A Healthy Ad­dic­tion

Soundings - - Underway - By Mary South

Once upon a time, I was not ob­sessed with boats. I was a busy mid- ca­reer pro­fes­sional — a book editor— who made the mis­take of re­lo­cat­ing for a po­si­tion be­cause it paid well (a rel­a­tive term, given my trade). Off I went to an in­land area, a few hours from the coast, and I threw my­self into my work, bus­ied in my off hours by a house-hunt and then mi­nor ren­o­va­tions, and en­joy­ing the change of pace from city life.

One day, about two years into my new sit­u­a­tion, I looked around my of­fice and no­ticed that it was oddly dec­o­rated, though I had done it my­self. Nearly ev­ery wall had pho­tos of boats: a work­ing tug, a trawler, a North Sea fish­ing boat, a buy­boat, a pi­lot boat, a light­ship … It must have started slowly, this odd en­chant­ment with the beauty of boats — par­tic­u­larly work­boats — but I didn’t re­mem­ber when or how or… why.

Of course, my strange taste in dé­cor was much more than that: within a year I had quit my job, sold my house, bought and moved aboard a 30-ton, 40-foot steel boat and gone to seamanship school. I never looked back. Now, more than a decade later, I have pe­ri­ods when I feel I may be cured, times when I think a house that faces the sea is as good as a boat. It never lasts more than an hour or two, if that.

Just this morn­ing I saw a friends’ on­line post for a 1946 Sonny Hodg­don lob­ster boat. To­tally re­stored, 27 ½ feet with a beam of 8 feet, 9 inches and a draft of 2 feet, 8 inches. She is pow­ered by an old 50-horse­power Gray Marine en­gine and has a cozy for­ward cabin fin­ished in clas­sic Her­reshoff style. (I may have drooled on my­self a lit­tle.)

Ear­lier, I had pe­rused my per­sonal email to see what ar­rived overnight and as my eye scanned the list of fundrais­ing re­quests, news up­dates and mar­ket­ing crap, I saw it: Ships­for­sale Swe­den. Let me tell you, this news­let­ter which links to a web­site (ships­for­sale.com) is not for the faint of heart, weak-willed or se­ri­ously im­pul­sive shop­per. Its boat of­fer­ings are ar­ranged in cat­e­gories that in­clude res­cue ves­sels, navy pa­trol ships, tug­boats, pas­sen­ger ships … you get the idea. There are al­ways a hand­ful of ice­break­ers some nut-job I am en­tirely com­pat­i­ble with has re­fit to ac­com­mo­date cruis­ing to the world’s most re­mote lo­ca­tions in rugged com­fort.

Of course, I have made my liv­ing in marine jour­nal­ism for the last decade, which hasn’t helped. I had some hope, at one point, that the old ax­iom that warns don’t ruin what you’re pas­sion­ate about by mak­ing it your pro­fes­sion was true, and that it would at least tamp down my en­thu­si­asm. (Sure, the way gaso­line smoth­ers a fire.)

As I look at the is­sue you now hold in your hands, I can hon­estly say there’s not a boat in here I wouldn’t love to have — though I could, of course, spend a happy af­ter­noon rank­ing them for my own amuse­ment. A Ch­e­sa­peake skipjack? Hell, yeah. A Watch Hill 15? You bet­ter be­lieve it. How about the Helms­man 38E? That looks like a per­fect way to do the Great Loop. I am count­ing the days un­til I get aboard Back Cove’s new 34O and have a run around Penob­scot Bay. In fact, even when Ge­orge Michelsen Foy’s ex­cel­lent tale puts me on the bridge of El Faro, headed to­ward her doom, I can feel the al­lure of a ship at sea and the call­ing that put the crew on the ill-fated voy­age in the first place.

As my col­league, friend and fel­low­suf­ferer Pim said to me this morn­ing, “Well, if you’re go­ing to be ad­dicted to some­thing, I guess this is one of the health­ier op­tions?” (His voice did go up at the end, sug­gest­ing the ques­tion mark.)

Let’s try to look at our shared af­flic­tion that way. And maybe we should come up with a se­cret hand­shake, too.

“On life’s vast ocean di­versely we sail. Rea­son’s the card, but pas­sion the gale.” — Alexan­der Pope

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