Boat Story – Part Five: The Sail Boats

In all those early years of boating with my father, we never had fun with the boats, other than fishing. Fishing is fun for some, but it’s boring and smelly and boring for others. Ultimately it’s disappointing, too, because you rarely get all the fish you wanted to catch. The boats were a vehicle to transport us to fishing spots.

My father did, however, have a brief flirtation with boats that was strictly for pleasure. Shortly after he bought the cottage on the shores of Sandusky Bay, near Port Clinton, Ohio, he bought a Snark–pardon me, a Sea Snark–which is a small sail boat made out of the same polystyrene used to make coolers. It weighed 30 lbs., offered 45 sq. ft. of sail, and seated one uncomfortably (total capacity of 315 lbs.). It was 11 feet long, and had a 12 inch depth at center, and a 38 inch beam. It cost $299, on sale. I know the details because the Sears catalog entry for it is taped to the desk that my father used at the time he bought it, and I now use that desk.

It was actually a fun little boat. It was propelled by just the slightest whisper of a breeze, which, in fact, was the ideal condition. Being so light, it always seemed on the verge of capsizing, so we preferred quiet, calm times on the bay. The catalog picture shows a grown man sitting upright under full sail, but we could never achieve the dexterity for sitting; instead, we lay back flat and propped our heads with an orange life preserver in order to see.

This was just an appetizer for my father. After his retirement, he and my mother wintered in Tarpon Springs, Florida at a campground with access to a lake (Lake Tarpon?). There was a sailing club there and, sure as shit, Alfred bought a small sailboat. He dragged it to the lake nearly every day for a while, and gained a modicum of mastery over the techniques required. There were weekly races at the lake, and he entered once, failing to win, but satisfied that he completed the course.

Naturally, he was smitten by the idea of sailing. He owned a cottage on a bay and he was retired–it seemed to be a great idea. So he bought a second sail boat and towed it north with him in the spring. (He thought that would be simpler than dragging one boat back and forth across America.) But things did not go as he hoped.

There were a few minor mechanical problems with that boat–that was why he got it so cheaply. However, fixing those problems became just another item on his to-do list, and the to-do list grew long quickly. He had his main residence to care for, the cottage, his big fishing boat that needed attention, and the collection of smaller boats and outboard motors. The cottage was (and still is) susceptible to flooding, so periodically he spent the better part of a Saturday mopping and disinfecting.

That small sailboat has never gotten wet north of the Mason-Dixon line. It sits, to this day, in the garage, piled with the flotsam and jetsam from other projects.

My brothers and I bring up the question of what to do with the sailboat periodically. I like the idea of using it, as those brief moments on the Snark were peaceful and enjoyable. I am tempted by the allure of being out on a body of water, feeling like I am a part of nature. To sit out on open water, comfortably, confident of your ability to return to dry land, offers a form of solitude that is only equaled (I’m guessing) by ballooning or soaring. I think even boating with companions you get a shared sense of solitude (don’t laugh, it’s real) for all those on board.

Alas, the small sailboat still sits. We have inherited from our father a particularly pragmatic outlook on life that, I am coming to understand, inhibits certain forms of joy. We rarely did things just for the sake of having fun. The sports we played were turned into exercises to improve ourselves. The camping and fishing trips had their moments, but there was a discipline imposed to ensure duties and chores were performed. I don’t think I ever really learned how to have fun, and now I’m afraid to allow myself to have fun like that. It seems foreign to me.

All of that is frustrated by the responsibilities of life. Debts pile up, careers seem questionable, and so it becomes more difficult to allow oneself to just have fun. I stare at the catalog picture of the healthy man sitting in the Snark on a pleasant body of water, seemingly enjoying himself, and wonder, “How did he learn to do that?

I think I’d be a good candidate for having fun. I should put on my to-do list, “Learn to Have Fun”; I should put it right after “Stop Living Vicariously.”

Maybe I’ll drop that sailboat in the water this summer and see what happens. Maybe, if I don’t drown, I’ll learn something and have fun while I do it.