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Fiddling around on boats

By John K. Hanson, Jr.

I read recently that fewer and fewer people these days are going out sailing along the coast. The author attributed the decline to an American lifestyle that puts a premium on expediency. It is true that in today’s harried world, a majority of people spend their leisure time on the water aboard powerboats. As the proud owner of a number of powerboats, I can attest to the joy I feel when I push the throttle down and put my old Hunt bassboat onto a plane, or when my Boston Whaler carves a beautiful turn, and when I reach my destination sooner rather than later. 

There is something about sailing and sailboats though that keeps pulling me back. Of course there is all the existential stuff: the quiet, the wind (free, unlike fossil fuels), the oneness with the water, the realization that sometimes how you get there is more important than where you’re going. But for me sailing offers something much more prosaic: there is so much more to fiddle with on a sailboat; and for a guy who can’t sit still, that is a big deal. Sailing keeps me totally engaged: sheet in, sheet out, head-up, head down, there always is something that needs doing. I can sit still when (when?!) I get old.

I think there are more of us tinkerers around than the writer of that depressing story knows. Even when the boat is hauled, if you have a shop big enough to house your baby, either power or sail, the passion for fiddling can continue. On page 72, Paul Mentag takes us through the building of his bow-roofed shop. As he explains, for a little more than the cost of shrinkwrapping a boat for winter storage, you can have a shop in which to fiddle. Perhaps you can find an older thoroughbred design, like the Ostkust 24 that Art Paine writes about on page 21, and get a restoration project under way. For many, a bottle of Maine-made rum (see page 62) would be just the medicine to keep on hand for times of consultation with other boat owners. 

I also recommend installing a woodstove, not just for heat and a pot of tea, but also for the amount of fiddling it takes to get the firewood burning just right.    —JKH