Boat as Idea

When talk turns to their boats, owners wax melodic. Web extra from our May 2012 issue.

Boat as Idea

Jim Carrier returns to Ranger, on the hard at Port Yasmine Hammamet, in Tunisia. His plan is to sail Ranger to Genoa, Italy, then put her on a transport freighter headed for Florida. Courtesy of Jim Carrier

“The Boat as Idea,” in the May 2012 issue of Cruising World, struck a chord with owners and sailors. More than 50 answered my call for stories and musings about the rewards of a boat beyond on-the-water sailing. Because of space, I couldn’t use them all in the magazine. Here are several more:

A few people have asked me why I continue to work slowly on my 42-foot boat in my yard here next to my house. I’ll state it simply: “I’m keeping the dream alive.” Yes, it’s an idea of returning to my old cruising days.
(JohnL, Kea’au, Big Island, Hawaii)

In his later years, my dad lost his medical endorsement to fly after a heart attack. He still kept three airplanes. He would go to his hangar every day and putter around. Shoot the breeze with passing visitors and go home after 4 or 5 hours. Those airplanes kept him alive for an additional 12 years and were worth every penny in hangar cost and insurance premiums.


I recently moved to a marina with a dock. I am a pretty busy guy so I would hustle down to the dock, load my crew and take off. I hadn’t spent any time getting to know anyone. The last few times I have been futzing on the boat. Installing solar, new bilge pump, etc. All day long people drop by to say hi and shoot the breeze. Many folks are having lunch and drinks on their boat. A few go out but more stay. Across from me is a gentleman with a 45-foot Beneteau. He sits there in the cockpit stern-to and has a kind word for everyone. We strike up a conversation. He used to have a 32-footer. His boys loved it. His wife tolerated it pretty well. He traded up. The boys went to college and got distracted with their own lives. The wife isn’t as mobile as she used to be so rarely comes down. The boat doesn’t go out much, if at all.

I said to him: “Well, heck. I have a full crew of miscreants. Why don’t I get them aboard a couple times a month and you can take us sailing?”

“Oh, no thanks,” he said. “I really don’t have time. What with all the friends I have here to keep up with.”


It took me a while to get it but that boat is definitely keeping this gentleman alive. He has a lot of acquaintances who drop by and he always has a story to tell. I think he’s getting exactly what he wants out of his boat and I say more power to him.
(Dan, Maxi 77, Relax Lah!, Singapore)

We sail our boat, not as much as we’d like; there’s something special about ownership and the idea that we can step aboard whenever we like. I spend some time every day on the boat doing something, making her a little more what we want her to be and a little more ours. And it’s occurred to us, lying in the forward cabin looking out at puffy clouds floating by and feeling a light breeze through the forward hatch, that we could be anywhere, from tied to our dock to anchored at Tahiti.

If you have the time, see if you can scare up a copy of Small Craft Advisory by Louis Rubin, Jr., He included a chapter on this very topic that really hit home for me.
(Mike Turner, Hermann Lazyjack 32 schooner, Mobile Bay, Ala.)


How many of us still have a baseball glove in the closet? Do you have a weight set that gets moved more than used? How ‘bout power tools that still aren’t dirty after 10 years?

I know a dozen guys with hot-rods in various stages of decomposition and/or reconstruction. It’s easier for sure, and sometimes more realistic, to act out parts of the dream even if we can’t—or won’t—alter our lives to realize the dream. That connection to the life we would live gives us hope that we could do it if “normal” life weren’t in the way, and we love to picture ourselves doing something great, something cool.

I used to be bothered by dreamers, but I have come to appreciate the joy they get from touching the vehicle of their dreams.
(John, Catalina 27, North Carolina)


My favorite boat as an “idea” was presented by John Steinbeck with those that hung out at the docks of Cannery Row. [Ed note: Steinbeck’s character, Henri, In Cannery Row, likes boats but hates the water and spends years living in and rebuilding a boat on the hard.]
(Capt. Force, Aythya)

Nothing beats reading a book or taking a nap in the V-berth, gently rocking with the waves lapping at the hull while a fresh breeze blows through. Fresh coffee, the smell of sausage cooking in the galley, sitting in the cockpit as the sun comes up and lake comes alive … is one of the greatest pleasures in life.
(Joe Diver, 1982 Catalina 25, Eagle Mountain Lake, Texas)

I had a high school friend, Marty, who was everything I was not: Handsome, great dancer, rafts of girls, and finally, had the most lovely of the girls as his wife. I thought for years that there was the happiest of men.

