Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Nautical Oxymoron

October 31, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

We boaters are a strange breed. We are all thrilled when we buy a boat, and quite a few are equally thrilled when they sell their boats. What gives? I don’t have all the answers, but perhaps my experiences during a quarter-century on the water can provide some clues.

Marriage drove me to my first boat. You see, when my wife and I became a couple in 1983, I enjoyed taking up residence in her country house on Long Island’s East End. Wondering what I was going to do with all my free time, I took a look at the area’s many maritime activities, and, having learned to sail a 13-foot Beetle catboat as a teenager, I figured I’d buy a cat.

Except I didn’t rush out and buy one. Instead, as someone who thought beyond the bounds of my city apartment, I had a notion that it would be cool to build a vessel in the backyard of my new country digs. What better way to prove to the world that I possessed admirable carpenter skills than by constructing something on which my life depended? Soon (if you can call 12 years of mostly weekends soon), a 19-foot handcrafted vessel arose from the crabgrass, complete with two bunks, a diesel engine, a stove, and a head.

I sailed that little boat for 11 years, often taking weeklong cruises to Block Island, Mystic, and Newport. After all those years, I grew weary of a boat with only enough headroom to sit, not stand. I was also tired of its single-gaffed rigged sail that extended three feet over the stern — it was exceedingly heavy to hoist and gave the ship a severe weather helm when the wind piped up. It was time to buy a bigger and more comfortable vessel!

That boat was a Cornish Crabber, an amazing 28-foot pocket cruiser built in England. With a full keel and an enclosed head, our cruising choices were greatly expanded. We explored destinations further east, aided by the extra knot or two of speed a sloop rig provided. In addition, her two headsails gave us more flexibility to handle rough weather.

After five years aboard this boat, I suddenly felt my age. Tiller steering requires a strong arm, and so does the mainsheet. When the head sail roller reefing jammed, as it often did, I found it an increasing challenge fix it by clawing my way forward on a pitching, wet deck. At the age of 80, sailing was no longer fun.

However, I wasn’t ready to give up on boating. I sold my sailboat and decided that a powerboat was the best way to go at this point in my life.

Many older skippers who make the transition from sail to power choose trawlers —comfortable lumbering giants of vessels with broad beams and gentle speeds. I bought a Willard 30, appealing to me as a traditionalist. It was a customized vessel that resembled a down east fishing boat with 15-foot twin par vanes, bronze opening ports, and a plain white interior. This beauty became an instant hit with my marina shipmates, with declarations that she was “the .” However attractive she looked, however, this gal overwhelmed me.

With her 11-foot beam, it was a challenge to dock in tight berths. The hot and cold pressurized water, heaters, a macerator in the head, electric icebox, and power windlass (connected by both AC and DC electrical panels) required near-constant attention. The engine room looked like the Queen Mary to me! So many hoses, pipes, handles, valves buttons, filters, pumps, faucets, storage tanks, and gauges — make a false move and you could literally be in deep trouble.

After two summers, I waved the white flag and surrendered sold the trawler in the summer of 2017. The buyer was a guy from Mississippi who was last seen chugging down the Intracoastal Waterway right into Hurricane Maria. However, that’s neither here nor there, as his check cleared.

For the first time in decades, I was free! I didn’t have to perform any maintenance, pay for a slip and winter storage, buy a tow contract, insure the boat, and worry whether I prepped the boat well enough as the wind howled through a snowstorm.

Want to know what I’m doing with all my newly found freedom and the money I’m saving? I’m looking to buy another catboat.


By William C. Winslow

The author is the Division 5 – Staff Officer Public Affairs, First District Southern Region, for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the all-volunteer, non-military arm of the Coast Guard, teaching boating safety education and conducting search and rescue operations. Visit http://cgaux.org/ to join the Auxiliary or for class information.


is Division 5 – Staff Officer Public Affairs, First District Southern Region, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and a freelance writer for marine publications. His work has appeared in Sailing, Wooden Boat, and Good Old Boat; he is also the author of Cat Boat Tales.

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