By Paul Boyer - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - USA

Long Trips to Faraway Places

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


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