From the Boatshop
by Ron Magen

"Achievable Dreams"

In this day of "baby boomers" coming of age; extra taxes on boats over $100,000.oo; the almost requirement for a 2-person income for a family and the increased concern for personal incomes ... where is there room for adventure ? Can there still be dreams and dreamers ?  


There are different levels, of course. Everyone knows of a story of someone who built a huge yacht in his backyard or garage, who took years or decades, spent enormous amounts of time or money ... and it never touched water. I lean more toward the achievable dream; . . . the "practical dreamer" ?  When "Dynamite" Payson started making prototypes and selling the plans of designer Phil Bolger his reasoning was simple; "I didn't want to offer plans for boats that never got built." THAT IS THE HEART OF IT.  Think of what you can manage, physically and mentally, go just a bit beyond that for challenge ... and DO IT !!  

When I was laid off a few years ago, I bought a sail boat. I did it for therapy to keep myself from going crazy; which for me is a very short trip. Or maybe it was crazy to begin with. Isn't anyone who wants to SAIL in this age of faster than sound airplanes and 200 Mph trains a little bit out of the mainstream? 

I'd been thinking about this for years; the boat not the lay-off. Several years ago a business acquaintance had invited my wife and I to go sailing with him on his Pearson 28. That November sail out past Brenton Tower focused my thoughts. In one way or another I'd prepared for this present situation. All our major bills were paid off, we had been saving on a consistent basis and my wife was very secure in her research position. We set a budget amount that we wanted to spend. THIS IS CRITICAL to my way of thinking. DO NOT BORROW MONEY (at least for your first boat - those with VERY well off  and FRIENDLY relatives excluded). Equally important we thought about what we wanted TO DO with the boat (or wanted the BOAT TO DO ?) and how to then MINIMIZE OVERHEAD. Our intention was to defeat the old bit about the definition of a boat; "a hole in the water into which you throw money". The answer to this equation is be a TRAILER SAILOR .  

I wrote the above a bit more than seven years ago. Now I’d like to amend that last statement by adding, “and/or a small boat builder”.  

A few winters ago, I took a step I had been considering for many years. If you count childhood dreams it’s been 40 years - I built a boat; a real boat. The delay could be attributed to a great many reasons. The decision to finally do it was also a mélange rather than a single thought. Me being me, of course I picked an atypical time of year to work with a temperature sensitive material for a ‘first time effort’; epoxy, in winter, in an unheated garage. Actually it’s a case of studying the characteristics of your materials and taking advantage of them. Needless to say the endeavor was successful. I even wrote about the process and the learning curve. You can read the article here

What I didn’t expect, and am nervous about mentioning in this day of ‘political correctness’, is how addictive the process is. I had not even finished the first boat when I began thinking about and planning the next build. Maybe a month after the completion of that first boat, the second was finished !!  

I would like this to be a "Hell, if he can do it, I can do it” guide for TODAY'S DREAMERS

Being a certified - frame it and hang it on the wall - packrat, I clip out and save all manner of articles from the ‘sailing’ magazines. 

In the first part of an Editorial the salient words were, “fear gets in the way of dreams; it’s safer staying home”, and “maybe we never were what we were in our minds ”. We “feel more vulnerable about imagined dangers and it is inevitable that it’s safer to do nothing and go nowhere”. The final [no pun intended] paragraph wraps it up, “He’s dead; He’s in a vegetative state. He’s not dead yet.” 

I haven’t mentioned the specific of  ‘aging’ that they were pointing toward because it’s only a series of numbers, applicable to some people. We all know a range of people; some ‘young’ people are stodgy, dried up, ‘old geezers’ while to speak to some ‘grey beards’ for more than a few minutes, you have to nail their feet to the floor or they’ll be off on their next project ! 

I’m a bit over 50 and I always followed the philosophy of get educated, save, be responsible now, do a good job, and there will be time for the relaxation and rewards later. The reality is there is NO “LATER”. I look, act, and think younger than most of the people who I’ve worked for. The reality is that I’m chronologically not; but “I’m not dead yet” either. 

The editorial was an introduction to a special section on Offshore Health. An accepted part of this was that the physical size of the boat would be appropriate to that endeavor and a passagemaker. Passages take many forms. A” rite of passage” can be the longest journey of one’s life, even though it may only be standing in front of a congregation; a “leap of faith”. It’s also one we have probably all taken. 

A few years ago an article in one of the magazines discussed the idea of people ‘downsizing’ their boats. Going from a “big boat” to a smaller one as they ‘got older’ or their means changed. The couple involved were borrowing their son’s ‘a bit cramped’ 22-footer while they were, “between boats”, on the Chesapeake. 

Contrast this with a ‘grey haired gent’ we saw at a local lake. His boat was about 8-feet long; solid Styrofoam with a molded in cockpit. Sloop rigged. As he was getting ready to ‘launch’ my wife kidded him about the wind. He smiled and said he didn’t worry about it, as he loaded a small electric outboard and battery aboard. Settling in, like laying back in a bathtub, he gave us a smile and a wave and he was away down the lake. 

