Voyage to the Dark Side (for Novel Research)

Sailing fans, stop reading right now. I’m about to make an embarrassing boat confession (which is why I’m sneaking it in today, on my “writing” Thursday):

Paul and I bought a powerboat. 

Now pick yourself up off the floor, because I have some excellent justifications for this radical move. 

Why this is such a big deal

First, a little background for non-boating readers. There is a vast and unbridgeable divide between powerboat people (“stinkpotters”) and sailboat people (“blowboaters”). I still remember the 1980s prediction of a prominent sailing magazine editor: the Arab-Israeli conflict will end long before sailors and powerboaters come to any sort of understanding. Shortly after I was born, my older brother apparently asked our father why anyone would own a powerboat; Dad responded, “Because they don’t yet know how to sail.” 

Hence this blog’s title. For two lifelong sailors, buying anything motorized bigger than a center console or dinghy definitely begs explanation. 

Why would two sailors buy a powerboat?

When Paul sold his Archambault 31 last year, we both knew that we wanted to continue cruising around New England—but also agreed that the next boat should be easier to manage. After many winter window-seat chats, we kept coming back to the same conclusion: a small overnightable powerboat was the best compromise. Something big enough to transport us and our wingfoil gear and SUPs to many of our favorite harbors, without requiring the perfect weather window to get home again. 

The right powerboat, of course

After copious research and a few in-person inspections, Paul put down a deposit on a Nauset 27 we’ve named Pierre. (There’s a story there too, of course.) The buying process was pleasantly straightforward, thanks to a trustworthy seller—and our acceptance of the many quirks that come along with a 40 year old boat. After a few modifications to make it “ours,” including a renaming ceremony, we cast off for our first mini-cruise: an 80-mile, two-day run to Jamestown.

Perfectly rational hindsight

It wasn’t until I’d logged a few hours running the boat that I realized; I can personally justify this new adventure as research! One of the many struggles while writing Ferry to Cooperation Island (which continues with the sequel) was my complete lack of muscle-memory about operating a small ferry boat. I’ve asked a lot of questions of friends who run similar vessels, but I still don’t know what I don’t know. What’s it like to depend on a finicky motor to cross open water, regardless of the wind and weather?

Pierre is only about half the size of the fictional Homer, and we definitely aren’t signing on to four runs a day, year round. But I’ve now experienced the unique vibrations of standing watch while listening for any change in the vibrations underfoot—so I can infuse that new body-knowledge into what my characters feel on their next ferry ride. 

Guilty as charged

As for the elephant in the room, our increased carbon footprint… well, that will be partially offset by all the car-gallons we would otherwise be burning on family visits. But we’ll still have to live with some guilt, knowing we are a bigger part of the problem—a definite change for two wind-powered lives.

Don’t worry, sailors; next week, I’ll be back on topic once again. Between Snipes, wingfoiling, model boat racing, Matsya, and other people’s boats, there will be plenty of summer tales more pleasing to all of the readers I can now call “blowboaters.” But I might also blog again about future stinkpotting on Pierre—and all that boring old research. You have been warned!

How about you—got an opinion about powerboats (good or otherwise)? Share it in the comments below, or by email. I read every single one, with thanks.

4 Replies to “Voyage to the Dark Side (for Novel Research)”

  1. You remind me of some dear friends, a couple who live in Manhattan with a second home in CT. The husband has been an avid sailor and small boat racer for most of his life. The wife isn’t a water person, though she loves to be at the shore. A number of years ago, they commissioned a power boat large enough for overnight use. I had the privilege of joining them on this craft for a sunset cruise around a magical collection of islands. Motoring in among them made it possible. Sailing would have been iffy to impossible. The stinkpot enabled my friends to have a completely different relationship to their watery world, to include more of their family in outings, to teach powerboat safety to their kids, and to enjoy the boat at the dock and mooring in ways that their sailboats never allowed. While I’m still squarely in the blowboat camp, this middling sized motorized craft opened my eyes. In the days of such ferocious divides everywhere, we could all take a lesson in tolerance for life choices that make sense for those making them, even if they seem unthinkable to us. Go for it, Carol and Paul. I can’t imagine a more sustainably-oriented couple using this new tool in a responsible way.

    1. Thanks Alice. One aspect of our “completely different relationship to the watery world” that we are really looking forward to is more visits to you and your island! And maybe this can also be our own personal “reaching across the aisle.” 🙂

  2. Very aesthetically pleasing boat. Looking forward to a cold beer hand down at some Snipe regattas in New England. Also, I’m sure some fun new videos in and out of the boat shop (Paul’s Vimeo site for those not familiar, which is probably no one who reads this site!).

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