entry, round bilges, a built-down keel, plumb stem and flat buttocks aft that bring her on plane at 11 knots. Top speed is 13, so the PH22 is not fast, but she handles chop beautifully and is very economical. A new one is more than $50,000 and no doubt worth every penny. With a little annual upkeep, this is the sort of handsome, well-built wooden boat that generations will cherish.

Since my heirs are Jack Russell terriers and I’ve only recently come to the crazy concept of saving money, I’m going to be frugal and hunt for a used one. A handful are available on the market, so I’ll have time to inspect my favorites and hopefully even pay a visit to Dick Pulsifer’s Maine workshop to see how these beauties are crafted. I still can’t promise I won’t eventually succumb to the charms of a Marshall 22, either. I haven’t yet let the dream of a classic catboat die — mostly because I find myself temporarily without a waypoint.

So many of our choices as boaters come down to dream vs. reality. When I picture myself on either of these boats, I am a tanned and lithe tomboy in cutoff shorts, a T-shirt and beat up Top-Sider sneakers, exploring the bay (any bay) without a care in the world. But I came to boating later in life, so I was really never the girl I see in my mind’s eye. And now my lower back aches, I’ve put on a little weight, and I’d probably have a full head of silver hair if I really let myself go.

It doesn’t matter. My heaven reeks of salt, rings with the cries of seagulls and looks out on a receding shoreline. I’m at home there. It’s then that I really am that girl. The feeling is priceless, so swallowing the anchor isn’t even a remote option.

I hate to admit that my specific choice of boat — because I do want this to be my last one — may be decided by something as mundane as the old real estate cliché: location, location, location. My family keeps me in Philadelphia, but not being near the sea creates deep longings — and complications.

Will I really be able to get to Maine enough to enjoy the Pulsifer Hampton or will life always intervene? Should I try to find a closer port, nearer to friends and family, where I could sail a Marshall 22 around life’s uncharted shoals?

You see my dilemma. Is it possible I am becoming a realist? Good grief. Send help. Or at least bear with me. After all, these are good choices to have to face.

This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue.