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My Beloved Basket Cases

By John K. Hanson, Jr.

“The bones are still there.” All too often over the course of my life, I’ve heard that phrase in my head, usually followed by: “It wouldn’t take much to get it back into shape.” I am a serial boat restorer, and I know I am not alone. There should be a support group for people like me. Ellery Brown’s essay in this issue, “The Case for the Basket Case,” had me nodding my head in agreement.

What always gets me is not the reality before my eyes, but the beautiful vision in my head. Take the Gerald S. When I first worked for WoodenBoat in the 1970s, an arsonist burned down our office. During a tour of an estate in South Brooksville under consideration for new offices, I was drawn to a dilapidated boathouse. Inside was a 40' lobsterboat, named the Gerald S. Its deckhouse and cabintop were rotten, and the paint was peeling. A 2"x4" wedged between the boat’s stem head and the upper corner of the boathouse was holding up the roof. The Gerald S. was beautiful. I was in love.

When friends asked me what I planned to do with the boat, I always said it was going to provide me with a place to live. I was 26, without much experience or money—a frightening combination. The rebuilding process was an adventure. One time when we were transporting the boat over a hilly back road in Penobscot the tow truck’s transmission failed, and we almost hit a house before reaching level ground. After much work, we were able to launch the boat. It was not finished, but it was dry and tight.

The same day as the launch, I learned from my banker that I qualified for a starter loan on a real house. The next thing I knew I’d found a place in Camden that I liked and sold the Gerald S. to cover the closing costs. Just as I’d predicted, it provided me with a place to live.

And the house in Camden? It, too, was a basket case. I was in love.