Getting back on the water


After a weekend away with my family –my kids and their partners – camping in my resurrected leviathan named Thunderbutt, I’ve come down with a nasty cold, spread to me by one of my offspring. Things haven’t changed much since they were toddlers.

Which is unfortunate, as it gives me too much time to brood. I’ve reached another crossroad and despite many hours of careful thought and consideration, despite endless teeth-gnashing and hand wringing, I still have no way which to go.

Let me step back a bit. Two years ago we sold our beloved sailboat Fainleog, after 7 years of living aboard her in Victoria’s inner harbour. It was a blissful, epic period that was easily the happiest of my adult life. I love the sea, love living on the sea, and especially love sailing on the sea. The sea and I are one.

For those of you not much acquainted with the mariner’s life, it probably doesn’t make much sense, but there’s something utterly primal and seductive of salt water, a deep inner impulse who’s yearning has made fools of countless men across the generations. Once you are hooked, there’s no going back. I’ve tried to rationalize and argue myself out of it countless times, to no avail. It just is.

And it’s not just an internalization of myth, which, when the sea is considered, is wide and very deep, something easily lost in. But it’s far more than that: when I’m out on the water and the sea is running past my hull, life is as close to perfect as I can imagine it. It’s a Zen place, a meditative place, but it’s also a dangerous space, one where you need all your wits and resources about you to make it home safely. Sailing takes all you have to give, and more, and yet rewards you with experiences and places unparalleled in their raw, unspoiled beauty.

And so after more than two years ashore I have to get back on the water. Funds are restricted so what we are looking at is humble and fairly minimal, especially as far as sailboats are concerned. After much consideration I’ve decided that if I went that way (sail) I would opt for a true bluewater boat, something that despite its minimal size could carry me safely in all kind of seas. Although larger, Fainleog, a CS 36 Traditional was in some ways that kind of boat – very well built, strong, stable, reliable.

Now I have no illusions of sailing to Hawaii or anything like that, but sailing in all seasons on this coast means you will run into gnarly shit now and then, and you want the boat to be able to handle it. Typically this means Albergs, Pearson, Contessa, Folkboat. There are other makes as well, but they are pretty hard to find here in the Pacific Northwest; there’s a lot more choice on the east coast.

I’ve sailed in 35 and 40 knot blows, and many times in the 25-30 knot range, and I want whatever boat I’m in to be happy in those conditions. Personally, I love sailing in gales as long as the boat can take it; nothing’s more fun than ripping through a heavy sea with the beam in the water and spray flying.

Unfortunately, that’s the kind of stuff that gives my darling wife the willies, and especially with a smaller boat, I suspect the majority of sailing, especially outside the summer months, will be singlehanded. When the wind’s flying, it just isn’t her thing. But in that regard a 25-27 footer would be fine for me.

if-377My kind of sailing. Fast, but working with the elements.

But I feel sad to invest in a boat that will likely exclude her. Even with a big heavy sloop like Fainleog, Tracy was quite nervous when the white horses started up. And when things went sideways as they always do on a boat, it really was difficult for her. In a bobbing little 26-footer the potential for drama will only be increased.

Which is why I’m considering a powerboat.

I’ll be honest now and admit that I pretty much loathe the things. Stinkpot skippers strike me as a bunch of booze-fuelled idiots that haven’t a clue about the sea or seamanship. Going like a bat out hell between point A and B, music blaring, burning hundreds of dollars in fuel in the process and oblivious to the world around them is my experience of the typical stinkpotter. Which is why you almost always only see them in protected waters on warm, calm days. Go out between October and May and almost the only boats you see on the water are sailboats and displacement-hulled cruisers.

The thought of joining that crowd –the antithesis of a sailor – gives me the dry heaves, but I’ve thought of a few alternatives to make it more palatable. First of all, it has to be a woody, an older wooden boat of a timeless and lovely design, unlike the fat and ugly glass tubs that are the modern idea of a boat. A wooden classic can still have some soul.

