Mothers have birth stories, athletes have their first goal, and we have the story of our first boat.
I started sailing on a plywood Alcort Sailfish, which is an earlier version of the more popular Sunfish. We had a Sunfish as well but I’m pretty sure it leaked badly so the sailfish was the boat we learned on. I was around 8 at the time and was “taught” to sail by being allowed to take the boat out in front of our camp and figure it out. I don’t really remember any instruction happening other than my older brother “instructing” me on what it meant to capsize. He would take great pleasure in flipping the boat over just when I was getting the hang of things and we would have to stand on the daggerboard and get things upright again.
The first boat I ever bought was an Enterprise class plywood sailing dingy that was about the same age as I was when I bought it. I was in high school and would have been about 18 at the time. I went to see it in the early spring and when I met with the man who was selling it he gave me the old “there’s another family coming to look at it this afternoon, but if you want it, I’ll tell them it’s sold” routine. I was young and this was the nudge I needed for him to close the sale. After all, I was there to buy my first sailboat so I only needed a small nudge anyway.
My dad and I came back for the boat a week later with a borrowed truck and trailer. I was the proud new owner of my very own boat, with gleaming varnished decks, the promise of sweet sailing and, was that bondo around the centreboard trunk? And after flipping her over the stem felt awfully soft. But these were minor details to someone who had just spent too much money to think of these things. I quickly ignored the bondo and discovered the miracle of Git-Rot at our local auto-parts store; problem solved now let’s go sailing.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with the miracle cure of Git-Rot, it is a thinned epoxy product that allows you to turn previously rotten wood into rotten wood that has been soaked in glue and allowed to harden. This allows you to believe that all is well and get on with the important task of sailing. They say there is nothing more permanent than a good temporary repair; I guess that repair was good enough because I never thought about it again in all the years I sailed that boat.
So now I was ready for my shakedown sail. You know, the one where you discover any problems that might arise from not having things rigged properly, learning how she handles, or finding out if the Git-Rot was going to keep the lake out of the boat. So, with the wisdom of my years, I decided now would be a good time to introduce my 3-year-old nephew to sailing. Besides, there weren’t even any whitecaps out there, not really anyway. Luckily things went well and everyone returned home safe, I’m pretty sure we were both wearing lifejackets, maybe... although maybe I added those into my memory later. Either way, the shakedown sail was without catastrophe and my nephew’s introduction to sailing was a success. He didn’t even capsize us by insisting on putting his hands in the water from the low side of the boat while heeled over at a perilous angle.
I have always been glad when I've just went for it without much fear of what could go wrong. It’s much more fun to be living on a broad reach, going with the wind, surfing down waves and seeing where they take you as opposed to beating hard against whitecaps because you’re convinced you’re supposed to reach a certain destination. This has led me to open my boatbuilding shop to help others realize their dream of owning a wooden boat. Whatever your dream is, I encourage you to go for it, do it now. You’ll never have more time to enjoy yourself than if you start now.