Not All Oldies are Good­ies

Yachts International - - Sternlines - By DuD­Ley Daw­son

My auburn-haired sweet­heart had a bad week. She had reached a mile­stone birth­day—I won’t say which one, but she was mak­ing nu­mer­ous calls to ac­ti­vate her Medi­care health in­surance ben­e­fits. At ev­ery turn, it seemed, some cheery young clerk, en­ter­ing “no” in blanks about ex­ist­ing health prob­lems, of­fered some vari­a­tion of, “My, you’re do­ing well for a woman your age.” While “do­ing well” sounded good, “a woman your age” was not what she wanted to hear.

Not too many weeks later, we were en­joy­ing a meal, watch­ing the swells roll through the in­let as three large yachts headed to sea. Two were modern white look-alikes, but the third was a knock­out, a vin­tage cruiser with a plumb stem, fan­tail stern, gilt trail­boards and tons of var­nished bright­work.

My reverie was torn asun­der when my sweet­heart, ap­par­ently with her wounds still ten­der, eye­balled the cruiser and asked, “Why is it that old boats are con­sid­ered clas­sics, but old women are not? It doesn’t seem fair.”

I don’t re­call my ex­act re­ply, but I do know that I ri­valed any politi­cian you can name in not an­swer­ing the ques­tion it­self. (Forty years to­gether have taught me that, along with the fact that I can’t use the word “fine” in any sit­u­a­tion what­so­ever.)

She did have a point, though. Each year on the first week­end in De­cem­ber, Florida’s pres­ti­gious Ocean Reef Club of­fers its guests an early Christ­mas gift: Vin­tage Week­end. The club opens its docks, grounds and airstrip to a daz­zling ar­ray of older yachts, au­to­mo­biles and air­planes. These “clas­sic con­veyances,” as the club calls them, are pris­tine ex­am­ples, hav­ing been lov­ingly re­stored and main­tained at great per­sonal cost in time and ef­fort. When I asked one gen­tle­man in the midst of a restora­tion, “What can you tell me about her?” his im­me­di­ate re­sponse was, “Five and a half years and three mil­lion bucks so far,” a sum­ma­tion de­liv­ered with­out a hint of re­gret.

The sad truth, though, is that while some old boats are clas­sics, most are not. A lucky few of the lat­ter find some­one will­ing to re­store and love them, but that doesn’t make them clas­sics. They’re just well­main­tained old boats. Many more are aban­doned to the rav­ages of time, left to waste away in ig­nominy.

The dif­fer­ence, I be­lieve, is the in­ex­act at­tribute of class. If a yacht is distin­guished by a mea­sure of class when it’s new, it will re­tain that qual­ity over the years, slowly but surely tran­si­tion­ing from classy to clas­sic.

It takes more than re­touched gold and re­freshed var­nish to cre­ate a clas­sic, though. A fair hull with a sweep­ing sheer­line is good start, and a gen­tle bit of tum­ble­home aft is even bet­ter, but phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance is not every­thing. She must be strong and soundly fab­ri­cated, have a plan com­pat­i­ble with your life­style, of­fer com­fort and respite when needed, and be able to ac­com­mo­date the un­ex­pected. Seakindly per­for­mance un­der stress­ful con­di­tions is es­sen­tial, for if you can’t de­pend on her in a Force 5, you’ll never fully trust her, and nei­ther of you may sur­vive the storm. Per­haps most im­por­tant, you must be able to look back over your time to­gether with a smile on your face and a glow in your heart, and have no re­grets or reser­va­tions as you look to the fu­ture.

I’ve come to be­lieve that the same dis­tin­guish­ing at­tributes ap­ply to all clas­sics, of wood or of flesh. If you’re blessed, as I am, to have one of your own, then you un­der­stand. I wouldn’t trade my auburn-haired sweet­heart for a newer model, no mat­ter what, but if I had the means, there is one red­head I might add to the fam­ily: I’ve al­ways wanted a Fer­rari Tes­tarossa.

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