On Board Boats

Chapter 1

The Dream

The conventional wisdom has it that only very rich people or fools buy new boats. I am not a rich person by any of the usual measures. Nor do I consider myself a fool. But I do own a new boat, which has me doing an inordinate amount of daydreaming on cold wintery days. And, I must admit, I do have some anxiety about the financing of this wildly reckless extravagance. The story of this acquisition begins a long time ago and requires the telling of a number of stories from my childhood.

My maternal grandfather, William McGill Burns (Admiral, USNR), grew up on Shelter Island, off thekayruth1.jpg (49780 bytes) eastern tip of Long Island, New York. After a stint in college in Philadelphia and commissions in both the Army and the Navy he did return to Shelter Island, albeit for short stays in the summer. My mother and grandmother often talk of spending summers in a rented house on Shelter Island. As a Naval Reserve Officer and a native of an island with a long seafaring history it wasn't long before my grandfather owned a boat. In fact, there were at least two. To the   above right is the first Kay Ruth.  This photo was taken in 1946.

kayruth2.jpg (13117 bytes)The only one of these boats with which I was familiar was the Kay Ruth II, named after my mother and grandmother.  The Kay Ruth II is pictured at the left.  My grandfather owned her from 1952-1963. The boat was a forty foot Matthews outfitted as a sport fisher, with two great long outriggers originating at the aft edge of the cabin and rising into the sky.  In the photo they are in front of the cabin so my grandfather must have changed them at some point. Those outriggers gave the impression of being the antennae of a gigantic bug. But the clear plastic rings to guide the fishing lines along their length, and the intermittent black stripes along their white length, gave the lie to that interpretation. She had twin inboard engines, a v-berth in the forecastle, an owner's cabin, galley, head, and large saloon. The dining table and opposing benches could be folded down to form a double bed. The banquette, also in the saloon, provided accommodation for at least one more tired sailor. The hull and cabin were, of course, wood. Fiberglass was not then an accepted construction material. The quantity of high gloss mahogany was beyond belief. Every winter the boat was taken out of the water and kept under cover so that all that wood could be repainted and varnished. All in all, it was quite a boat, at least in the eyes of a boy less than ten years old.

usps.jpg (72601 bytes)To the left is a clipping my grandmother sent to me.  It describes one of my grandfather's voyages with Kay Ruth II.  It must have been in 1952 or 1953, given the discussion in the first paragraph and the period during which he owned the boat.

We grandchildren were occasionally taken out to Shelter Island for short summer vacations. We would have liked to stay longer but our parents and grandparents had a different agenda. Besides, the old saying that a boat shrinks a foot for every day that you are on it was probably coined by a grandfather vacationing with some of his very young progeny.

I remember a number of events from those few trips. I suppose that most of my recollections occurred on only one or two trips, but spreading them over several expeditions makes the memories more savory. When you have a cabin cruiser with two great, enormous, marine-blue throbbing engines below decks you cannot remain self respecting for very long if the boat never leaves its mooring. And as a Rear Admiral in the Naval Reserve my grandfather was quite proud of flying the appropriate ensign. So there you have a great deal of peer pressure to get that boat underway once in a while. Also, it seemed to me, and probably to others as well, that the engines required an awful lot of tinkering much to the delight of the local marine mechanic. So it was under these circumstances that it was decided that we would make an overnight trip to Block Island. 'Pop' got out his charts in order to plot the course we would take. Under the guise of telling the yacht club commodore where we were going, he checked on the operation of the ship to shore telephone. And in order to impress us with his knowledge of state-of-the-art technology he made sure that the radio direction finder was in working order. The charts, and checking the RDF and telephone routine were probably unnecessary given that Pop was an inveterate tinkerer and knew the way to Block Island from many previous trips. But then I suppose he was trying to impress upon us the importance of preparation and routine for safety.

In any case, those engines were brought to life. Individually they came rumbling and throbbing up from the hold. The machismo of all that horsepower was something. It just went right to your balls. In those days, it may still be the case, the engine exhaust was right at the waterline on the transom, below a great expanse of high gloss mahogany with the boat's name in gold letters. The effect of having the exhaust at the water line was that as the boat rocked the exhaust pipes would alternately dip below the waterline. Well, the boat was already rumbling and vibrating from the twin engines, then the water would swallow and release with some amplification the exhaust which you just knew was going to be thunderous when we got under way. But that only came after the engines were adequately warmed up; remember those babies were notoriously cantankerous.

