First Night Aboard

As the Backyard Warrior nears the end of a long boatbuilding voyage, the fun stuff began even before the boat hit the water. "Hands-On" Sailor from our February 2010 issue

First night aboard 368

Not quite at sea but eager nonetheless, the Zartman girls make themselves right at home.Ben Zartman

It was a night of high excitement for my wife, our two daughters, and myself. A steady rain drummed on the coachroof and against the tightly dogged portholes, and the temperature was less than 40 degrees F, but the saloon of our Cape George 31 was toasty. A cozy fire blazed in the tiny cast-iron stove next to the main bulkhead, and the cheery light from three oil lamps reflected off scores of varnished surfaces. The girls, Antigone and Emily, were scurrying all about the boat. They raced from their cabin to the head, then along the shelf above the settee to the double berth forward.

As I sat in a corner of the settee nursing a mug of tea and giving tiny passing legs a boost up whenever necessary, I tried to pretend that Ganymede was in the water instead of up on jack stands a hundred miles from the nearest navigable river. I imagined the gentle yaw as she tugged at her anchor; I heard the lap of wavelets against the hull. I sighed, lost in the happy reverie that is the anticipation of dreams come true.

This was our first real night on the boat. I say "real night" because we'd slept aboard once already, but it was before there were cushions or a cook stove or a heating stove or a head, and the girls' cabin didn't have bunks. That sojourn had been more like camping, the four of us squishing into the big double berth forward with an electric heater buzzing on the temporary plywood sole. Now the boat is as good as finished inside. The sole's planking goes all the way aft, there's a proper toilet seat in the head, all the bunks have thick, comfy cushions-and there's even a tray of cookies baking in the oven. The only things missing were a saloon table and several lift-out floor panels that are next on the shrinking to-make list.

"There seems to be plenty of room," my wife, Danielle, said as she set the cookies on the counter to cool.
"So far," I remarked. "But things will look smaller when all of our stuff is in here." I paused, then continued. "And when it arrives. Of course, we'll have to stick it somewhere."

Danielle laid a hand on her round belly; she was eight months along with our third child. This had thrown an unexpected wrinkle into our plans-the aft cabin has room for two bunks, not three. The fifth member of our family will have to sleep on the settee. "There goes our guest room," Danielle had joked. People had reacted with surprise when they'd heard that our family of four was planning to cruise on a 31-foot boat. And to consider five people would once have strained even my credulity. But we designed the interior to be roomier than most pilot cutters, with a higher coachroof and an aft cabin instead of an inboard diesel. Ganymede's accommodations feel larger than some 40-footers I've seen.

Later that night, when the cookies were eaten and the girls had been read to sleep in their little bunks, Danielle and I lay in our berth and stared at the lamp shadows playing across the ceiling. "Where do you think we'll go first?" she asked at last.

"Depends on when we can launch," I said. "If she's ready and it's winter, we'll go to Baja. If it's summer, we'll go to British Columbia."

"Palm trees or pine trees," she sighed dreamily. "I can't decide which I'd rather see right now."

I laughed. "Right now, this is all we get. High and dry in the Sierra foothills."

The comforter rustled as she turned toward me. "Right now, this is good enough. Just to know that the boat is almost finished, after all this time, and we're putting stuff aboard. The whole scheme looks like it might work."
"Did you ever doubt that it would?"

"Not really." She reached over and fondly rumpled my hair. "I'm just glad the dreamer I married is also a doer."

The Backyard Warrior still has a few construction tales to tell, but for the record, Ganymede was launched in the fall and is headed to the palm trees.