The heart wants what it wants

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I don’t think I ever left the dock, in the many years I have owned Bossanova, when I didn’t feel a visceral thrill, a small flutter near my solar plexus. Few things have ever made me happier than clearing the jetties, locking open the port and starboard pilothouse doors and switching the VHF to 16. When the pan-pans and securities grew repetitive, I’d change to channel 2 for the strangely soothing patter of the National Weather Service’s robo-voice.

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Music underway seemed like overkill. I was besotted, and Bossanova’s dry stack exhaust sounded like Barry White to me — who can say exactly what was cause and what was effect?

But damn, I was happy. Watching the sunrise glint copper off a dark green sea as I cleared an inlet and headed out, seeing the shore and all its stuff recede — it was the elemental magic of here and now that lifted my spirit. Sometimes I’d laugh at myself: What’s so fabulous about doing an engine room check, I’d wonder, noting the intense pleasure I felt going down to the belly of the beast, which was loud and hot but where a quick visual survey told me everything was running as it should. Ah, but it was my engine room, and it was my duty to know the strainers were clear, the sole was dry and nothing was smoking. I guess I loved being in command, though, truth be told, I viewed my relationship with Bossanova as more of a symbiotic partnership (pun unintentional). I took good care of my boat, and she in turn carried me through lousy weather and tight situations. More than anything, I suppose Bossanova made me feel well-protected in an environment that is famously unforgiving.

Sometimes I worry that as impractical as Bossanova is for the life I now lead, I might never love another boat as much — because when did passion ever spring from practicality? But I am at heart an optimist and a romantic. And if there’s one thing I’ve noted over the years, it’s that the greatest joy of boating is the experience of being on the sea, away from the quotidian cares that tend to take over our frontal lobes.

So here are two of the completely different boats I’ve been thinking about, bearing in mind my limited budget and near desperation to get back aboard.

A Marshall 22 catboat: Is there a prettier, more quintessentially Yankee boat? I first started thinking about a catboat when I was at the dock aboard a really sturdy, good-looking and expensive trawler. I looked over the bow rail as a catboat was putt-putting past us with her sail furled. Struck by her beamy simplicity, her proximity to the water, the bare beauty of her purpose, I had to resist the urge to yell down to the owner “My, but she’s yar!” The accommodations on a 22, I learned, are small but serviceable, with the potential for Spartan chic. Fired up, I ordered Henry M. Plummer’s classic The Boy, Me and the Cat, one of the loveliest books I’ve ever read. Plummer took his 24-foot cat with his son from Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, to Miami and back over the course of 1912 and 1913, and his charming voice narrates tales of scrappy seamanship and many excellent meals along the way. I was now seriously tempted. Drawbacks of owning a catboat: I don’t have a year. I’ll want to get somewhere other than the harbor channel entrance and back between Friday and Sunday nights. And despite a sailing course in seamanship school and multiple adventures as crew, I still consider myself a beginning sailor. (I’ve never minded a challenge, though.)

A solid choice for my next vessel would be the Cape Dory 28 — a production boat with Down East lines, well built, faster than a trawler (with the 200-hp engine option) and with compact but comfortable weekend cruising accommodations. There are several out there I can afford, and I have a sense that once I committed to one, I wouldn’t be sorry. But that seems a little like marrying someone you really like a lot. Wouldn’t it feel sad if she never made my pulse race when I saw her sitting on a mooring?

What my heart wants is a lobster boat. Low to the water, with the throaty voice of Bossanova and the same workboat heritage; built to do a job well in snotty seas and get home faster when the weather turns; but like the catboat, unmistakably handsome and Yankee. Finding one that is not a tricked-out yacht, but also not completely unfinished and fished hard, is a lot tougher than you might imagine. But I think I may have found the one that could be my next, and last, boat. Stand by …

“The cabin of a small yacht is truly a wonderful thing;

not only will it shelter you from a tempest, but from the other troubles in life,

it is a safe retreat.” 

— L. Francis Herreshoff

May 2015 issue