The trip to Block Island was probably pretty mundane, even boring, for the adults on board. But for me it was wonderful, at least at the beginning. Oh, I'd been on ferries out of sight of land before, but this was a small boat, relatively speaking, and the captain was my grandfather. We were told about the use of the outriggers for tuna fishing and why the chairs on the deck at the stern had those steel tubes bolted to them. We got a demonstration of the radio direction finder. And we were allowed to sit up on the deck in front of the wheel house. And we sat. And we sat. I suppose Pop sensed our creeping boredom because he announced that with the binoculars we could see Block Island. Using the binoculars kept us occupied for at least another two minutes each. Thirty years later I don't remember too many other details of the trip. Suffice it to say that we did get back to Shelter Island, my mother did not put us up for adoption, and Pop did invite us back for other cruises.

I am sure that in everyone's encounter with boating a dinghy plays a prominent role. As is so often the case, Pop's dinghy did not have a name. That didn't seem to bother anyone overmuch, the defect never was rectified. I can remember racing about in the dinghy. Never on my own, but it was still great sport. The dinghy was powered by a small Evinrude outboard; was there any other kind in those days. That Evinrude came home to Garden City every year. After decommissioning it spent the winter months in the garage. Every spring it was cleaned up and lubricated then mounted on a 55 gallon steel drum filled with water. After much cursing under his breath Pop would get the thing started, announce that it was fit for another season, and off it would go to Shelter Island.

But back to racing around in the dinghy. At least once a day we had to go ashore for groceries or some other forgotten item. And then there were the obligatory late afternoon trips to the yacht club for cocktails. Coca-cola for the kids of course. In between times someone would take us out behind the Shelter Island Yacht Club where we would beach the dinghy. It was a fascinating place back there. There were a few derelict and abandoned boats, a few others being worked on, a number of small sailboats, and lots of discarded parts and boating detritus to rummage through. As I look back, over the years and over the last sentence, I realize from whence my son has acquired his scavenging instincts. Nothing remains from our scavenging expeditions. Our mother probably reacted to the trash we picked up in much the same way that I react to the collection of sticks, rubber bands and bits of plastic that my son brings home.

Then there is learning how to row the dinghy. You can't imagine the frustration of a small boy trying to please his grandfather. In retrospect, I was far more impatient than he was. Not only did I want to be done with life preservers, but I wanted to be allowed to go on a solo voyage with the dinghy. These days I don't usually wear a life vest. I don't believe that the solo dinghy voyage has ever come to pass: At one time I was too young, and now I am desirous of companionship. To return to my story about rowing: My grandfather could row in the conventional manner or with a single oar over the stern. When he realized that I didn't have the coordination to work two oars so that I could go in a straight line he tried to teach me how to scull. I didn't have the strength for that. He had to do the rowing. Now I am strong enough to do the rowing but still have trouble going in a straight line while being able to see only where I've been and not where I'm going.

The experience with the dinghy was only surpassed by the opening and closing ride in the yacht club launch. The launch driver seemed to have admirable, nearly unbelievable control and finesse, never crunching the boats together as they heaved in different directions. While such control is a learned skill, launch drivers, like truck drivers, are not considered skilled labor. And this in spite of the fact that both are handling very expensive equipment and have our lives in their hands. I wonder what will happen to their pay if the rule of comparable worth ever becomes the law of the land.

