October 31, 2016

The nose always remembers

I WELL REMEMBER the first time I smelled a yacht. I was 14, and because of a lucky meeting on the beach beneath our small-town home, I was the caretaker of a 28-foot, hard-chine wooden sloop called Albatross. (Rich people from the big city 30 miles to the north. Weekenders.) I had Albatross to myself after school all week.
Every afternoon I'd row out to the moorings in the dinghy and just sit in wonderment in the cramped cabin. It was all new to me, the teak-and-holly sole, the mysterious quarterberths, the V-berth in the forepeak, and the gasoline engine hidden under the companionway ladder.

But it's the smells I remember now, many decades later. It's the smells that jar my memory of that sweet little boat bobbing on her mooring in the hot sunshine.

Tarred hemp from the forecastle, kerosene from the galley, along with denatured alcohol. The subtle aroma of teak bulkheads and old white paint overhead. Faint smells of gasoline from the engine compartment, and that peculiar smell of damp sailcloth that no sailor will ever forget, coming from the V-berth where the spinnaker was stored in its bag. Coffee from the food locker, and a metallic tang from the galvanized anchor chain. And if you pressed your nose to the bronze portholes you recognized a link back through the centuries to the Vikings and beyond.

All these scents mingled with salt-laden sea air in Albatross's cabin and I was entranced and bewitched. It was sheer magic, and I was never to forget it.

And just the other day I was reading Maurice Griffiths, the well-known British sailor and author. He, too, knew about the smell of a yacht:

"There is indeed something about the smell of ship that stirs a man's blood, a seductive, persuasive odor of oak and tarred rope and canvas and paint, of varnish and oil and galley smoke and rust, that exciting scent that clings like an aura to every shapely little schooner with her jib-boom steeved above the quays, and drifts on the breeze from every fishing smack that puts to sea; a haunting smell that goes to a man's head like wine and makes him yearn for a free life, open air and a wide horizon, and above all for the kick of a tiller under his arm and the scend of a stout little ship beneath his feet . . . Oh, I know." 

Today's Thought
There is nothing like an odor to stir memories.
— William McFee, The Market

Tailpiece
“You need glasses.”
“How do you know?”
“I could tell as soon as you walked through the window.”


1 comment:

2fastnlight said...

This is very similar to the smell of two stroke exhaust for motorsport enthusiasts. It just sticks in the mind and anchors memories. Now I think the chemistry of fiberglass is dominant for new boats.

Greg