I have a boat problem.
If I owned a car, I’d probably have a bumper sticker: “My other car is a sailboat.” But I can afford the sailboat only because I don’t have a car.
Why can you have ten times more fun in a sailboat going seven miles an hour than you can in an automobile going seventy? I don’t know, but it’s true. I’ve never been seduced by speed on the water. I do have a small outboard engine on my sailboat as a concession to fickle winds and the impatience of captain and crew. It occurs to me it’s the only gasoline-powered appliance I own.
My father had a boat, and there’s a picture of me at the age of about one, in my life jacket and harness, grimly gripping the tiller. Come to think of it, his father owned a boat, too. I guess that makes me, like Jimmy Buffett, the son of a son of a sailor. My own son in San Diego has a sailboat. Clearly, the disease is hereditary.
My boat is a Cape Dory 25 sloop named Planet Waves, and this past week I’ve been busy getting it ready for launch in Hampden and the annual trip down the river and bay to its summer home in Rockland. Last year, the mast came crashing down near Verona Island, a scary event that ended my sailing season the day it began. Several thousand dollars later, I’m ready to go again. Hey, it’s cheaper than heart surgery.
A lot about sailing involves cars. Boats can be heavy, and it takes big machinery to move them about on land. My boat has two marine batteries, four interior cabin cushions each about six feet long, three sails, and assorted other accessories that I store elsewhere during the winter. Transporting them requires a vehicle. When I lived alone, I sometimes rented one for this purpose, but I was often able to find a friend with a pickup truck whom I could bribe with the promise of a sail later in the summer.
You don’t need a car to own a sailboat, but the logistics become a little more complicated. I’ve bicycled back and forth between my home in Bangor and Hamlin’s Marina in Hampden, where the boat lives during the offseason, multiple times a day this past week. On my bike’s modest rack I’ve carted sails, an alcohol stove, gas cans, gallons of bottom paint… and yes, I’ve used a car, too.
As I’ve said, I’m not a purist. Regular readers know that I live with a woman who owns a car, and that she sometimes lets me borrow it. But it’s worse than that. For nearly two years now, the lovely Lisa has been looking at online ads for small sailing dinghies. Not a cruising boat like the Cape Dory, but something small to muck around in for an hour or two at a time. A couple weekends ago, she spotted a suitable boat at a workable price.
The dinghy was in Freeport, down a back road in someone’s shed. Within half an hour of the initial phone call, we were on I-95 south, and two hours after that, we had ourselves another boat. We paid the guy an extra five bucks for some pieces of wood to lay across the lovely Lisa’s roof rack, enlisted his help to get the boat up there, tied her in, and took the scenic route home, as the above photo shows.
So now we have three boats, including Planet Waves and the non-sailing skiff, Desolation Row. I’m reminded of a John Gould essay in which he recounts buying a boat and sticking it on a mooring and realizing he was going to need another boat to get to the first boat. Like me, Gould was a man of modest means. But boats get in your blood. They’re like guitars, or potato chips – it’s hard to stop at one.
And we probably wouldn’t have acquired this latest boat had we not had a car in the driveway capable of bringing it home at short notice. But when I lived alone without a car I still sailed. It’s easy to get from Bangor to Rockland by bus, and from there, the whole magnificent Maine Coast is only a fair breeze away.
We don’t all have to give up our cars. But imagine if just half the two-car households in America became one-car households. Envision the easing of traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions and overall frazzle. A household with three boats and one car is a household with its priorities in order.