Watching certain competitive sports can be a real yawner. I include competitive golf, bowling and bicycle racing in this category. The last of these I am qualified to comment on, but reserve that for later in my narrative. Many would include sailboat racing in my list. Perhaps I have been more selective in my watching, which means that for the most part I have let some camera crew do the greater part of the watching in order to later indulge my vicarious interests. On television I watched much of the re-taking of the America's Cup by Dennis Conner and his crew off the coast of Australia. The film shown on TV was superbly edited. It made one want to climb right on board and help grind the winches. Subsequent to Conner's vindication I borrowed from a friend a commercially available VHS tape entitled "Man Overboard!" The footage on this tape was filmed during one of the biennial Bermuda's Cup races. In the scene from which the tape derives its name, one of the crew members is swept overboard when he becomes entangled in a spinnaker sheet. In this scene the crew losses control of the chute while trying to douse it. A puff, or should I say gust, of wind catches the sail and whips the man overboard as quickly as one can wink an eye. The fact that the man is rescued and later recovers fully makes this an exciting tape without being ghoulish. All of this is by way of relating my rather meager recollections of the first sailboat race I ever watched. Truth be told, I don't suppose I was really watching the race any more than any one of us would sit on a street corner and watch the light change. Rather, all of us on board Kay Ruth II were aware of the race being run on the bay in front of the Shelter Island Yacht Club. The boats in this race were daysailers with, I believe, very heavy fixed keels. The size and weight of the keel meant that if you filled the boat with water you had better be sure that you knew how to swim. Needless to say, the only reason that this episode sticks in my mind is that one of the boats did capsize. There was some debate about how quickly the boat would sink. Miraculously the kids got it upright again before it sank. I guess someone had been pulling my leg about the thing being a real sinker. Oh, how I envied those kids who got to spend their summers racing about the bay in a sailboat. To this day I can remember wondering why our family couldn't have such a sailboat. I never voiced my sentiments though. By then I already was aware of my parent's passion for tennis.

This next episode is really fuzzy. You'll have to forgive me if, as a member of the cognoscenti, you realize that the scene as I describe it could not have taken place on Shelter Island. Part of the boating scene is that one fishes for dinner, either with a hook and line or by digging for it in the mud flats. My Grandfather introduced me to both in the bay in front of the yacht club. Of course, we didn't fish from his cabin cruiser. Using that piece of equipment to go after flounder would be a bit of overkill. We took the dinghy out to a fishing hole, baited our hooks and waited. In yesteryear, the days of plenty, we didn't have to wait for long. My sense of time has probably been foreshortened by the intervening years, but Pop isn't here to defend his virtue and patience so I'll stick to the days of plenty version. My previous exposure to fish had been on the dinner plate on Fridays, ours being a Catholic household. Catching a flounder, with a white underside and both eyes on the mud colored topside was quite an experience. And cleaning it was something more. Particularly when, as I've stated, my previous exposure to fish had been picking out the stray bone while eating it. At that point I wasn't old enough to do more than observe, thank goodness. Severed heads, entrails, and scales were a most unappetizing sight before dinner. But the best part of the trip was catching the little sand sharks. From my perspective they were real fighters. And the fact that Pop had to give them a swat on the head with a hammer in order to subdue them to the point where he could get the hook out made it all the more dramatic. Me, catching a shark, even if it was only a foot long! (Years later, as a lifeguard, friends and I dumped an eight foot shark carcass in the swimming pool. It created quite a stir when we took it out at the busiest time of day.) Encouraged by our success with line and hook, Pop took us clamming the next day.

This was another dinghy expedition. And I got to steer the boat with that old Evinrude spluttering away at the stern. We had to go across the bay, dodging boats and mooring bouys, then under the causeway into the tidal mudflats. We waded to about knee depth. Knee depth on a seven or eight year old is pretty shallow water on everyone else. Nevertheless, you cannot see bottom. To find the clams and scallops you wriggle and squish your feet down into the ooze and mud until you find a hard object. Then, without moving your feet, you reach down and pluck the little critter from that primordial muck. Slogging around in that stuff was all right for a kid, but I doubt that I was very productive in finding our dinner. In any case, we returned to the Kay Ruth about sunset, which meant we had to shuck the clams and scallops by a very dim cabin light as we had no shore power, being on a mooring. I was given a very dull knife in order to help with the job. Once again, I had seen this form of wildlife on the dinner plate but had no idea of how it got from the bay onto the plate. Some instructions on shucking were hastily given and I went to work on my first one. The bivalves were in a pail of water so that they would open a little and so that they would give up some of the sand and mud that they find so tasty. Parentherically, you should put a bit of cornmeal in the water. Filter feeders will exchange their sand for the corn meal, which is far less gritty when you get around to eating them. Anyway, I got my knife in, then pried him open to the point where one could fit in a small finger. I'm not sure if I put my finger in, or it just slipped into that scallop, but his reaction was immediate. I hadn't severed the muscles it used for closing. I didn't know if scallops had teeth, but my reflexes weren't going to wait long enough to find out. That poor scallop flew across the cabin as I shook him off my finger, and I was in tears because one of those things had bitten me. Furthermore, I was never going to eat another clam or scallop; I've since broken that oath. Pop was not impressed by my demonstration of manhood. But he agreed to prepare a different menu for me. That night I got beef and carrot stew for dinner. To this day I swear that that was the best stew I have ever tasted. When my Mother reads this she will probably insist that it was Dinty Moore from a can. So much for the discriminating taste buds of youth.