After I completed a multi-year circumnavigation, I got a call from Marty’s wife. Marty had died from a wasting disease. She asked me to visit their home. Gradually his universe began to shrink until in his last years his entire world was a small room, he called it his Chart Room, filled with charts and storm tracks, passage logs and pictures of ports of call, in which, without my knowledge, he sailed with me around the world.
(Reese Palley)

I’ll admit it, I’m a dreamer. I’ve thought about getting a sailboat for quite some time and going off to Europe/Med and sailing around to different countries or around the world. The boat IS an idea for me. The idea of what I’m going to do when I retire from the military. Dreaming of where I could go. I look at boat listings and think of ideas of what I can do, where I can go and the adventures that can happen. I still have 6 years left to retirement and plan to take a year off to de-stress from work. I’ve thought of buying a house when I retire and settle down but after growing up and living around the military my whole life I’m not sure I can or want to settle down.
(Dan, Germany, soon moving to Tennessee.)

I have a story about an old boat partner I had many years ago. He called me one day and offered a half interest in his Catalina 27 as the marina was getting ready to sell it for past due monies owed. He had owned this boat for 10 years and had only sailed her twice. He liked to sit home and plan ocean voyages. So I guess you could say that this boat was only an idea to him. He never worked on the boat over the 10 years he owned her. On a good note: I did buy that half interest and got the boat up to shape. Then I bought his half and my wife and I sailed her all over the Chesapeake Bay.
(CLSailor, Cheoy Lee Clipper 36 Rapport)

I’d argue that every single person who is or has been actually cruising was a dreamer at first. How could you not have been? I remember the first time I actually “had the dream” of cruising. I was sitting on the verandah of a small hotel in Martinique on a family vacation in 1985. There were several cruising yachts anchored in the cove, and I said to myself, “Wouldn’t I love to do that! But we probably won’t ever be able to afford it.” Seventeen years later, we bought a sailboat, outfitted it, worked on our offshore skills with a trip to Bermuda and then sailed off to the Caribbean. If I had not had my dream, it would never have happened.
(Hud3, The Belle of Virginia, Island Packet 380, Nevis, West Indies)

I’ve owned 18 boats, 2 powerboats, 24 and 36, two small boats, 14 and 15 skiffs, two sailing dories, 16 & 20 feet, several sloops, 23,24,30, 31 and 40, and an H28 ketch. Rebuilt one 24 sloop completely, and built the 30 and 40 from scratch with a partner. All were wood, and all were old time designs. Yet one never hit the water while I owned it. It was a sloop I rebuilt and spent many hours sitting in its cabin in bad weather, drinking coffee laced with bourbon, reading or just thinking, listening to the weather beating on her (Ragamuffin) and there was something about the shape of the boat, the whole experience that wasn’t quite equaled by the several seaside cabins I’ve owned and lived in. Maybe it’s the shape of the thing, the specificity of its construction, layout and accommodation that give it that special quality that even without the slap of the wave on her and the tugging around at anchor or even in a slip, that makes it so unique as an atavistic den, almost womblike, and a remembrance of living in caves.
(Douglas Savage, Massachusetts)

The boat is the context of my memory. It holds all those night watch conversations safe from the failing synapses of age. I still voyage with you along the Hudson, along the Gulf Stream from Marsh Harbour, across the Atlantic from Spain. Precious cargo those memories. Safe in a cockpit, safe in a boat, still sailing through my memory.
(Buie Seawall, Denver, Arial’s Song)

The boat as an idea figures in biblical narrative dating back to Noah. It becomes the ark which carries humanity to safety. I think the World Council of Churches also used it as a stylized logo for their organization. Thus the boat becomes sanctuary and in these days of economic turmoil and environmental degradation I think this symbolic view of the boat grows in its fascination even in a somewhat secularized form.
(Mark Parent, owner of an IP 38)

I met a terrific man in Villefranche during my Med cruising days. Jean Claude only took his boat out of the slip in August of each year. The rest of the time she was secured in her slip in the marina. His boat was a classic, 60-foot, gaff rigged schooner. Wood planked, copper sheathed hull. Massive wood spars that gently raked aft. Teak decks and varnished teak cabin house and trim. He first saw her when he was nine years old, moored in the harbor near where he lived, and he decided right then and there that this beauty would be his one day.

