In my eyes pilot cutters, hookers and workboats are the most beautiful of all yachts. I silently rung in the New Years alone and with it entered into my 30th year on the water front. I’ve been fortunate enough in those years to skipper all manor of boats from my little Potter 15 to 12 meter AC yachts. While being mentored by one of the top racers of the time a chance meeting with a salt crusted voyager changed everything my young eyes saw when it came to beauty of sail.
Tan bark sails, perfectly oiled and varnished teak, full bodied hulls, plum bows and long water lines. There is no right or wrong way when it comes to boating but to me comparing a modern design to those of the old days when sails drove our boats is like comparing a bottle of Jack Tar Cab to a bottle of bud light. I understand the appeal of huge engines, massive interiors and boats without a splinter of wood but they just don’t meet my needs. Its the love, commitment and more often than not the frustration of these old bags that form the bond between a sailor and his ship.
Wide decks, cozy cabins, the rich aroma of teak. These are a few of the things that match my calloused and weathered hands. The smell of burning surfer triggers something magical in my brain as the soft warm glow of my kerosene lantern sets the mood worthy of a blood red cab and loaf of fresh bread. I’ll take a tiller over a wheel. All my halliards terminate at the mast. A bucket for a toilet and a lead line for depth have never failed me. Marlin spikes and shackle keys hang within easy grasp. The bowsprite and staysail are two of the most traditional elements you will find on a yacht and now considered to be the most modern tools for sail performance.
It all starts with a brilliant design, a quality build and simple yet efficient sail plan. I prefer a deck stepped mast with a solid post beneath it. Balsa cored decks are great for saving money in construction but good old hard wood laminate is my preference. A stern hung rudder is not only beautiful but reliable, virtually maintenece free and easy to remove in or out of the water. Outboard hull mounted chainplates are a must as are big working bits and dual purpose cleats. Sookie carries the tall rig preferred by her designer Lyle Hess, a rudder larger than most 40’ers and no inboard engine. I can fully appreciate the convienience of a good inboard diesel but I’ll stick with a skulling oar and kicker for the occasional times when there isn’t enough wind to keep the boat moving.
I love all sailboats, large and small, plastic, wood and metal. It isn’t that I think any boat or design is particularly better than the other, perhalps practical is a better word. achieving my theoretical hull speed, my hand gently nudging the tiller, working into a small cove under sail. Perfection and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think Sookie is the finest boat on the planet when it comes to all these charicteristics although I could easily have said that about all of the boats I’ve owned over the years. Time on the water has been my greatest teacher. I’ve taken a step back from my life, my plans and my someday dreams to regroup. Lately I’ve been feeling like a slave to the almighty dollar and while I can fully appreciate its value I know deep inside of me there is a better way.
I had been living in my car far too long, traveling and exploring marinas from Mexico and slowly working north towards Alaska. Boat ownership was the last thing on my mind, I was burned out and wanting nothing more than to crew on other people’s boats. To discover and appreciate the last of a dying breed, to become one with the world of classic wooden boats. I love crewing, cooking aboard, making coffee for crew undersail. Taking my turn at the helm of a boat I have no responsibility in maintaining and walking away at the end of a long day on the water wanting more but knowing I was blessed to have what I did.
In 1995 I sold my yacht photography buisiness, it wasn’t that I was burned out on boats or photography back then, it was just that the the whole industry was boring me. I set off to sail the South Pacific and find all those old elusive trade schooners. Over the last few years I’ve noticed a huge surge in interest for wooden boat restoration, classic yachts are still one in a million but they are out here. If you happen to own a Vertue and sail her locally in the Salish I’d love to chat and an opportunity to sail and photograph her for a new writing project I’m muddling through although I’ll jump at any opportunity to sail on your wooden boat regardless of design.
From the log of Sookie Row row row your boat, gently down the stream. This surely was written by a great sailor, one who lived life according to the wind and tides.