In this last Shelter Island episode we rented or borrowed a daysailer. Well, three of us did; my father, myself and my sister. At the time my sister was about eight and had a cast on her arm, I was about five. My brother would have been a year old so he could not accompany us. As auxiliary power most daysailers are equipped with a paddle. This necessitates some pretty fancy sailing when bringing the boat in at the end of the day. At the end of our voyage we approached the dock in front of the Shelter Island Yacht Club, one adult and two very small children. In this sort of manoeuvre one brings the boat around so that you head up into the wind and stall right at dockside. The exercise is easier if you have someone in the boat to grab the dock or hook a line on a piling to overcome any residual momentum. Apparently we approached the dock with more than a little momentum. No, we didn't crash into the dock and sink right there. But my Father did go to the bow to take hold of the dock at the point where he thought the boat would stall. Unfortunately for him we were still making a bit too much headway as we were passing parallel to the dock. Just as he grabbed one of the pilings the wind shifted and gusted a bit. My Father was left hugging the piling as my sister and I sailed away. All this in full view of the yacht club: My Father gripping the piling in a bear hug, his feet scrambling for a barnacle of some size two feet above water level , and a five and eight year old drifting out to sea. We have all lived to tell the story.

At some point I inherited a model sloop built by my father. He had built this boat at summer camp during his youth. Length on the waterline was two feet. At least it seemed like two feet when I was under five feet tall. But I suppose my current estimate of size is something like our recollection of snowfall as youngsters. You know the sort of thing: "When I was a boy we often had snowfalls that were half way up my thigh. Now it is never more than ankle high". Ipso facto we conclude that the snow was never less than three feet deep when we were kids. But to return to my story: This sloop was meant to be sailed short- handed; or should I say no handed. As a consequence, while the jib was a masthead rig, it was less than 100% of the foretriangle. Then there was the problem of steering the boat in the days before remote radio control. This was solved with a very rudimentary auto helm. The auto helm is, roughly speaking, a device that keeps the boat on the same tack, adjusting the course of the boat as the wind backs and veers. In a full size boat one changes tack, trims the sails, or changes course to adjust for changes in wind speed and direction. To accomplish this the auto helm worked by stretching a rubber band between the mainsheet and the tiller. With a puff of wind the rubber band would stretch, thereby giving a more gentle tug on the tiller and causing the boat to fall off a bit. The effect of the rubber band was to allow very short term sail trim while at the same time allowing the boat to either fall off or head up. It still strikes me as very clever. The other marvel of this boat was hull design. Remember that it was built in the early thirties. In order to accomodate the woodworking skills of young hands the hull was carved from several blocks of wood laminated together. But to reduce the amount of wood to be cut away she did not have a full keel. Rather, the hull shape was more like today's full size racer-cruisers with their fin keels. The keel was cut from heavy sheet metal and had ballast atteched to the bottom edge, much like today's bulb keels. Lacking a full keel from which to hang the traditional rudder, she was designed with a skeg rudder. So much for the innovations we usually attribute to the America's Cup racers. When I inherited this boat she needed a bit of refurbishing: She had been in my Grandmother's attic for thirty years. When I was done we had sanded and varnished her spars, painted the hull below the water line green and the topsides white, and sanded and varnished the mahogany deck. There was no cabin on this sleek beauty. The sails were of cotton. Although they showed the water stains of previous voyages, they didn't need to be replaced. We sailed her on the pond at Salisbury Park in Nassau County. The park was about five miles from our house so I couldn't go there on my own. But I do remember going with my Father and at least once with his Father. The major concern was that the wind would die while the boat was in the middle of the pond. That never did happen. The other concern was that she would collide with one of the other boats on the pond, become entangled and be irretrievable. That never happened either. We did have to race around the pond to retreive the boat at the end of each voyage. Without shoreside control there was no way to get her to sail back to the point of origin. This boat, handed down from father to son, spent most of its time in dry dock in my room. It always gave me a thrill to see that boat over in the corner. Maybe someday I would own a real boat just like her. I don't know what happened to that boat, but I wish had it now so that I could pass it on to my son.

