Fat Guy in a Fat Boat

The classic New England catboat
The classic New England catboat.

“One thing about being at sea is that you don’t really get to stop. A boat simply does not allow for genuine rest. Its essential nature is peril, held in check only through enormous effort and expense.”

A Mile Down; The True Story of a Disastrous Career at Sea

David Vann, 2005

The year that David Vann’s disturbing book was published, I took ownership of the sailing vessel Copy Cat, the last 23-foot New England cruising catboat built by Bill Menger -- who would pass over the bar two years later.

I could write a book. So I am. Next spring – as recreational boats are being put into the water – Pamet River Books will publish The Fat Guy in the Fat Boat.

This Columbus Day weekend, however, it is being hauled out of the water for winter storage. My 2014 boating season is ended. 

Much of buying a boat is nautical foreplay:

  • Obsessively driving out to the boatyard each weekend to observe the slow birthing of the vessel
  • Trying to sound unpretentious in mentioning your upcoming “sea trials” to friends
  • Throwing a launch party, right down to a bottle of bubbly cracked against hull

When I extended my hand to accept the keys to the boat, I didn’t appreciate the “enormous effort and expense” described in Vann’s book.

 Copy Cat’s homeport, for example, is Red Brook Harbor, at the upper end of Buzzards Bay, just outside the Cape Cod Canal. Frequent brisk winds over the funnel-shaped Bay cause contrary interplay with tides in the Bay’s relatively shallow waters, resulting in a phenomenon known as “standing waves” – as high as six feet -- near the Canal. So Buzzards Bay always makes the Top Ten lists of “Most Challenging” bodies of water in which to sail.

Then there’s my own ineptitude. In the years I’ve skippered Copy Cat, I’ve kept a growing list of blunders:

  • Raising the peak spar first instead of throat and peak spars together
  • Forgetting to loosen the topping lift after the sail has been raised
  • Confusing the 2nd reef outhaul with the first
  • Running aground
  • Running out of fuel

But the heart will not be denied. From earliest times, our ancient ancestors clustered their dwellings near bodies of water – ponds and lakes, rivers, the seas. As a species, we come from water and are so much composed of water that we instinctively regard it as our natural habitat.

In her memoir, Paris France, Gertrude Stein wrote:

 “Writers have two countries. The one where they belong and the one in which they live really. The second one is romantic. It is not real but it is really there.”

This is true not only for writers, but for sailors, too. Which of the two is our real country?

Sailors have a romantic anticipation in our mind’s eye of how we want things to unfold aboard the private little country that is our boat. But factors as simple as worsening weather or a failed shackle or a dry fuel tank wrench us back to the real.

Still, I can’t wait for spring, when I can return to the private little country that is my boat.

In my next blog, “Learning to Learn”


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  • published this page in Blog 2014-10-27 12:14:57 -0400