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by Stacy Smith – Middle, Tennessee - USA  

A Pursuit of Happiness


I was talking with a friend recently about our weakness for messing about, and we both struck on the same thought like a tuning fork. It has to do with readiness, I think. It has to do with the physical ability to move on an idea before it fades. Most of us have multiple boats for multiple reasons. We probably use them more than the average boater, but for many of us, what started out as a dream may have included our desire to share it with our family and friends. How could they not enjoy this? Sadly, the kids grow, begin work, get married, Cat’s in the Cradle and all that, and now the old man is scraping mold and rot off the hull in the back yard. It is now time to recalibrate.

My work takes me up to 300 miles on three points of the compass; east and west through Tennessee and south through Alabama. When I cross the many watersheds and lakes along my routes, a certain feeling hits at every puddle that can float a duck.

How many times have we driven over waterways on a perfect morning, when the water was clear and beckoning, like a spirit calling us into a strange new world.  Perhaps a steady, gentle morning breeze was slowly moving a school of ripples across the glassy surface. If only I kept a boat with me, I could pull off the road and spend an hour perhaps; a short paddle or sail, or drop a line for some bluegill.

At such a moment, the low angled sun illuminates everything in a way that looks like Maxfield Parrish painted it. You slow, and stare out the window like the last person in an art gallery at closing time. You daydream of being part of the picture as the other people drive past, texting customers of their ETA. I try to capture these moments in photos for watercolour painting reference later, but the desire to linger and mess about is strong and distracting. This yearning borders on painful at times.

Stones River above Percy Priest Reservoir in Middle TN – Photo by Hannah Smith
Nickajack Lake near Chattanooga

There’s the Mountain lakes of east TN, the clear, cool water of Center Hill, countless rivers in the mid-state, grand Kentucky and Barkley lake, then the eerie Hatchee group of rivers to the west. I can cross the Tennessee river whichever way I go, and don’t think I haven’t dreamed about a TN circumnavigation from Knoxville to KY Lake.

Like so many others, I’ve asked myself “what is the ideal boat?” I have the answer. Just like many other things in life, the ideal boat is the one that is right for you, the one that delivers the desired level of happiness to the intended recipient(s). There is as much potential for joy in a box boat as there is in a round hull, and in a simple one-spar lug as a complex gaff rig. More waterline and beam is nice, but multiplies cost and responsibilities. 

For me, there are three simple elements that determine an ideal size: how many bodies in the boat, how big the bodies of water, and a body’s reason for being there. Having a small boat increases the time to destination, a desirable feature,  but an added bonus is that miles and miles of water deep keels must avoid are open to you. You see things in the shallows that are missed in the deeper channels.

There is also a slight compromise for each widget or what’s-it you add on. If the boat jingles like a jailer’s keychain, it may have too much jewelry for me, even though its performance may be improved.  Add a crew member, and you also add their needs and requirements. Now that it’s down to me, I need to find out just how much I want to keep doing this. There is an open invitation for anyone else to join, but for now I’m now messing for one, and need a boat that one person can wrangle on and off a car top, that won’t require a trailer and ramp, and that has a clean run and a stable disposition afloat.

I’ve built 3 small boats, have a used sailboat and a 17 foot aluminum canoe, but the small boats require trailers, and the big old canoe needs a crew to help unload it. I’m currently building a Bufflehead 50/50 Sailing canoe. I’m building it light (4m okoume) for this purpose: to be able to act on a moment, and stop missing out on a second level of happiness that is free for the taking.

Back to the bridge and the water.  You need to be ready to capture a moment. Success and Luck are found at the intersection of Planning and Opportunity, and when the moment hits, I want to be able to pop the straps, carry the boat to the water, throw in the bag of goodies, a paddle or simple sailing rig, a PFD, and push off across the morning mist. A one-hour float would require only that you leave about an hour and a half early, and have a towel and play clothes to change into.

Think: 15 minutes of paddling, a few nuts and cranberries for a snack, 15 minutes of catch-n-release and then sail back in on a tack of your choice. You stow the stuff, strap the boat back up, put the monkey clothes back on and hit the road again. Except now, you have become part of the moment; that morning, on this Earth. You experienced the breeze that made the ripples, air that seemed to have a bit more oxygen and the sun’s light and warmth in a way it was meant to be appreciated. You saw the bridge and the travelers rushing by and glancing out their window at a small sail on the water, and became part of their memory. In other words, your perspective is now recalibrated.

You will arrive at your destination having done things that morning that would normally require a vacation day. You have a secret, and a smile. You stop to get coffee for the rest of the trip and wash the fish smell off your hands.

At least that’s the way I hope it works. I think the Bufflehead has the potential to achieve it for me. I hope to come in at or under 65 lbs, making it easy to load car top on short notice. There are exhaustive write-ups on the merits of this design. This may be the first one with a lug sail, which I like for simplicity and flexibility of shape. Hugh Horton, Bufflehead’s designer has consulted with me on that, but for right now, I’m using an Opti Sprit rig until finances improve. Building Bufflehead has been a great learning and skill-building experience; a big part of the fun.

I’ve been keeping a public building log, mistakes included, on Facebook (you don’t have to “friend” to view it). The public link.

A public link to my efforts at watercolour.

Each day, we have one less day to enjoy creation to its fullest. I work on the Bufflehead when possible (along with many other projects), have no due date, and am my own worst critic. My shop is either too cold or hot, and messy as an otter’s nest, and I love it. That’s part of the joy.

Since this writing, I splashed the Bufflehead. Here is a shot from her maiden sail; the wind was so light that I left the boom stowed and went loose footed (no pun). What a great design and source of joy.

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