"What kind of sailing will you be doing?" the boat broker asked.
"A circumnavigation," I answered, thinking what other kind of sailing is there? "A folkboat would be just about right."
I'd responded to an ad for a folkboat because, even though my home on Long Island was surrounded by shallow waters, I was fixed on the idea that buying anything less than a full-keel boat designed for long ocean passages was not worth considering. What I'd read about folkboats was that they were remarkably seaworthy boats, designed for low cost and high durability. I was looking forward to seeing one firsthand.
The broker directed me to the pier where the folkboat was tied up in the large marina. I hadn't planned on speaking to a broker. I was just looking and not really in the buyer's market, I told myself. Traditional folkboats are built with lapstrake construction with the planks overlapping each other the full length of the hull, which I thought would be instantly recognizable. After walking up and down the floating docks without spotting an obvious clinker hull, I sought out the broker for directions. When I went where he directed, I still wasn't sure. No lapstrake hulls about, and the boats were tied up with their bows to the dock, making it impossible to read the names on transoms.
I went back to the broker and asked him to lead me to it. He took me back to the boat I'd just left, thinking it couldn't possibly be a folkboat. It was a folkboat, all right, he had the papers to prove it, but it was a smooth fiberglass hull. And it was tiny. It looked much smaller than its 25 feet. No one in their right mind would take this out into the ocean, I thought.
We went aboard, my mental list for boat surveys directing my attention to the lifelines, rigging, and cockpit drainage for suitability in a storm on the high seas. Inside the cabin, I looked for backing plate reinforcements for the deck fittings and stays, and sturdy bolts to fasten the deck to the hull. But I kept thinking "This is tiny! I could never be comfortable in it!"
Apparently, neither could the owner. Whether it was lack of comfort or some other reason, the boat had obviously not been out much. Its bottom was covered in a heavy growth of seaweed which slowly waved in the gentle current inside the harbor.
I shrugged and chalked up the trip to the marina as one more step in my education about boats. It was a trip that really gave me the one question I needed to answer honestly if I was going to buy a boat, but I wasn't ready for honesty yet.
|"Ever since the sailing bug had bitten me, a circumnavigation had seemed the only kind of sailing in existence."|
Ever since the sailing bug had bitten me—during a vulnerable period, when I was approaching my mid-40s—a circumnavigation had seemed the only kind of sailing in existence. The library was filled with accounts of circumnavigations. There were plenty of books written by people who had cut their ties to the land, quit their jobs, and sold their homes in order to buy the perfect blue water cruiser. Some of these people had hardly sailed at all before setting off. So I knew it could be done. I couldn't quite see how I could follow them just yet, but it would never happen unless I tried.
In the meantime, I would gain sailing experience, and familiarity with different kinds of boats to prepare for my circumnavigation by crewing or buying time on other people's boats. There wasn't anything to rent near my home other than one Sunfish at a bait and tackle shop that mainly rented aluminum skiffs for fishing, but there were several wooden sailing ships on Long Island that went on short cruises, and there were a number of schools offering sailing lessons. My wife and I began going out every week for basic keelboat lessons.
These occasional stints, however, did not satisfy my itch. At one marina, where I'd gone to look (for my education, of course) at a J24, there were also used kayaks for sale. Reasoning that with kayak rentals running at $60 an hour, the boat would have paid for itself after just a handful of outings, I bought one and strapped it to the roof rack. It wasn't sailing, but the investment was small, there were no dockage or storage fees involved, and I could go out anytime I pleased.
And I did. I kayaked the ponds and streams, the bays and the sound—every navigable body of water within an hour's drive of my home.
But a few months later when I drove past a sailing dinghy with a "For Sale" sign, I thought that it would be perfect for sharpening my sailing skills and senses, and could serve as the tender for the big boat when I got her.
Now I had two boats. The kayak gathered dust in the garage as I stuffed the dinghy into my van and hauled it out to the bays, where I quickly learned to better appreciate the power of wind, waves, current, and tide.
The kayak and dinghy helped me realize how much pleasure it was to go boating in protected waters, where there was scenery to enjoy along the shores, and where navigation was a simple matter of compass headings and landmarks. I'd learned there was another kind of sailing other than circumnavigation, and it was sailing I could do right now, while still gainfully employed and paying off a mortgage.
Nevertheless, my eye kept roaming the classified ads. A bigger boat was not in the budget, but there were still "other people's boats."
One of those was the Breck Marshall, a wooden catboat at Mystic Seaport that went for short cruises in the harbor. She sailed sweetly across the calm waters, responding quietly and instantly to course changes. Solid but graceful, sailing best on an even keel, she won me over—and, perhaps more importantly, my wife as well. I began keeping an eye out for catboats on the market.
Meanwhile, there was a crewing opportunity on an International Etchells, a boat I was told went very fast and had lots of controls. Controls? Well, something new to learn! It had no engine and had to be towed out to Orient Harbor, where it raced every Saturday afternoon. After several afternoon races, I realized that the tow was more fun than the racing, which involved constant tweaking of the controls, lines led from every part of the boat which could be twisted or bent or tightened to improve performance. Raising and dropping the spinnaker for every downwind leg was also something new to learn, and provided ample opportunities for brushing up on salty language.
Then fortune smiled. My employer was selling the company and sharing the profits, and my share was substantial. Not enough to quit and sail around the world, but maybe enough to buy a bigger boat than the dinghy—or maybe we should invest it and pay off debt. After all, there was still the crewing every Saturday to satisfy my sailing itch, although I was losing my enthusiasm for racing and the captain seemed to be losing enthusiasm for teaching me.
Then the ad for Kirsten appeared. The Mystic 20 catboat was reasonably priced, had a roomy cockpit and cabin, and was beautifully maintained, as I found when I drove out to look at it the same morning I read the ad. The next day I took my wife and checkbook, we were taken for a short sail, and a deposit was made. My third boat.
I've found the kind of sailing I'm going to do, and the right boat to do it in. Since then, the boat-buying bug has been quiet—quiet, but not dead. My eyes still stray to the classifieds to see what's available, and my hand still reaches for the field guide to check out an advertised boat's lines and characteristics. Fortune might smile again.