In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic starting in 2020, I began to think about getting a sailboat. Not just any sailboat, but something that would (in my estimation) be very nice. After much thinking, and looking at trimaran designs and catamaran designs, and recognizing that I don’t have the time to build my own (sorry, Jim Brown, my Sea Runner plans may sit idle), and that the cost of pre-constructed versions of either of those were beyond my pay grade, I started to just casually look at YouTube videos of Captain Q and others reviewing monohull sailboats.
Mostly these were also way beyond my capability to purchase. Or had been up on YouTube for months, and they were always in Maine or Massachusetts, etc. But months of watching Captain Q and Randy make their rounds in the Northeastern USA made me a little aware of some basics.
My background was owning a Sunfish. I have sailed that simple sailboat from about age 13 through graduation of high school, which for me was after age 17 since I started school a little late. I have the Sunfish still.
It gave me some peace. I had graduated from sitting in a rowboat hoping to pull fish around by their lips to the quiet and smokeless adventure of letting the wind blow me about. A simple paperback, “How to Sail,” had given me all I needed to know for sailing a Sunfish, and remarkably, my father managed to let me act like I knew what I had read. We had a blast. It was free fun, after the purchase price, which I was quite surprised my parents handled. I think the unsinkable nature of the Sunfish was appealing to them. We never sailed without life jackets. Which was good, because I loved to sail it as fast as we could in the chop under the Newport (now called the Pell) Bridge. It was my best fun to bend backwards enough to see the center board cutting through the water. My parents didn’t know it, but when I was age 13 my brother’s cancer diagnosis at age 19 with Hodgkin’s Disease gave me lots of angst and nowhere to go with it. Sailing about with my dad was peaceful and the simple game of sailing from piece to piece of floating refuse gave us purpose and cleaned the bay. We filled the cockpit with as much as we could. It was, after all, the time of Save the Bay stickers on cars back then. Within a few years, I was sailing it with a girlfriend passenger. Back when the America’s Cup involved 12 meter yachts with names like Courageous and Intrepid, I used to sail on Narragansett Bay between Connanicut and Aquidneck Islands, or as the locals would call them, Jamestown and Newport. Once I cut within 50 feet of Intrepid and got yelled at by the crew. It was my claim to fame.
Sailing didn’t keep Mark alive, but it was a deep connection to peace, and by the time he died at age 29, I was interviewing for medical school. Fast forward 39 years, and I’ve been on the Sunfish once since then, with my son, but he didn’t have the same thrill from it that I had experienced as a teen. And Lake Michigan was pretty wild that day with small craft warnings out. (Those had been my favorite days on Narragansett Bay, but being a teen, I had no fear.)
Once you have known a deep connection to peace it’s hard to part with the object or pastime that gave you that peace.
And so, there is a 36 year-old sailboat about to become ours.
Purrfect is a 32 ft. Comfortina, made in Sweden. As a tiny hindrance to acquiring her, she is in dry dock, or “on the hard,” as the lingo goes, in Racine, Wisconsin. OK, it’s time to reveal that I’ve owned another sailboat. A San Juan 21 has been mine since about 2016. The problem is, I’ve been busy, and all I have done is work on her and get ready to work on her. She hasn’t been in the water since before 2014. So much for additional sailing prowess.
Then there was the matter of a place to put a boat. Something that long has a keel and doesn’t go on a trailer. It needs a slip. Which led to me recently phoning every marina from St. Joseph, MI to Holland, MI ever since I saw Purrfect for sale, and no one had a slip. Some waiting lines were 1-3 years long. I decided that a fleece was in order. I couldn’t very well get a boat and leave it in Wisconsin. So on April 23, 2021 I told my wife that my Friday day-off goal was to drive to Saugatuck and ask about slips in person. I figured that maybe a homeowner would put up a sign, knowing how tight availability was, advertising their private dock. We saw nothing. Driving home, I felt low. This was it, one last chance. South Haven wasn’t exactly on the way, but it was only 11 miles away. And to make it more of a miracle, I went to the least likely place, in person, the marina closest to the big lake. I walked up to a man near a huge opening, and he directed me to the office. “I’m interested in knowing if any slips are available?”
“What size boat?”
She grabbed a framed photo off a hook, plopped it on the glass countertop, and pointed to a spot just behind a drawbridge. “One. Here!”
I blurted out that I’d take it, but she said “Go look at it. Call me at 9 AM if you want it. We are closing right now”
We looked at the last slip available on the west side of Michigan at the port closest to our home. At 9 AM on April 24th it became ours for one season.
A year or more ago I asked a friend if rumors were true that he was a sailor. No, he said, but call Tim. I imagined that instruction would be for the San Juan. Today I made that call. Yup, he’s that guy. He’s sailed a round-trip race from Holland to Milwaukee and back a couple of times, the Chicago to Mackinac race and some others and some ocean sailing. And he can’t wait. “Let’s pick the windiest, rainy day and we’ll have a blast!” Purrfect is coming back to Michigan after a 17 year-long visit to Wisconsin as soon as she passes the inspection of a surveyor. And her name will not change. She’s Purrfect. We have 10 cats.