From Tech Head to Splinter Head

"Reporter's Notebook"


A weekend aboard Land's End, a wooden ketch built by Britt Brothers in 1935, gave managing editor Elaine Lembo a new outlook on the nine-to-five.Elaine Lembo

I just had the best weekend of summer so far and thanks for it go to spam-not the icky pink and white junk you fry up with eggs. I mean the electronic junk that clogs the arteries of your personal cyberworld and sends the technologically-addicted into a state of heart-stopping arrest.

Actually, it was a fact about spam. I read it in a recent New Yorker article and it instantly became a watershed for how I spend my time. At first, the fact-that because it takes at least five seconds to recognize and delete an email, as much as 159 years of collective time is lost daily hitting the delete button of billions of spam messages-challenged the limits of my comprehension. Then it made me feel desperate, trapped, like I had nothing in common with anyone in this whole strange world. Then I felt full of resolve.

I turned off my computer, threw three old T-shirts and a swimsuit into a canvas bag, and headed over the bridges to spend the weekend aboard our very old, but very beautiful, wooden ketch in Wickford, Rhode Island.

Land's End, built in 1935 by Britt Brothers for inventor Alfred Loomis as a gift to his sons, is an object about as far removed from modern life as any you can hop aboard. There's a part of me that craves and resists her all at once. I resist her running backstays, the boomkin, roughing it with an icebox, and drawing a limited supply of freshwater that must be hand pumped.

But I love lamps lit with wicks and oil, the varnish, the fancy markings of the compass points in an old binnacle, the comfortable sailing that comes, sometimes slowly, with a sturdy, full-keeled boat, and the hurricane lantern we hang in the cockpit at anchor. And I love Lizard, the restored Old Town canvas dinghy that I row to and from the boat and in and out of shallow waters on little adventures at anchorages old and new. Lizard was used as a prop in "Evening," a film whose setting is a grand Newport of decades ago, its characters residents of Ocean Drive. Like some kind of nut, when I got back home after seeing the movie-Lizard popped in to view during a key love scene-I got on the phone to friends: "Lizard's famous! My dinghy's a star!"

So to say that Rick, my partner, and I ached for our first summer weekend aboard Land's End is putting it mildly. She'd been out of the water for more than a year while Rick had all kinds of structural upgrades done, from work at the stemhead to new floors and saloon table supports to a yellow pine cabin sole. He repainted the hull, revarnished deck boxes and trim, and some of the interior. Then he repainted the masts and re rigged her, making upgrades and improvements, and adjusting accordingly as surprises sprung up along the way.

Admittedly, we went light on the actual sailing, barely coasting to the northern tip of nearby Conanicut Island. "I've seen guys launch wooden boats in the morning, sail them in the afternoon, and sink them by nightfall," Rick warned in his inimitable salty manner.

We swam off her and enjoyed drinks in the cockpit. We cast our view over the harbor and chatted about new floating neighbors we have from the vantage of this different mooring in the harbor, inside the breakwater. We entertained friends and caught up with others who we'd lost touch with last summer, while Land's End was in the shed. Through it all, Rick timed the minutes between bilge pump "contractions."

While he did that, I resorted to my favorite pastime: staring out over the water, and daydreaming. One moment, I contemplated the tiny baby starfish I spied during an early-morning outing in Lizard, at another, I reread sentences from an excellent novel to savor the richness of the words. And I realized that for all the sailing I've done near and far over the years, and the reminiscing that goes with it, this summer, I don't have records to set, new places I absolutely must see, conquests I'm setting in my sights. I am shocked to realize that if we don't leave Narragansett Bay at all, I won't be disappointed; I don't care. I just want the experience of this creaky classic. Spam mail can wait for winter; from what I gather, it'll be there, and then some.