“...there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
– Water Rat, The Wind in the Willows
I can relate to that, sort of. Rat and Mole were messing about in a boat on a river, not at sea.
I’ve been canoeing on ponds, white-water rafting in California, and crewing on a small sailboat off the beach in Greece and Florida, where the water was warm when you fell in. These things are fun.
But Chip goes to sea — 5 miles offshore, in icy New England waters, with their fog and sudden summertime squalls. In a 22-foot Catalina sailboat that Hobie from his Internet boat-list explained to me was designed for bay or lake areas, not open sea.
“That doesn’t mean you
can’t take it out in the ocean (on calm days), it does mean you are just plain nuts to be sailing in bad
When Chip left for his vacation trip from Marblehead to Maine, he put his boat-list on my computer so I could relay questions he might have during his odyssey.
Hobie, who lives in central Florida, was my main contact in case of trouble, but he got hit head-on by Hurricane Charley. When he had electricity again he sent the above information just as Chip was about to head back down the coast that Charley was about to travel up. And I thought, when it comes to boats and adventure,
“just plain nuts” describes Chip pretty well.
But as another list-friend says, “A bad day sailing beats almost anything worth
I don’t get it, really. I figure almost anything is better than being in a tiny boat with no real bathroom, that I
can’t get off when I want, with a choice between being sick and
dramamine-sleepy. My attitude
didn’t change as Chip called me on his cell phone to report days of no wind, marinas without shower facilities, river currents rushing past rocks and docks, tides going the wrong way, faulty electrical equipment that
he’d been counting on; mosquitos at dusk, red sky in the morning; rain and constant lightning all around him, and mad motorboaters with no consideration for small sailboats.
On the way up the coast, stopping at Newburyport, he dubbed other boaters on the Merrimack River
“Merrimaniacs.” Coming back, he wrote in his journal
“it’s impossible to describe the chaos — from small fishing boats and aluminum dinghies anchored in the mouth of the ripping entrance bouncing all over bejesus just attempting to catch fish, to the motor yachts in a major rush to get their important skippers somewhere fast for lunch; from the weekend-liberated worker-bees free at last and in a huge hurry to go nowhere fast, to the Cigarettes in a whole big rush to support Saudi oil sales — the inmates race hither and yon in a frenzy, from behind and abeam, coming at you, blasting up from behind on both sides. They are simply everywhere and all they have in common is
‘the faster the better!’”
This makes it even more clear to me that boats are generally a guy thing — and like other guy things, attract two basic types: the show-off speed-demons, and the skill-oriented life-huggers like Chip and his list-mates. Though of course some women sail.
My friend Pam says about her Herreshoff 12 1/2, “when I look at it, I feel
love.” It takes her back to her childhood sailing with her father. The guys might have these feeling and memories, too, but they talk about other things. In fact, some of them talk like pirates, from the Web site of that name:
“Never trust a pirate, he’ll eat all yer food and drink all yer ale, swoon ye and bedevil
As Hobie explained it to me. “My current sailing buddy and I turn into children jumping in the puddles with our rain coats on, just seeing which one can make the biggest splash. Sailing is freedom, excitement, adventure, thrills, achievement, exercise and practice in agility rolled into one, I love
Chip described it somewhat differently, based on previous coastal journeys: That you are never more alive than when you are about to die in a storm at sea, with only your skill and determination to save you. Also, he is very goal-oriented, and was disappointed that wind and weather conditions
wouldn’t let him go all the way up the coast of Maine. His list pals sent this message:
“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Which I guess I can relate to as an analogy for life.
Chip made that decision, too, and turned around at Portland. Harbor people along the way told him that
it’s uncommon to take a sailboat that small up the coast alone, and one of them added
“except for teenagers.” Chip took that as a compliment and concluded,
“It was another adventure, a new experience. I’m glad I did it.”
I think that when it comes to boats, and a lot of other things, some men are always teenagers, adventurers and pirates. I guess
that’s what makes them so wonderful.
Readers who want to read Chip
Ford’s journal about his sailing trip can find it at www.chipford.com.