The town in which both I and my parents grew up is a fairly prosperous and very stable community on Long Island. The downside of this was that my siblings and I had teachers who had also had my parents and aunts and uncles as students. The upside was that my parents knew some of the really prosperous residents. In this socio-economic crowd there is always someone that owns a sailboat. In our case the someone was Mr. Endeman, a boyhood chum of my Father's. Mr. Endeman was a Wall Street lawyer. And we all know what that means. In any case, he was an ardent sailor and owned a yawl, of about forty feet. Mr. Endeman's son, Freddy, was about my age. In a bid to spend some quality time with their sons, and in the hope that the sons would become friends, we all went sailing for a weekend. I am not sure if the boat was on the South or North Shore of Long Island. It doesn't really matter. What mattered more was that I was something of a midnight sailor. My Father gave me strict instructions about not wetting the bed and assured me that he would get me up for a trip to the head in the middle of the night. We left quite late on Friday afternoon and spent some time sailing under the stars. I made it through that night all right. The next day was wonderful. It was cool enough to require long pants and a sweater, but the wind was brisk and the sailing fantastic. There is a photograph of me at the wheel, before the mizzenmast, but for far less than two years. My father was mortified when, in spite of stern prior warning, I did a bit of midnight sailing. But what did they expect after a day on the water: The day's activity, the gentle motion of the boat and the sound of the water gently caressing the hull just put me out stone cold. I never had a chance. At the time, Mr. Endeman seemed to take it good naturedly, but we were never invited out again.

There is more to the Endeman's yacht although it precedes my own ill-fated voyage. It was on the Endeman's boat that my father and some of his friends sailed in the Bermuda Cup Race. This was something that I was only vaguely aware of; kind of like being aware of the Tour de France. I sometimes think that I spent my first twenty or so years in a shallow sleep, somewhat akin to the nighttime torpor of the hummingbird but occasionally bordering on hibernation. My Father's role as crew member is unclear at this point in time. It would be romantic to say that he was the navigator. After all, he spent the greater part of World War II in electronics school for the U.S. Navy. It is more likely that he was a slave on deck and in the galley. They made it there and back, but I don't think any of them rushed out to sign on for another try.

Fortunately, my yachting adventures did not end with my ill- fated trip on the Endeman's yacht. During my Junior High days I befriended one Tom Mulcahey. He had moved to Garden City to live with his aunt and uncle, Edna and Fred. In private conversations we would refer to them as the Frednas. Anyway, they had a power boat big enough for the four of us to go out for day trips on the Great South Bay of Long Island. We would go fishing, clamming swimming and water skiing. As usual, I was never really clear on where we were. If it had been up to me we never would have gotten back to the slip in the afternoon. Every mudflat with grass on it looked the same. Uncle Fred had spent so much time on the bay that he always knew where we were, and best of all, knew the best fishing and clamming holes. By this time I had completely recovered, or forgotten, my first experience with the retrieval and cleaning of shellfish. These trips were great fun and only added fuel to the wistful daydreaming about my own boat. I don't know that we ever really told the Frednas how much we appreciated them, and I am sure that now it is too late.

