Sunday, November 25, 2007

Boat Quest, Part 2

In 1972, when I read Robin Graham's book, Dove, about his around-the-world adventure, I knew that what I wanted to do with sailing was not to race in regattas on Lake Michigan but to see the world from a sailboat like Robin had done. I was only fourteen at the time and living in mostly land-locked Wisconsin, so the possibility of buying a boat and sailing it around the world seemed pretty remote, a someday dream that I didn't actively work toward for many years.

One day in the mid-1990s, I was at the office of one of my computer business clients in downtown Aspen, and I noticed a framed photo of a sailboat on his desk. "Nice boat," I said. "Is it yours?" He said that it was and asked if I had an interest in sailing. "Yes," I said, "but a boat like that is awfully expensive, isn't it?" Not as much as you'd think, he replied, especially for an older, used boat. "Where was that picture taken? It looks like somewhere in the Caribbean." It is, he said. "So how does that work?" I asked. "You're here in Aspen and your boat is down there?" He said that every few months he would fly down to where the boat was stored, sail it to the next destination, put it back in storage, and fly home. In this way, he was slowly touring the Caribbean by sailboat, an island at a time.

The idea I had been holding for more than twenty years that owning a decent-sized boat and sailing it on the ocean was something I might never be able to afford either in terms of money or time was suddenly gone. If this person could do it, I thought, why couldn't I? How to get started though?

About this same time, Phil LeBoutillier walked into my office. He said he was developing a bed and breakfast in the Bahamas ( and needed some assistance getting a computerized accounting system set up to track the project. He also said he had noticed my Minifish leaning against a wall out front and wondered if we couldn't maybe work out a trade for some fiberglass repair work. There was still a deep scratch on the bottom from a bad day sailing on Lake Mendota, while I was at the University of Wisconsin in the late 1970s, when I was blown into rocks near the shore. He invited me to come with him to check out his shop a few blocks away where he was building a plywood dinghy for a new trawler he had bought as a transport boat for the bed and breakfast.

The dinghy was a cleverly designed skiff, with the plywood sides and bottom curved around a sturdy frame. Phil was in the process of fiberglassing it so the shop smelled of chemicals. He said that since he was already at it, we should just go get my boat and fix the scratch. We shook on the trade and on our newfound friendship.

When I asked Phil later where he had gotten the plans for his skiff, he handed me a catalog of boat plans. I can't find it now but I know I still have it somewhere, and I think it might have been Fifty Wooden Boats, published by WoodenBoat. In addition to smaller boats like the skiff, there were plans available for cruising sailboats, which I studied carefully. One in particular looked like the right combination of sailplan and layout without being too large to build in a big garage and transport to the ocean by flatbed truck. But did I have the time and more importantly the skills to build a wooden sailboat from scratch?

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