I’m considering this route for a number of reasons: the reality is that 99% of a boat’s time is spent at a dock, and the much great space of a powerboat, both inside and above decks means it’s a great place to hang out and drink wine and read books and write, even when you’re not going anywhere. A classic woody can be very palatial. Second, I would far prefer a displacement hull, which are always far easier on fuel consumption and so much less cost to operate.

Such a boat would be far more inclusive of my wife. With no heel to contend with, (which, irrationally, she finds deeply disturbing, no matter how stable the boat really is) she would be more relaxed. And with the speed and power a woody has, could work our way back to port pretty quickly if it comes on a blow.

As I said, I’m much more interested in a displacement hull than a planing hull because of fuel consumption concerns, but there are precious few older woodies like that around here. Back in the day fuel was cheap, and most displacement woodies were work boats. It’s only because of the stratospheric cost of fuel that displacement pleasure craft have become popular in recent years. But there’s nothing in the book that says you can’t motor at hull speed in a planing hull, sipping fuel as you go, even if the boat is actually less efficient than wide open on a plane. Even if your boat can go at 30 knots (drinking 25 gals/hour), nobody is making you. So the pros are: much larger boat, more fun and comfortable to hang out in, more inclusive of my wife and friends and family. But the big cons I perceive are less adventure and much higher operating cost.

British-Bradstone-Challenger-Iran-based-design-of-its-high-boatThis kind of thing can can gulp 30-40 gallons an hour!

As long time readers will recall, I actually own a boat of my dreams, but I’m hesitating embarking on the project. I finish things I start, and after a full and detailed assessment of her hull, and my restoration options, I’m afraid I don’t have what it takes to complete her. Like 3600 fasteners that should be replaced, and not easily I might add, as they are buried, rusty nails. Plus some plank replacement, frame repairs, stem repair, transom repair, plumbing and wiring and engine replacement. Maybe I could do and maybe I can’t, but I’m loathe to start a massive project like this only to walk away. She’s a beautiful boat, but sadly left a long time before someone thought of fixing her.

IMAG6755To fix or not to fix?

In the end the reality is I’ve never owned a powerboat and am unsure whether it will give me what I’m looking for. I admit that probably half the time we had to motor on Fainleog and I didn’t enjoy it (the diesel was awfully loud and vibrated through the boat) nearly as much as when under sail. I don’t know if riding in a V8-powered classic woody will feel the same.

My concern is exacerbated by Thunderbutt (which I acknowledge is a very different thing). She looked like fun, I bought her and fixed her up, but although we had great trips in her, there was never any real adventure. I see powerboats as a lot like RVs on the water, disconnected from the sea and wind, able to power through everything rather than working with the elements.

22327_10152808823940796_3676343412018076313_nThunderbutt (on the left) in her element: camping over the long weekend on Salt Spring Island.

But like I’ve said, I have no experience with this kind of vessel. Maybe it will turn out to be a good compromise: I get back on the water and we have a fun vessel we can use to once again explore the coasts.

Of course if it’s not right for me we could always try something else. But the problem with boats is that they are easy to purchase but can take forever to sell; you have to look at it as a fairly long-term commitment.

In the end it’s not the boat that matters: what I’m looking to reclaim is the wonderful feeling I’ve long experienced on the water: a combination of freedom and peace, challenge and fear, contemplation and adventure. Is sail the only way?

Bestselling author Patrick Taylor, (Irish Country Doctor) enjoyed and recommends my book:

Dark and Promised Land

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2 thoughts on “Getting back on the water

  1. Jeez, I’m not being notified of your posts! So I signed up a different email. Nope! Most annoying because I enjoy reading your blog and I rarely remember to check. Must catch up again…
    I can relate to Tracy’s fear of rough water. Been there, done that, and never got used to it. hope you find a good boat you both enjoy.

    • Probably due to the security changes I’ve had to implement; I’ve had repeated and dedicated hacking attempts on my blog (for gawd’s sake, why?) and so have put in place multi-level security protocols to thwart this. It’s possible that this is interfering with your notification. I hope it’s not a widespread issue.

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