February 2009 Many older males recapture their youth by buying sports cars. I wanted to recapture my youth, but not with a sports car – I wanted a sailboat again. I wanted to experience the vitality of a spring chicken before I turned up my toes in the daisy patch. I can’t travel back in time, but I’ve been surprised at the frequency and subtle strength of youthful recollections that shape my course. My last sailboat was a wooden cutter, but that was 20 years ago; I now wanted a fiberglass sailboat. I wanted to spend my time sailing, not maintaining, my boat. I wanted a yacht with a full keel and felt that about thirty feet in length would be ideal.
I’d had a misspent youth on a wooden Folkboat in Britain. In my minds eye, I relived her seaworthy, predictable performance and the beauty of a boat that sailed and looked so right. As a young man, I’d read Tania Aebi’s Maiden Voyage and traced her progress through the pages of Cruising World. In my younger mind I’d sailed a Contessa across the world’s oceans. In the Contessa I recognized the Folkboat heritage. I yearned for my new boat to swamp my imagination with those possibilities.
On winter weekends I viewed elderly, but neglected Pearsons, a poorly modified Allied Seawind, costly Westsail 32s, an old Alberg 30, an outboard engined Vega, beamy Fortune 30s, overpriced Bristol Channel Cutters, a beautiful Fuji 32, several high priced Danas and a couple of Flickas. I searched classified and brokerage ads and inspected dozens of suitable sailboats, but none enthralled my imagination. I visited too many of the marinas and harbors of British Columbia and Washington State, but seemingly in vain.
Each weekend I lost myself in a maze of masts and wharves in car lot style marinas. I climbed dozens of ladders and scrambled through boats that reeked of mildew and damp. I met some brokers unable to answer basic questions about the used boats they showed, and I vetted boats whose owners were too busy, or too disinterested, to attend and point out their boats best attributes.
I despaired of finding the right sailboat. I returned home after each weekend disappointed, but I still determinedly researched every internet lead, searched every 48° North classified and brokerage ad, and always made a point to ask about boats for sale at each marina. But, ultimately, I was left with my youthful recollections and my current aspirations. Certain memories continuously recycled through my mind. Visions of a Folkboat powering to windward through an aggressive chop, the cozy cabin of a small boat, the ease of sail handling a compact boat and the calm in the cockpit of a boat at anchor. One theme recurred, “Small is beautiful.”
These thoughts compelled me to return to Seattle and review a unique Norsea Flicka and several Danas. I flirted with the Flicka for almost a month. I read the Flicka journals online, researched the Flicka’s history and its drawbacks. The Flicka was sturdily built, had amazing accommodation and was only 20 feet on deck. But my internet investigations during the week left doubts as to her speed, – Flickas are slow said the reports – they are not easily driven, especially in light airs. Flickas have stocky and compact hulls, but don’t have beautiful wineglass sections. So, reluctantly after a month of intense flirtation, I left the Flicka on the dock.
I located one Contessa and was tempted by her price, but that Contessa was a project boat and I didn’t want to spend years and far too many dollars renovating her. I wanted to sail before I was too old to do so.
I almost gave up my search. I became dispirited and contemplated the best of the boats that I had seen. I was prepared to settle for second best, but a fortuitous internet lead, showed me a Contessa that was almost local, and for sale. My next weekend was another blur of BC ferries as I finally viewed a sailboat that fulfilled my dreams. She was moored in a quiet, almost hidden cove. Her beauty was blurred by several season’s grime, but in my mind she was right. I knew Contessas were seaworthy passage makers with an enviable reputation, and were pocket-sized. She flooded my imagination with her potential in a way that none of the other sailboats that I’d seen could do. I checked her carefully,
but I couldn’t find significant flaws. The septuagenarian owner had cared for her since her birth in 1983, but old age and arthritis meant that sailing was no longer in his future. I took up too many of his weekends. I inspected the Contessa’s systems; I hauled her, checked her bare bottom and was relieved when the owner accepted my offer.
The next weekend I sailed her to her new home a few islands away. She didn’t disappoint. Her cabin is cozy though larger than a Folkboat; she even has more headroom, but I don’t bend as easily as I did in my youth. My Contessa is quick, lively, seaworthy and very easily driven. She’s a lot cleaner now, though there is still much work to be done, but that’s the way it is when you own a sailboat.