We spent a week in Villefranche, and every day Jean Claude would come down to work on her. Climbing the rigging to paint a bit of tar on the lines. Some sanding here, some varnish there. Some work on the hull, some work on the cabin house. Sometimes it was early in the day; sometimes it was late at night. But he was there, every day.
(Phillip Yaffa, Peregrina, Miami)

In my years at Adler/Barbour I had literally thousands of conversations over 35 years with prospective refrigeration system buyers. Talk about dreams! There were young guys and couples just starting out with a minimal boat—they wanted a cheap and simple system, 12 volt DC, etc.They were fun to chat with. Sometimes they sent me excited postcards from exotic places.

But there were a lot of older guys too, usually in their late 50s or even mid 60s; they’d sailed locally—coastal cruisers or race boats—but never long or far enough to be really satisfied because duty always came first. They’d built their successful businesses, sent their kids to college, paid off one or even several ex-wives, had the big one and the triple bypass. But they still felt pretty good, were now building their getaway world cruising dreamboat, and needed a big capacity deep freeze and lots of reefer space, never mind the cost, just get it to the yard ASAP.

I cannot describe how stressed and anxious many of these guys were, with their eyes on the clock and “September Song” in their ears. Most of them made it; some did not—I’d hear about those from the new owners of their dream boats, calling me to order a spares kit for a long voyage. Sad stories too—how they found the boat in Florida or the Caribbean, owner carried off the boat, never to return, estate sail, etc.
(Michael Adler, Prudence)

I have an acute sense for just how short this life really is. Partly from the debt I feel to my brothers who did not come home, and partly from my own experience of nearly dying from leukemia. I have chosen to live deliberately. Even taking that stance, I savor the essence of my little ship, at the dock or under way. Last night, having trouble sleeping, knowing she was waiting for me—this was in my thoughts, a great comfort.

I remember once when I was really sick. Had not slept in a few days. My wife took me down to my little ship and I climbed aboard. She rocked me to a deep and peaceful sleep even though I was not able to free her from her dock lines that held her fast. Now I sail her, and other boats (I make deliveries). My life is better for the fact that I sail, and my little ship has more value than ANY insurance policy will ever reflect.
(Senior Cruiser, Faith, 1964 Pearson Ariel, Cruising between NC, Bahamas & Pensacola)

I seem to use my boat, Winsome, a blue-hulled CS 40, less and less, a victim of schedule and lately, poor weather. But she is full of memories, most of them good: the 2000 Annapolis-to-Bermuda race in which we sailed 500+ miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake to St. George’s harbor on ONE tack, hardening up as we finished in a modest squall; three summertime cruises to New England, lolling off a friend’s mooring in Edgartown Harbor, watching the swells come and go; a fearsome electric storm one midnight during the 200-mile run from Newport to Cape May that spun us around and then blew us forward in precisely the right direction; a perfect evening on a mooring in Cuttyhunk harbor slurping oysters delivered boatside by a sweet young thing in an open skiff. You get the idea.
(Terence Smith, Washington, D.C.)

All winter long, I lie awake thinking about this thing or that I want to fix or improve on the boat. With so little water in Colorado, sailing for me has to be an abstract concept, or as you say, “the boat as an idea,” rather than the act of sailing. That’s why we usually go out at night. The darkness gives the illusion of a bigger body of water. Often, we use it like a floating cocktail lounge, with like-minded, similarly afflicted people, in the marina where we keep our boat, or anchored in a secluded part of the lake.
(Neil Westergaard, Denver, 18-foot Capri)

Sometimes I think that my boat is much more fantasy than reality. She was built for me, a prototype Alibi 54. Signed contract September 2008. She was delivered November 2011. I wanted a boat that captured my imagination, in appearance and innovative technology. Its ambitions were beyond any of the production boats I’d seen.

The build was a nightmare. The first yard in Thailand dissolved. It took 10 months to set up a new yard and hire staff. I hired a project management team, held weekly production meetings on Skype. He flew over several times. I flew over five times in two years. It was a struggle. The time I’ve spent sailing it, three or four weeks, have been pretty thrilling. Was it worth it? Oh yeah. I’ve had fantasies about building another one.
(Paul Gray, Chicago)