For me, boat building is all about
the fantasy of escape. It started when I was a teenager, I think.
I recall telling my girlfriend (now my wife) that I wanted to
build a boat and sail down the Intracoastal Waterway. I was fully
ignorant of both boats and the ICW, but I was unhappy in college
and bored with life. Sailing seemed like a magic wand that could
make all my problems disappear.
Friends said it was a cool idea, but I didn’t know how
to begin. I don’t come from a sailing family and since I
didn’t live near the sea, I couldn’t befriend a gruff
but lovable captain who would teach me the ropes. I was stymied
and gave up.
But the dream persisted. As an adult with a job and mortgage,
I once again nurtured fantasies of sailing away. This time, I
considered the Caribbean and possibly the South Pacific (as my
life grew more complicated, my destinations grew more distant).
I discovered the Glen-L catalog and spent hours looking at boats
that could, in theory, take my family and me to a distant port.
But these ideas died in the light of rational thought. I didn’t
have the skills needed to build a boat capable of reaching tropical
ports. Nor did I have the time or money needed to construct a
craft capable to transporting a family of five. And—let’s
be honest—would I really have the nerve to take a boat on
the open ocean? I didn’t need to read The
Perfect Storm to know that people go out and
never come back.
Here, then, was my problem: Dreams sustained my interest in sailing,
but unrealistic dreams kept me from taking action. The gap between
fantasy and reality was simply too great. I risked becoming a
middle aged Walter Mitty, living my imaginary adventures, but
achieving nothing of consequence in real life.
To get off the fence, I finally reigned in my dreams and focused
on a doable adventure, something that I could reasonably accomplish
with limited time, money and skills. Ten months ago I decided
I would be satisfied with a boat that could take me around the
Chesapeake Bay for a week or two. I wouldn’t end up in Tahiti,
but for a novice sailor it would be sufficiently ambitious.
That fantasy took root and has energized me for the better part
of year. Disciplined and focused, I go out to my garage several
times a week to build my little flat-bottomed boat so I can achieve
my modest adventure.
Stevenson Pocket Cruiser
|Good view of cockpit
But in recent weeks I find my attention wandering and the old
restlessness returning. It might be the cold weather and the endless
procession of gray days. It might the frustration of maintaining
a cranky old house. It might be the frantic yet uninspiring routines
of my professional life. But I suddenly find myself wishing for
more than a short hop down the Bay. Once again, I am dreaming
of long trips to faraway places.
But what can I actually do with my little Stevenson Pocket Cruiser?
Not that much, as it turns out. Pete Stevenson, my boat’s
designer, is adamant that his boats are intended for “protected
waters” and when I quiz fellow Pocket Cruiser owners about
their adventures, I mostly hear about lakes and short forays along
the shores of quiet bays. A few months ago all this was fine,
but now I feel like a child who is not allowed to cross a busy
street. I feel hemmed in and a little resentful.
So I go looking for people who break the rules. Within the small
community of Stevenson boat builders much is made of an Australian
gentleman who built a Pocket Cruiser from old packing crates.
The Stevenson’s Web site posted a letter from Australia
describing how the builder, who assembled his boat in 32 days,
survived “70 knot thunderstorms,” “regularly
sailed in 30 knots plus,” and “used to go cruising
for 2 weeks at a time with his wife and 2 dogs.” Not to
be outdone, the boat’s second owner “lived aboard
it for 3 months and sailed it on a 500 round mile trip up the
coast of Queensland from Brisbane to Bundaberg and back.”
That was pretty inspiring, but I wanted to hear about other foolhardy
adventurers, so when I interviewed Pete Stevenson for a recent
column, I asked for more stories. He knew about a couple that
lived on a Weekender for a whole summer (without getting a divorce,
he added) and he heard about people sailing down both the Mississippi
and the St. Lawrence. There are also photos of a Pocket Cruiser
sailing the coast of South Africa.
But for every tale of high adventure, there are ten cautionary
tales from other sailors. Because the Stevenson boats are widely
built and widely used by novice sailors, there are a disproportionate
number of stories about close calls and capsizes. The boat isn’t
built for easy recovery, so more than a few were towed, bottom-up,
to shore. Those stories are alarming but instructive.
So I find myself in a bit of a dilemma. I can’t even pretend
that my boat, now more than halfway finished, can safely take
me to Borneo. On the other hand, I need my dreams of escape to
keep me going.
So for the moment, I pretend that my ultimate adventure (after
a modest shakedown cruise down the Chesapeake) will be a complete
tour of the so-called “Great Loop,” which circles
the eastern half of the United States and includes the Intracoastal
Waterway, as well as Canadian waterways, the Great Lakes, various
rivers, the Gulf Coast and even the Everglades. That’s a
six thousand mile journey and, remarkably, most of it is within
protected waters. I doubt I will actually do it, but that doesn’t
really matter. For now, I get to dream of croissants in Montreal
and alligators somewhere in Lake Okeechobee. That’s almost
as good as Bundaberg, right?
Photos credit: Avery Boyer