A roaming fox, like a guide, led me past nodding wetland grasses to the waterfront shipyard. There the
inevitability of the situation sank in. New keel bolts, floor timbers, and a varnished mizzenmast-but no sailing-were on the agenda for Land’s End, a 39-foot wooden Crocker ketch. My stomach flopped with the thud of a dive weight. It left me more glum than Rhode Island’s early June weather, which had Bermuda-bound friends making quips like “Gee, I didn’t know I’d have to come to New England in summer to feel winter.”
My silly-stupid sentimentality grew worse when I trudged through the mud to have a look at Lizard, our ship’s tender. She’s an Old Town rowing dinghy, and although I’d made good progress over the winter scraping her stringers, ribs, and thwarts to prepare for varnish, it wasn’t enough. And besides, the canvas hull had cracks that needed mending, and it was already time to sand, then slap on bottom paint.
The wooden-boat subset of the cruising community draws a strange strain of human, indeed; my partner, Rick Martell, owner of Land’s End, seems to thrive on the pain of depriving us of sailing time just as much as he enjoys letting our egos feed off the occasional perfectly varnished episode. I’d gotten so high off one of them-a weeklong cruise from Newport to Martha’s Vineyard and back-that it’s the hook from which I’ve been hanging most of my cruising fantasies of late. What a sail we’d had: On the last night, we pulled into Tarpaulin Cove, at Naushon, in the Elizabeth Islands, amid an eclectic fleet of classics and schooners in a cove laden with the sharp, magic angle of setting sun. That was nothing compared to the bagpipe soliloquy that floated in, shortly after, from the other end of the anchorage. It droned from the foredeck of Mandate, a Swan 47 that longtime owners John and Betsie Cumming were taking from Nova Scotia to Grenada. “The pipes sound better the farther away you are,” John joked during a cockpit visit I made after rowing the sturdy Lizard their way.
With that lovely memory indelibly on display in my mind, but with no Land’s End in the water with which to build up a new reserve, I’ve resolved to get my sailing fix on someone else’s hull-by taking out a three-cabin Beneteau with friends in the Grenadines. That’s the general principle of bareboat chartering, and it’s worked for countless sailors for nearly 40 years. More than a hundred companies in dozens of destinations will help you sail most any place, anytime.
You may not have room for your bagpipes, and you may not get to preen when someone clamors to take a shot of your museum-quality ketch, but you’re sailing. And it’s a chance, perhaps, to step outside of the familiar and
become more engrossed in new experiences and surroundings, as former CW editor Herb McCormick did in Thailand earlier this year. (See “The Land of Smiles,” page 50.) Wherever you find yourself in the chartering season of 2006-2007, may you, too, discover a Land of Smiles-from the water, of course.