The Three Boats I Lust After (and Why)

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January 1, 2012

Doug Hylan

Perhaps it is my age, or maybe it is the fact that I spend a good deal of time taking care of boats, but generally speaking, I don't find myself lusting after boats. What I do yearn for is not boats so much as boating experiences.  And the fact that I am unlikely to ever be able to fulfill these experiences doesn't discourage me in the least.  Also, since I have a fascination with how things used to be done, it won't be surprising that my longed-for experiences are probably irreproducible – a time machine will be necessary.

For my first, I would be aboard a large square-rigged Downeaster type ship, sailing in the tradewinds on a clear, warm night.  These ships represented the height of development of working sail, before mankind discovered that it could mine ancient stored energy instead of using what was currently available. So, the routes these ships sought took them through boisterous routes rather than the windless areas that modern shipping prefers.

On my night onboard, there would be a good breeze, say 15 or 20 knots, with the ship slightly healed and gently rolling.  The stars would provide just enough light to outline the rig, and it would be quiet except for the creaking of lines and timbers, the murmur of the bow wave, and the occasional striking of the ship's bell.  To me, it would not matter if I were captain, or crew, or passenger – on a night like this, anyone would be in wonder of the beauty of the world and the tininess of their place in it.

Next, I would be aboard a Gloucester fishing schooner returning home with a belly full of cod.  These surpassingly beautiful vessels were built at a time when aesthetics had not yet been jettisoned from the workplace.  Although quickly built, their proportions were perfect, a riot of graceful and powerful curves, and highly developed and wholesome detailing.

This time, we would have a little more breeze, say 20 to 25 knots, and a skipper intent on arriving early into port while the fish prices were still high.  By this stage of the voyage, sensory overload would have reduced the overarching fishy smell to a pleasant background level, and at any rate, the breeze would provide plenty of fresh air.  With a full load, the fresh breeze, and a driving captain, the leeward rail would awash with foam, and the rig would be starting to protest.  So the crew would be keeping a wary eye aloft, but enjoying the ride and looking forward to the pleasures of shore.

Returning to the real world, while there are many boats that I find tempting, there is, however, one that comes close to an obsession.  I consider Quiet Tune to be the most beautiful of L. Francis Herreshoff's harem of beauties.  Her name is perfect, because her beauty is subtle and instantly evident from every angle. But unlike some of L. Francis's other designs, she has a powerful hull form that can stand up to a good breeze.

Of course, I would happily risk eternal damnation by changing her rig from a ketch to a yawl, and I would certainly give her a more conventional cockpit instead of the shallow pan that must have been a requirement of her original owner.  She would still be traditionally built, as I love to run my eyes over the complex and beautifully proportioned structure in a “real” wooden boat.  I would use her for day sails and occasional weekend cruises in the wonderful cruising grounds we have here in Maine.  For me, one of the greatest joys of boating is rowing away from a beautiful boat after a wonderful sail.  I can't imagine having a better view than Quiet Tune over the stern of my peapod.


 

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