ISSUE NO. 277
November / December 2020
A Passport of the Finest Kind
The timing couldn’t have been better. On a mid-August afternoon last summer, I was delivering my cherished sloop back from an unexpected yard period in Rockport, Maine, to her home mooring in nearby Castine. It was a sparkling day, and we were propelled along by a brand-new gearbox—a replacement installed, it was determined upon haulout, after a cascade of mishaps sparked by an encounter with some fishing gear led to the conclusion that the old one might fail. That was a specter I wasn’t willing to live with. And it was an expense for which I had not prepared.
A few days before my trip home, I’d sent Jan Adkins a note that included the blithe comment: “…there are times when I question my own sanity as regards boat ownership.” Jan, a dear friend and author-illustrator of our Getting Started in Boats series, took my offhand comment to heart—and took a few moments from his busy schedule to remind me of a few things.
Jan’s message arrived when I was about halfway along my track home, getting back into the rhythm of my boat. He recalled his own challenges with boat ownership, but then remembered fondly when he would bear away, seaward, after clearing his home harbor: “…every burnt-out impeller motor, every hour of sanding, was part of that long, wave-rhythmic run. Yes, owning the big, faulty, expensive machine was important but only in that I needed to own the right to involvement and not just be a paying passenger. The suffused joy of those Right Moments was purchased with learned skills, expended knuckle skin, doing enough wrong to learn the right way, becoming a waterman in synch with tide and weather and hydrography, claiming local knowledge, pushing the envelope, bringing a family into your water life. I’ve done that. You do that.”
And we do. Earlier that summer, my wife, Holly, and I had cruised in the boat with our three children, ages 5, 8, and 10, for two glorious weeks. Our kids have gotten their first whiffs of freedom from this boat, making rowing excursions on their own in the morning and swimming in the afternoon. They’ve learned firsthand the practicalities and realities of conservation—bathing in saltwater followed by sparing freshwater rinses. They’ve marveled at seals and porpoises; stood in awe of the depth and breadth of the cosmos; hiked unspoiled island trails. We’ve watched them bring these lessons of engagement and resourcefulness home and apply them to their land lives and their budding concept of humanity and citizenship.
Adkins went on: “So, yeah, you’re pragmatically correct in questioning your sanity. A boat is way too expensive and way too demanding, and a complex of a hundred things waiting to go wrong in a corrosive saltwater environment. You are a dummy, and anyone stepping out of a well-maintained car can tell you in how many degrees you are a fool. They’re right. But you’re a waterman and you own that, and the damn barkie you paint and varnish and keep like an expensive coffee table tossed into the sea, constantly in jeopardy, is your passport.”
I can’t imagine a better passport at this moment in time.
Editor of WoodenBoat Magazine