While we're on the subject of boats not driven by sail, let me recount my father's experience with a tramp steamer. In relative terms, Garden City was untouched by the Great Depression. And as luck would have it, the father of a chum of my father worked in the management of a steam ship company. Dad and his friend lobbied hard to get permission to sail from New York, across the Carribean and through the Panama Canal to California on one of the company's ships. They would not sail as crew members. Neither of them was old enough to be employable and, in those days, affluent youths were not going to be given papers by the appropriate union for a summer's lark on a working freighter. With great anticipation they packed their suitcases, being sure to include a good stock of books to read. As it turned out they were the only passengers and had to rely on each other and their books for entertainment. They had the luxury of dining at the captain's table. For the first few days it was pretty heady stuff. But a healthy teenager can sit still in the confines of a freighter for only so long. They asked the captain for a shipboard job so that they would not be quite so bored. He refused, fearing that the unionized sailors would make his life difficult. Teenagers can be pretty persistent, particularly given that at this point they were in the Carribean. Now the sailing was not only boring but hot. It wasn't long before these callow youths prevailed. At least they thought they had. The job given to them by the captain was that of cleaning one of the heads. A job was a job. It was better than spending another day sitting on deck reading and sweltering. Well, it might have been better were it not for the fact that they were assigned the dirtiest head in the deepest, hottest part of the hold. They did get the job done, but they kept to themselves for the rest of the voyage. The moral for me was that going to sea could be great sport as long as sport was the intent and there was someone else to clean the head.

Almost every middle class kid goes to camp. My brother, sister and I were no exception. In the bad old days they didn't have specialty sports or hobby camps. They were generally all purpose places to park the kids for part of the summer. My brother and I went to Camp Sloane, in the Berkshires. Special activities at general purpose camps usually cost extra and one must register for them in advance. As it happened, I was registered for horseback riding, several summers in a row, and my brother took sailing lessons. Presumably this decision was made so that one of us would not be not in the other's shadow. I didn't mind the choice: I liked horses, enough so that I spent a fair amount of free time mucking out stalls and brushing the more even tempered horses. And the possibilities of owning a horse or a sailboat were equally remote, so either choice was of little immediate or practical value for anything but entertainment.

My sister Cathy's summer camper experience was limited to Camp Blue Bay, where she did learn to sail. I was not jealous. She is four years older than I am, and was five years ahead of me in school so anything she did was so remote that it just wasn't relevant to my decision calculus. Besides I did get some exposure to Blue Bay. At the end of the season it was opened to the families of the Girl Scouts. We went there for a weekend trip. At the time I was having a bout with either ring worm or impetigo and the salt water cured it, so I have a favorable memory of the place. Perhaps there was a twinge of envy when Paul spent a summer washing dishes at the same Camp. After all, there had to be Girl Scouts over the age of fifteen that were needed to supervise all those little campers learning to sail and stay out of the poison ivy.

This next story is not one that I've dredged out of my memory banks but has something in common with one of the previous episodes. To be perfectly honest I have absolutely no recollection of the episode. One summer we rented a daysailer in Port Washington and sailed to City Island. At one time City Island was a hotbed of boatbuilding activity and so was a popular destination from ports along the North Shore. Upon our arrival there was apparently some problem with keeping us kids under control while making fast to the dock. In the mayhem Dad made a wild leap for the dock, being sure to step on a dock line that was laying about. The rope rolled, his ankle went over with a sickening squelch. As luck would have it he broke his ankle. He is in agony, but he is the skipper, and the boat must be returned to Port Washington. To this day he has vivid memories of trying to hold the icepack on his ankle while trying to skipper the boat. One would have thought that the vision of clinging to the Shelter Island Yacht Club dock while his kids sailed off for points unknown would have stifled the urge to make wild leaps. We didn't rent a boat again until much later; like thirty years later.

wansee.JPG (14333 bytes)At the beginning of the 1980's I worked at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin.  Life in a walled and isolated city is another story.  Two of my colleagues kept boats on the Wannsee, which is a huge lake on the southwest side of the city.  Joachim's boat, pictured at left, was about 28 feet of classic wooden sloop.  Mannfred's boat was about the same size, but of modern fiberglass construction.  Yes, it surprised me too that there were so many good sized boats on a lake in a city to which access was strictly controlled by a foreign power.   And yes, there were certain parts of the lake that were off-limits.  One risked bringing down the wrath of the East German border guards if you tried to visit the wrong parts of the lake.  Anyway, sailing in Berlin was a gas.

