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by Diane Tucker - Farmington, Connecticut - USA

My family are Swallows and Amazons addicts. We lived and breathed Arthur Ransome, reading every one of the twelve books. It took nearly a year and we were all a little depressed when we closed the cover on the last one. My daughter wanted to be Nancy Blackett, the sassy, irrepressible heroine of the series. If I am being totally honest, so did I.

It isn't surprising to learn that the character of Nancy Blackett has been the inspiration of generations of British women, much like Nancy Drew here in the U. S. She is a true feminist. In fact, she is more like a post-feminist as she (as well as her other female cohorts in the S&A books) shows no recognition whatever of gender stereotypes. She simply does whatever is required with bravery and panache.

Having read a few depressing pieces lately in periodicals like this one, about the decline of boating, the lack of interest that kids today have for outdoor pursuits and sailing in specific, I was thrilled that my daughter adored it. At twelve, she has already owned three sailboats, an Optimist, a Sunfish and a Cape Dory 10. At camp, she sails a Pico. My Julia wants to build a boat someday, and I bet she will!

Despite sailing on her own, Julia recently informed me she wants us to go camp sailing! If you have a kid that wants to play pirate with you, I advise you to jump on it. We quickly made a list of desirable features for our pirate ship. Knowing in my heart my swashbuckling days were apt to be short, I wanted to be sure the boat would suit me long after I hung up my peg leg and sword. Storage was important. Comfortable thwarts for this pirate was key. I'm not a young terror of the seas any more and I don't want to sit in the bilge. Most of all, the boat needed to accommodate a twelve year old girl and her mom for the occasional over night.

I poured over designs and kept coming back to the Jim Michalak Ladybug. Boy, was she cute. I love a gaff rig, and I read where Chuck Leinweber said it might make a decent camp sailor! Did I not remember seeing a picture of his Ladybug in the Texas 200? So I ordered the plans and started in to find a boat builder. I know I should have gone in for building it myself, but I wanted it for my daughter, not my grandchildren!

I poured over boating periodicals, scrolled through websites and waded through boat building advertising. I happened across a website in my target geographical location by a builder in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I liked how he described the boats he made. The photos of the boats were just beautiful, the boats built with obvious care. The descriptions of them were simple, but lyrical. I was pretty sure I found The One. His name was Greg Hopkins, of Next Wave Boat Shop. I emailed. He emailed. I sent plans. We talked on the phone. Without further ado, I sent a deposit! I didn't worry about a contract or references or anything. Like the old days in a sense, we did it on a handshake. It was a "telephonic handshake", but still.

So began my almost nightly correspondence with Greg Hopkins. As my husband snored next to me, Greg and I typed back and forth, discussing types of wood, fold out seats for a camping platform and other minutia. Greg documented the build with lots of photos. If a night or two went by when we didn't write, the day seemed out of kilter.

We struggled over the issue of a sleeping platform, until Greg solved it in one stroke by suggesting a hammock slung between the thwarts. With no centerboard case in the way, the hammock could be supported by slipping a piece of wood through pockets in either side of the hammock. The wood pieces would fit snugly in a space at the edge of the thwart. Simple and perfect solution! I never would have thought of it. This kind of thing made working and becoming friends with Greg such a pleasure.

The only time he questioned my thoughts was as we picked colors. I wanted Interlux Seafoam Green on the sides, and the leeboard to be painted the color of Hollandaise sauce. Being a New Hampshire man, that seemed kind of sissified to him. I couldn't blame him, but this was to be a "girl boat". Greg painted the boat the way we wanted, even mixing the Hollandaise sauce leeboard paint himself.

The day I picked up the boat was so much fun! As I had, Greg had shared the story of our Ladybug build with his friends. So, pickup was like a party where I got to meet all his buddies. What a great group of guys! We got on as though we had known each other forever. Then Ann Hopkins, Greg's wife turned up. She wanted to see who was emailing her husband in the small hours! We hit it off the same way Greg and I did, and went off to buy pizza and beer together as lunch for the gang.

After a few hours spent rigging the Ladybug, re rigging and yes, rigging again, we finally sorted the sail rig out. Lest anyone get worried, the Ladybug rig is as easy as pie. It was all our fault. Could we have been joking around too much? I couldn't possibly comment. The fellows found that my little homemade Harbor Freight trailer needed some serious adjustment to properly carry the precious 'Bug. They went way above and beyond, essentially rebuilding it. I pretty much had a new trailer! I couldn't be more grateful, and I think of those nice men every time I look at it. That's quite a lot since the boat has spent a wonderful summer being sailed almost daily, and the trailer is in my driveway waiting for the sad "boats out" time later this fall.

What did we name our Ladybug? Why, "Nancy Blackett", of course. The perfect name for a pirate ship built for two aspiring Swallows and Amazons out for some adventures in their sea foam green girl boat.

Next installment: Sail Camping on the Nancy Blackett

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