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A Bit Of Home


Lead Line — May 2001

By Richard Thiel


A Bit Of Home
Building a boat offers a taste of immortality.
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Regular readers of this column and those conversant with the intricacies of magazine publishing will understand the apparent chronological contradiction when I say that as I write this, it is sleeting in New York. My laptop and I are laid out on the forward deck of a Nordhavn 35, not only the only vessel but also the only living soul within sight, except for Capt. Bill Pike, who is snoring away in the saloon with all the brio of a Sousan tuba player. We are anchored off Devil’s Cay in the Berry Island chain of the Bahamas, well into a 10-day trip that started with an overnight crossing from Miami to Bullocks Harbor. The Gulf Stream crossing was fine, but the Bahamas Banks were another story altogether, dishing us up a thrashing about the nose in the form of a 25-knotter with considerable fetch that stirred the shallows to a fine froth.

As Pike attempts to recover his strength (truth be told, I just awoke myself), I find myself one more time reflecting on why I love boating. The solitude and beauty and the sense of independence, however fleeting, from the workaday world are treasures. And I also find myself reflecting on why people buy boats. I am aboard this fine little ship solely because of the generosity of the folks at Nordhavn, but mere hours into our passage I was wishing she were mine. This is not just acquisitiveness. Nordhavn has outfitted us with everything from tender to teapot, and yet there are a few items I miss and a few others I wouldnt have elected to take along. Amid unbelievable good fortune and spectacular surroundings, I’m not entirely content.

That’s, of course, why people buy boats instead of chartering them, which as every boater knows makes much more financial sense. They want the adventure of escape with the familiar surroundings of home, the chance to explore unknown shores and return to their pied a terre each evening. Makes no rational sense, I suppose, but if people didn’t feel that way, there’d be no pleasureboat business and I’d be out of a job.

Which brings me to this, the May issue, devoted to custom boatbuilding. Surely it has occurred to you, as it has to me, that if owning a boat is as reasonable an activity as staying out in the sun too long, then building a boat of one’s own is self-immolation. Why would anyone want to go through the difficulties, if not downright agony, of such a process when there are superb production vessels like this Nordhavn, at least one for every imaginable predilection?

The answer is the homing instinct, taken to the third power. If one of life’s primal pleasures is to purchase a boat and season after season make her into a reflection of oneself, the ultimate gratification is to create a boat from the keel up, every decision of which reflects the opinions, desires, and quirks of just one person, or perhaps one couple. Such a boat becomes so much a part of those who built her that she retains their identity for as long as she exists, long after they who commissioned her have sold her, indeed even after they have left the earth. In that sense, you could say that building a boat offers a taste of immortality.

I admit that anchored here immortality seems a silly notion. I can’t even think about tomorrow, much less the millennia after I’m dust. I can think only how wonderful this borrowed boat feels around me and how even better I would feel if I didn’t have to return her to her owner next week—or ever.

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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