To celebrate one of my parent's wedding annivarsaries, at their expense, we rented a house on the Connecticut side of the Sound, not far from Mystic Seaport. We rented a sloop for a little day sail. This was our first rental since the City Island episode thirty years earlier. Everything went more smoothly this time, there were no wild grabs for or leaps to the dock and it proved to be very relaxing. Encouraged by this, Paul, Cathy and my father rented a Hobie Cat several days later. These boats can really scream when they are not trying to sail into the wind. The three of them had a great time on their afternoon sail. As all good sailors know, when the weather is stable the wind often dies in the late afternoon. Apparently they had forgotten this. The wind did die. The sun was setting. They were quite far from the shore. And they didn't have a paddle. They took turns swimming the boat toward shore. The fleet owner noticed their distress and went out with his power launch to bring them in to shore. He must have been afraid that he would miss dinner if he waited for them to swim to shore and wasn't too concerned about bruising their egos. I am glad I wasn't in on that little fiasco.

While enjoying this summer idyll on the Connecticut shore we made a family visit to Mystic Seaport. A visit to Mystic always makes the salt in your veins run a little faster. The Seaport is a restored whaling village. The idea is very much like the Rockefeller endowed effort at Williamsburg, Virginia. Part of the ambiance of the place is achieved with the strategic placement of ships' anchors on the grounds. We had made a trip there as a family when we were kids. There is a picture of Paul and I, both under ten years of age, perched on the flukes of one of those anchors. On this return trip we had my son Christopher, then two, with us. We managed to find the anchor used for the earlier pose and have added a picture of Paul and Christopher to the family album. Talk about nostalgia.

Well, now we are getting up to the present day. And we can begin talking about serious envy, bordering on jealousy. Several years ago Paul began to talk about buying a big enough boat to live on, i.e., it would be his principal domicile. He even got to the point where he was doing some serious research about the possibility. The principle sticking point was money. Banks regularly loan money, in the form of a mortgage, for the purchase of a boat. But in the northeast such lending is for the purchase of a boat as a recreational purchase, not as a residence. The idea of lending money to buy a boat and live on it year around was alien to them. At the time Paul had a friend who was actually doing it, living on board. Beyond that, Paul was young, white and free. He might just have pulled it off if he had worked on it a bit longer. His middle class, common sense upbringing prevailed, and when he met the woman of his dreams he eschewed the boat. Instead he got married and bought a condo. I think our parents were relieved that he stopped dreaming before he could indulge in such a wild-assed, irresponsible notion as living on a boat, in northern climes at that.

So, you ask, why take the plunge into sailing? Aren't there other sports one can pursue? After all, as part of a two career, one child family I meet the definition of a yuppie. And, to continue the line of reasoning, the yuppie sports are running, tennis and triathlons.

The truth is that triathletes are missing a few marbles and running is a bore. That leaves tennis. You may recall that I mentioned in passing that my parents were avid tennis players. At age 65 my father still was. Not only avid, but good. At my best I had to struggle to beat my mother; and I never could beat my father. More by accident than by design I started bicycle racing as a graduate student. Over the ensuing ten years it became more and more consuming, requiring an ever greater commitment. That is not to suggest that it did not have its rewards. One year I did win gold and silver medals at the national championships for 'old men and relics'. Nonetheless, the cost of achieving anything was great. My wife barely tolerated my involvement, and it was not something that my son could be involved in for a number of years. Training for aerobic sports is time consuming, particularly when your goal is to be a gold medalist. Eventually I found that the time spent training was causing me to depreciate the stock of human capital I had built up as a graduate student, at the expense of my career. Add to that the gross mismanagement of the amateur side of the sport at all levels and you have one frustrated bike rider. Finally, I decided that I had had it with competitive sport. In the middle of a District Championship race and in a position to qualify for the National Championships, which are used to select National and Olympic teams, I rode off the track for the last time. I didn't like its management, I didn't like what it took to win and to then market the accomplishment. And most of all, I was afraid of what it might someday cost my family.

With the exception of a few years I have always lived fairly near the water. I have always been fascinated by, and at times dreamed of owning, a sailboat. Here was something we could do as a family. Unlike jogging or cycling, the stronger members of the family don't have to wait for the others. Differences in skill and knowledge are not so readily apparent. And sailing can be about the most relaxing non-competitive sport one could ever endeavor to find.

On Board Boats: Table of Contents

Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 swan_logo.gif (1569 bytes)

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