The True Cost of Staying Afloat
She was sitting on a rusted trailer in a driveway on a street in Rhode Island where we were staying on vacation. She was full of dead leaves and rainwater, a fiberglass relic of the 1960s. Her paint was faded, and her deck was laced with hairline cracks. It was love at first sight.
What I saw was a boat that could be my very own, a sleek centerboard sloop, 20 feet long, ready to take me wherever I pointed it. What my wife, Susan, saw was a needy addition to the family. But she didn't veto the purchase, and I, in my wisdom, never asked her to help me work on it.
I bought my dream a decade ago for $600, though that turned out to be just a drop in the ocean I would never sail. I immediately spent another $500 on trailer repairs and some small but pricey hardware for the rigging, including $20 for a single, custom-cut steel bolt to hold the deck-mounted mast in place. By the time our two-week vacation was over, I hadn't even gotten in the water. Since I didn't have space in our yard back home in New Jersey, I ended up paying a Rhode Island boatyard nearly $500 to store it for the 11 months between summer visits.
I finally launched her a full year—and a small fortune in spare parts—later. (Did I mention that she didn't have a rudder? A mahogany one set me back another $200.) Still, she looked beautiful, floating peacefully at the foot of the boat ramp, despite her patched and yellowing sails.
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I owned her for six years—paying those storage fees the whole time—and I probably sailed her for a total of 30 hours. As I soon found out, she was wrong for those waters. Sailing there on the tumbling doorstep of the Atlantic, in winds that had powered the America's Cup, ranged from challenging to terrifying. Susan and our two teenage sons were good sports, but I can't say any of us ever relaxed on our boat. Maybe that's why we never got around to naming her. It never quite felt as if she belonged in the family, other than the way I always had my wallet open—a Dad must. When I do the math it worked out to about $192 per hour I sailed her.
Impractical doesn't begin to describe it, I know; I could have rented a comparable 22-foot boat for about $25 an hour. When college bills arrived, I had to give her up. To avoid the headache of selling the funkiest boat in town, I gave her away to a couple of guys from Newport who loved that she was scary to sail.
But I have no regrets, because I got to be the captain of something, which I've come to realize was probably the point of it all. It may have been a beat-up piece of fiberglass with a patched sail, but it was my boat. I was in charge, and I kept my passengers safe. I was in control, in other words. And you know how elusive that feeling can be.
David Noonan, a freelance writer based in New Jersey, sails every chance he gets—on a friend's boat.
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