I thought to live on an island was like living on a boat. Islands intrigue me. You can see the perimeters of your world. It's a microcosm. --Jamie Wyeth
A fine line separates good enough from perfect when it comes to boats. Most of us are not ambitious enough to go anywhere near it, but for some, nothing less than immaculate will do.
My friend and colleague Bill Pike, for instance, bought my Cape Dory 28 Flybridge more than a year ago. I would have rated that boat a solid 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, but I can see why a perfectionist might have given it a 7. So far, Bill has replaced the sanitation system, replaced the freshwater system, plans to install a new air conditioner, has applied new veneer to the settee and helm station, and has plans to revarnish the interior, install a new headliner, curtains and upholstery … and I’m quite sure I have left several important things off this list.
"To desire nothing beyond what you have is surely happiness. Aboard a boat, it is frequently possible to achieve just that." --Carleton Mitchell
Bill is a perfectionist — the kind of guy you’d definitely want to buy your boat from — and it’s clear he gets as much fun out of working on his vessel as he does cruising it. Of course, being able to do these things himself is probably what makes it enjoyable. (Writing checks to the boatyard in a quest for a 10 would likely dampen even Bill’s zeal.) I wish I had more of his ambition in my genetic makeup, but I’m afraid I’m very much a good enough kind of person on many fronts, especially when it comes to boats.
My West Pointer is now sitting on her trailer, 100 yards from the house. The seller delivered her to Rockland, Maine, three weeks ago, the day after I sprained an ankle. Since I was hobbling around in a boot cast, some very kind Matinicus folks brought her across on the ferry, and as my ankle healed I chipped away at the list of things I needed or wanted to do before launching. An island this far offshore is a good place to find skills of every sort: Self-reliance is a must in a place where few service calls are answered.
I hired a friendly lobsterman to install my new Garmin GPSMAP 742xs, Airmar P66 transducer and Lowrance Link-8 DSC fixed-mount VHF radio with AIS. I’ve played with these only the tiniest bit in order to spare my batteries, but I can’t get over the wealth of features. A touchscreen chart plotter with sonar! A VHF with DSC, GPS and AIS! I navigated the entire Eastern Seaboard without a plotter, and I used a very basic iPad nav app on the Cape Dory (with backup paper charts and a dated GPS, of course), so I am in electronics heaven with this simple but modern helm.
I registered my boat in Maine but understand it will be weeks until I get my numbers so I can apply them to the hull. In the meantime, I have a temporary registration sticker, and I’ve ordered lettering for the stern. (After a lot of consideration, I decided the wiley Gannet seemed more appropriate for the boat and her waters than the gentle, shore-bound Plover, though I admit it sounds a lot less mellifluous.)
A solar-powered bilge pump should arrive this week, just to play shortstop to the wired Whale in the bilge. I bought SOLAS flares, an emergency boarding ladder, a ring buoy, a fresh fire extinguisher, chain for my anchor rode, a mooring line and float, and an insurance policy. In truth, most of my purchases have been safety-oriented because being 22 miles from shore is something you don’t want to treat casually.
Launching is this weekend, even though I know there may be things I haven’t done that I’d like to. Time’s a wasting. Before long, I’ll be back in Philadelphia, and Gannet will be hibernating for the winter. I know I’ll think of her, tucked in a barn while the wind whips this gorgeous little lick of land, the few summer visitors long gone, the three-season lobstermen relaxing ashore. Only a handful of diehards will still be here to see the bare apple trees and bright spruce against the flurries that tie the skies to the sea in one long, gray splice.
For now, I plan to spend as much time as I can enjoying the imperfect beauty of my boat in the heaven she delivers me to: soaking in the sunshine, the sea air and salt spray and feeling the exhilaration of wanting nothing more than what I have.
This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue.