One hears over and over again of the “romance” attendant to boats, sailing and the sea, but if you ask someone why he or she sails, I’ll bet that the R-word pops up a respectable distance down the list, in back of the F-words (freedom, fun) and the A-words (adventure, activity). Still, I am positive that a romantic streak is an integral part of every sailor’s make-up, even if we might not like to admit it’s there. There is no other way of explaining some of the irrational things that sailors do.
For instance, I was once possessed by a wooden boat. I do not mean, “possessed” as in requiring the services of an exorcist (though on reflection, that may not have been a bad idea), but as in totally consumed by 47 feet of carvel-planked, close-seamed, mahogany-on-locust beauty. When we bought her, she had sat at her slip for five years being pumped out every few months by the marina staff, her engine was a solid lump of rust, and belowdecks she reeked of neglect and bilgewater. She was gorgeous.
Such was the potency of the spell she cast that we did not actually see the boat as she was, but as she had been years before, and as she would be again. We pictured her gleaming white hull and towering rig slicing though tropical seas, a laughing, tanned couple in her cockpit—as soon as we had attended to a few minor details. We told ourselves—and this is the mark of the true romantic – that the necessary work was “mainly cosmetic”.
Five years, two children, and a marriage-testing number of lost weekends and stinging yard bills later, this boat sailed out of our lives and into that of her next victim, a hard-nosed banker. She had won him over easily enough; as a small boy, he had watched the shipwrights planking her shapely frames, and, he confided emotionally, he had hankered after her ever since she had sailed out of the yard and out of his life. She had a soft spot in her transom and a weep from her garboards, but her flaws were nothing to the joy of a love rekindled.
We knew for sure that the proper relationship between possessor and possessed had been established when the new owner wrote a few weeks later of a hellish delivery trip during which boat and crew took a real beating. “I don’t think my wife likes sailing any more,” his litany of woe concluded dolefully, before hitting a brighter note. “I think she would look wonderful with her topsides painted red, her bottom black, and her pilothouse varnished.”
Now there’s the mark of a true romantic. I could only hope he was talking about the boat.