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Why a boat?

Yesterday — between writing a feature and closing pages of the August issue of Soundings, which you now hold in your hands — I dashed to the town hall to get paperwork notarized and sent it off to the documentation agent by FedEx. This morning I wired the closing money into an escrow account. As soon as the owner countersigns, I’ll be the happy owner of a 1988 Cape Dory 28 Flybridge.

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I’m not going to lie to you: There have been some bumpy moments getting here. In the spirit of summer, I will skip the hair-raising twists and turns and just say that I’m thrilled I’ll soon be back on the water. And thanks to the brokers who pulled the deal out of the fire and brought it to a happy conclusion.

The last few days, while writing checks and signing papers, I have tried to stay focused on the why of a boat.

I’m under no illusions: Like all boats, she will cost more than I want. There will be unexpected repairs and occasionally expensive maintenance items. Docking isn’t cheap, and then there is fuel and insurance. If you make a modest living, and you let yourself, you can pretty swiftly get sucked into a downward spiral of cold, clammy fear. Why am I buying a 27-year-old boat when I could drive a brand new, luxurious convertible car for the same price? Or grow my paltry savings by parking them in a retirement account?

Well, obviously, those are sensible but lackluster options. A new convertible looks footloose and fancy-free but is ultimately still useful transportation, a superficial gesture of abandon. (Don’t get me wrong: I love convertibles!) A retirement account — isn’t that a premeditated postponement of joy? (Nothing against retirement accounts, either. I actually have a small one.) But a boat — now, there’s a ridiculously reckless vote for the here and now, a cocky investment in optimism, positivity and escapism.

The news lately is as bad as it has ever been. Global warming. Racial violence. Police brutality. School shootings. Political deadlock. I have put myself on a news diet so as not to become overwhelmed. No more than 20 minutes each morning of the New York Times. Evening news from a radio station I trust to be objective. That’s it. I make a point of voting, speak up when I see injustice, give money to politicians and social causes I believe in, and otherwise accept that — at this particular point in time — I can do little more than that. As Colum McCann wrote: “The world spins. We stumble on. It is enough.”

It’s important to feed and care for the heart, to keep the spirit unbruised enough to take in all the beauty and kindness this complicated and unjust world still has to offer.

Isn’t this why we have boats? So that when we cast off and watch a shoreline recede, we can leave ordinary worries behind and reconnect with the great big, gorgeous natural world that will outlast us all?

Is there any finer feeling than being underway on a bright summer day when the sea is flashing silver in the sunshine? What’s better than finding a quiet spot to anchor for a few hours, diving off the swim platform, then drying off in the warm sunshine while you eat lunch on the stern? How about that peaceful feeling you get at the end of a day underway when you pick up a mooring and shut everything down to enjoy a totally quiet, rainbow-colored sunset? Even a stormy day has its comforting indulgences — the sound of rain falling on the deck, the gentle lap of water at the hull as the boat rocks in the slip, the luxury of going back to bed with a great book.

For me, a boat is a place where I am most in touch with life’s elemental challenges and pleasures. She is a small, personal paradise. And worth every cent.

This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue.