Editor's Log: Behind the Wheel

When you drop the hook in a distant, quiet cove at the end of a satisfying sail, it doesn't matter if you arrived there in a 50-year-old sloop or a 50-foot gold plater.

My friends in Charleston, South Carolina, had a nickname for it: The Batmobile. It was a black, early ’80s, two-door Cadillac El Dorado with worn leather seats, a set of roof racks for kayaks and dinghies, and a long, flat hood that resembled the landing deck of an aircraft carrier. When I pointed the thing in a southerly direction, its distinctive Caddy hood ornament was already halfway to Georgia. It guzzled fuel like a frat boy downing brewskis on spring break and was, in all honesty, a hideous bomb. But I’d bought it for a song, and man, I just loved that car.

But in 1995, after several hard, joyful years behind its wheel, I had to part with it. I’d just wrapped up a job in South Carolina and was set to hit I-95 North--the Batmobile was gassed up and ready to go--when I was offered the chance to deliver a state-of-the-art Open 50 called True Blue up to Boston, my approximate destination. True Blue had just won her class in the BOC Challenge and was absolutely gorgeous. In contrast, large swaths of paint were peeling off the Cadillac. The choice was pretty easy. I tossed the keys to a pal at the Charleston Yacht Club and asked him to get what he could for it, invest the proceeds in malt beverages, and throw a wingding in the Batmobile’s honor.

Once home, after a great sail, a succession of Detroit artifacts (an ’86 Buick Regal, a ’79 Lincoln Versailles) followed in the Batmobile’s smoky exhaust. But then in 2000, feeling relatively flush from a promotion at Cruising World, I fulfilled a longtime ambition and plonked down the dough for a brand-new pickup, my first-ever new car. Alas, I’m not much easier on vehicles than I ever was. A close inspection of my almost 3-year-old Chevy reveals a dismaying assortment of dings and scratches (I tell myself: It’s a truck!), a smattering of green and blue bottom-paint specks from a poorly selected parking spot one windy spring day at the boatyard, and a cabful of foul-weather gear, sail ties, tools, and bits of line.

My drive down memory lane shifted into gear after reading this month’s ode to beater boats by regular contributor Cap’n Fatty Goodlander (see page 29), himself in the midst of an open-ended circumnavigation aboard a hurricane-damaged craft he bought 12 years ago for a cool three grand (the same as my purchase price for the Batmobile, which only looked like it had been through a typhoon). Fatty’s contention, underscored by experience, is that with a lot of hard, creative work and an overwhelming desire to cruise under sail, even those without vast financial resources can possess a seaworthy vessel capable of extended voyaging.

The three sailboats I’ve owned, including my current J/30, would all qualify as "classic plastic," good old boats that’ve been around the block a time or two. I’m sure Fatty would approve. But as my Chevy’s taught me, one of these days it sure would be nice to own something fresh from the builder. For those already in the market for a new boat, our 10-page Boat of the Year feature beginning on page 46 should provide some tasty food for thought.

One note about BOTY: A couple of years ago in this space, I took the collective boat-building industry to task for not providing more affordable alternatives for new-boat buyers. So it’s only fair to note that of the 30 boats our judges inspected for the 2003 BOTY contest, nearly a quarter were listed for under $150,000. It’s a trend we hope to see continue.

Of course, the great thing about owning a boat has nothing to do with how much it cost. You could say the same about cars, which, when you think about it, all share the same roads. So when you drop the hook in a distant, quiet cove at the end of a satisfying sail, it doesn’t matter if you arrived there in a 50-year-old sloop or a 50-foot gold plater: When all’s said and done, the view from behind their wheels is exactly the same.