October 18, 2011

The Walter Mitty boats

JUST ABOUT EVERY MARINA I've ever seen has had its share of Walter Mitty sailboats. You know the ones. Rugged little boats, classic designs, bronze portholes, bowsprits, full keels, even gaff rigs. In short, boats designed to withstand the rigors of an ocean passage — and owned by people who are never going to take them over the horizon.

Why do such people buy such boats? Why are they content to plod along solemnly half a mile off the coast, being passed by modern light-displacement boats filled with young, laughing crews, and then hightailing it back to port before the light fails?

Why do people fall in love with Flickas and Pacific Seacraft and Westsail 32s when they really should be sailing featherweight fluff like Jeanneaus and Beneteaus?

My guess is that no matter how unlikely it may seem, we like to think we have the freedom to sail around the world if we want to, and we need a boat capable of doing it. It may not be logical, but if ever a really big emergency should arise, these are our escape vehicles. I'm talking earthquake, flood, war, political turmoil, economic disaster, even nuclear warfare.

There is something fascinating about owning a small, self-contained home complete with everything to support life and able to travel away from land, with all its woes, and take you to a safe haven across the ocean.

That's why the Walter Mitty boats have solid-fuel stoves. You can always find driftwood to burn in them. They have sextants on board in beautifully varnished wooden cases, and copies of Mary Blewitt's book on celestial navigation in case the GPS system goes down. They have wind-vanes for self-steering and high-cut twin jibs for running in the trades. All their standing rigging is a size bigger than normal. They have small cockpits with large drains, and full keels with maybe a hint of cutaway up forward.

Such boats evoke a visceral emotion, a direct connection to the age-old tradition of the sea. Such boats will look after you when the chips are down; and the way things are going these days, you never know when the chips might come tumbling down.

And there's something else. They look good. They look as if they were made to do a job and do it well. They look as if they were shaped by the sea for the sea. And if you ever need to take advantage of that, they're ready, willing, and able.

Today's Thought
We must expect everything and fear everything from time and from men. 
— Vauvenargues, Réflexions

Nothing succeeds like a parakeet with no teeth.
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


s/v Windward said...

Then there's the other side of the coin: the Rodney Dangerfield boats. My Chrysler 26 must be at the head of that pack. No respect at all. Except for the pedigree (Halsey Herreshoff), and that everyone who sails on her has a blast. Not "around the horn" stuff, but a fine and confidence-inspiring craft on the coast.

And yes, I do want a Dana 24, or a Pacific Seacraft 34, or at least a Flicka. 'Cause you never know when that chance might come.

S/V Mrs Chippy said...

I don't think you can overestimate the aesthetic appeal of the "shippy" Walter Mitty boats. The Clorox bottle Beneteau's and Catalinas are comfortable and serve their purpose, but they're far from beautiful and no one would accuse them of being inspiring.

EP said...

I pass by some amazing boats at the marina, but that Bristol Channel Cutter is the most inspiring boat, looking ready to circumnavigate, and nothing less, as soon as the skipper is equal to it.

And it is there in the slip every time we go out, teak gleaming. The skipper and his friends were even working on it, last time I walked by.

I suppose one does not cast off the lines lightly in such a boat

Anonymous said...

I lived at marinas for several years and I also admire the WM boats, but the most telling thing was how seldom they ever left there slips. Walter might show up now and again to varnish some tidbit, but that's about it.
I might have gotten this from you and its a truth, The amount of time a boat is sailed is inversely proportional to it's size.

Life Is Your Adventure said...

Guilty on all counts - my 32-foot Tahitiana yes has bronze portholes, Cape Horn self- steering, Sardine wood burning stove etc etc. But my name is Dennison not Walty. So far I've singlehanded down the St. Lawrence Seaway from Toronto to Newfoundland and a few hundred miles solo along the coast of Labrador.

This summer I intend to sail around Labrador - retracing a voyage in 1811 by an Inuit fmily and two Moravian missionaries. Around the world? Plans in Jello.....and thank you John. I have you to thank for sending me to sea.

s/v Kuan Yin