If you love boats, you are in good company. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 74 million Americans spend time on boats. Over 22 million people own boats, and that does not include small, unlicensed watercraft. I am not alone with my infatuation for boats.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who has a lake house. I discovered, to my surprise, that she hates boats. It is unfathomable to me that you can own a beach house and not love boats.
I may have first fallen in love with boats as a child when Ratty taught Mole to row in The Wind in the Willows. In high school, I read Robin Lee Graham’s book Dove, which chronicled his solo around the world sailing adventure. I was determined to sail someday. As a young teacher, I often read Gary Paulsen’s book Voyage of the Frog with students. They were as enraptured as I was, holding their breath as a boy and a sailboat get blown off course and struggle to survive in a storm tossed sea.
In my early life, I did more reading about boats than spending time in them. Occasionally my Grandpa would take us out in his fishing boat. I found fishing boring then, and still do, but I loved rowing. While everyone else was fishing, I’d keep rowing the boat around the lake. Grandpa informed me that I was scaring all the fish away. Only later did I learn about the art of trolling- I may not have been a good fisherwoman, but I would have loved trolling. You can cast off the back of the boat and I will row you around!
While camping with a friend’s family, I was introduced to canoeing. We also went whitewater rafting, and eventually even whitewater canoeing. I love maneuvering down a rapids, which I found both terrifying and exhilarating. Thanks to my mother’s insistence on years of swimming lessons I am a strong swimmer and not afraid of the water. I also tried waterskiing, but my poor vision caused much frustration as I couldn’t see the boat without my glasses. Glasses and water skiing are not a good combination.
One summer, my husband and I joined a sailing club and took lessons. My husband took to it like, well, a fish to the water. Our instructor, a fascinating guy who spent the winters moving people’s yachts from one port to another, told us that there was a long history of farmers who loved the sea. Perhaps that explains my husband’s proclivity towards sailing. My own ancestor, Captain Benjamin Chandler, sailed the Robert Bruce, which sank in a storm on Lake Ontario in November of 1835. There is sailing in my genes.
There may be sailing in my genetic pool, but out of the water I have never been athletically inclined. I will never forget the October day I qualified with my sailing license. Winds were brisk and I keeled so far into the wind, my little 16 foot sailboat leaning up on its side, that my hair touched the water. It was electrifying. Sailing that boat by myself that day was as close as I have ever come to achieving athletic glory. I wanted to experience more and bigger boats.
We discovered Windjammers on a trip to Maine when we stopped at the little town of Booth Bay Harbor. Wherever we go, we like to walk down to a harbor, and on this night there was a Windjammer parade. We watched the lovely tall ships sail into the harbor and dock. We were fascinated and vowed to return to sail on one.
We booked a trip and thus began our love affair with the Stephen Taber, the oldest continuously sailing schooner in the country. We spend a week on board with 20 others, sleeping in bunks so tiny they feel like coffins, but with the gentle rocking of the boat combined with the fresh air and large amounts of fabulous wine, we sleep like angels. By day we bask in the sun and wind, eat glorious food, occasionally help the crew and chat with our new friends. Captain Noah and his wife Jane feel like family; our sailing family.
There is something about boats that encourages friendships. I recently met Lisa, who describes herself as a “corporate fugitive,” who is circumnavigating the world on a 48 foot sailboat. She just sailed from New Zealand to Fiji. She has traveled 28,000 miles and visited 19 countries. Her lovely photos make me ache to explore the world from the side of a boat. I feel a kinship with this woman though we have never met in person. We are connected through blogging, but it was the sailing that brought us together. She understands what I find hard to describe, the total embodiment of peace I find on a sailboat.
Driven to work, we are not people who relax easily. On a boat I feel a sense of relaxation that I don’t find anywhere else. Water calms me. I bring aboard books to read, but don’t read them. I am too busy watching the puffins, sea lions or lighthouses we pass as we glide through the water. There is no cell service, no TV, no work. I don’t miss it. We check our phones for emergencies when we dock in a town, but otherwise we disconnect.
Our day to day lives are full of activity and commotion. On a boat, who we are, what we do and whatever else is going on in our lives takes a back seat. There is no room for excess, we bring ourselves and a few clothes and that is enough.
We are enough.
“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
Kenneth Graham, The Wind in the Willows