There is a state called inertia. It is usually thought of in terms of physics, but I believe it could be applied to people as well, “social inertia”. By definition it is an energy state; either potential or kinetic. “An object at rest tends to remain at rest . . . an object in motion tends to remain in motion . . .” 

“Hull Speed” aside, people and sailboats are some what alike; the longer we sit at the mooring  the longer and denser the bottom growth gets, the more wind it takes to get the hull moving, and the more sluggishly we answer the helm. 

We’ve all read the stories, or visited the marinas and seen for ourselves, the big, expensive  yachts sitting, mostly unattended, week and weekend one after another. The green growth seems to just crawl up the rudder. The ‘little boats are flitting about all the time, even if it’s just for an evening ‘motor about’. Or the children skipping over the waves in really small boats or inflatable’s {per Joanne, it’s because they have absolutely no fear}

My wife’s opinion not withstanding, the point is that the kids have no desire for a ‘big boat’ or regrets that they’re not riding in a 40-foot sport-fisherman. The focus is what’s around the point of the cove; they feel that they’re  ‘going like stink’ because they’re so close to the water’s surface; in their minds they just might be in a bigger boat than a 40-footer -  Queen Anne’s Revenge for instance.  

I can still remember my first ‘passage’. In a really small heavy wooden rowboat. From a bulkheaded ‘cove’ across a narrow part of Atlantic City’s back bay to the ‘mainland’. The crossing couldn’t have been more than 50 yards; we used to try skipping stones across and a good arm would make it. As I rowed across that channel my heart was pounding so hard that it was difficult to keep the mis-matched oars in the locks. It was several years later that I ‘graduated’ to a “big boat”; a 14-foot, cross-planked bottom, garvey and a 15 Hp Evinrude;  it took a full summer’s worth of working and a winter’s worth of looking and planning.  

In my present endeavors at boat building I remember where I got that garvey. An ‘old timer’ and his adult son had a small shop just out side of Atlantic City; on a ‘wide spot’ off the causeway that crossed the salt marshes to the real mainland. They built them right there in the open; inch thick pine planks, three to a side and as many across as it took to make a 10, 12, 14, or 16 foot boat. Caulked, after they were nailed together, with this black tar-like stuff  troweled across the seams with a wide putty knife, and any color you wanted as long as it was ‘battleship grey’. 

When I read the articles, go to the boat shows, and then look at the marinas from Annapolis to Philadelphia and see the ‘fleets’ of expensive and  ‘un- used’ boats I just sadly shake my head - wasted dreams or self proclaimed trophies? 

By coincidence I’m listening to a Jimmy Buffet tune. Woefully I didn’t ‘find’ him until a few  years ago. The ‘line’ goes;

                 The dreamers line the state road
Just to watch the runway show
Slouched behind their steering wheels
They just watch the big jets go
Streakin’ through the morning haze
Focal point of a distant gaze
Lookin’ for better days 

With apologies Jimmy, cause I love ya’, and to paraphrase Erma Bombeck’s ‘earthy’ book title;  “The Grass is Always Greener Over The {other guys} Cesspool”.  This is the NOW, there is no LATER, and sometimes BIGGER isn’t BETTER 

The “Best Boats of the Year” reviews are usually divided into ‘classes’ by size. Even when the magazine has published several articles detailing the ‘smaller craft’, it’s interesting how their definition of an economical ‘pocket cruiser’ is 28 feet !  Part of the ‘rating criteria’ is sleeping accommodations. However the same periodical has produced articles noting with disdain how manufacturers market to the ‘non-blue water’ public by overstating sleeping arrangements when only a very small percentage ever sleep aboard. Although I’m not necessarily suggesting it, but if the object is to get out on the water, a canoe or skiff  with a couple of blankets and a tarp will do. True, us ‘old geezers’ feel we need, or deserve a bit more comfort. At least if we want wives or girl friends for crew or companions. A lot can be gotten into 20 feet; from my present 19 foot, 1200 pound, spend the winter on it’s trailer in my back drive, West Wight Potter to my “some day - have a permanent slip boat” Pacific Seacraft “Flicka”. BUT I  DIDN’T WAIT for that beautiful Flicka that I may never own. 

We owned, somewhat by chance - the boat was beautifully kept and the price was to pass up - a Capri 14 centerboard daysailer before the Potter. We kept it on it’s trailer in the back drive. Sometimes I would sit in the cockpit, mast down, no sails, no tiller, and I would be ‘somewhere else’. Sometimes I even had a ‘boat drink’ in my hand, or my wife beside me. 

I would rather be thought of as, ”that crazy guy down the street”, than work for 70 years, do all my dreaming at night, and drop dead on the gang plank of the “Golden Agers Once-In-A- Lifetime Cruise to the Bahamas” 

Ron Magen

skipper of the QUAHOG


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