Our Boats and Us: Mahogany Memories
A vintage lapstrake brings this editor heartwarming pleasures.
By George L. Petrie
When I was just a wee tot, my parents would take me out in the family runabout, a 16-foot Thompson lapstrake with a 22-hp Evinrude. Dad would curse until the “knuckle-buster” outboard roared to life, then we would settle back for a quick run to our favorite fishing hole. After a while, I’d snuggle up under the foredeck and be gently rocked to sleep in a cradle of mahogany planking. We kept the old Thompson until I was well into high school, repowering her with an “awesome” 60-hp Mercury that even had electric start! My buddies and I would water-ski, race, or just mess around all summer long. It was at the wheel of the Thompson that I kissed my first girlfriend.
Though that was half a lifetime ago, the memories remain etched in my mind and probably account for my sentimental predisposition towards wooden boats. So after a brief flirtation with fiberglass in the 1980’s (and a carefree decade with no boat at all), when my wife and I finally took the plunge back into boat ownership, it was almost predictable that a mahogany lapstrake would win our hearts.
It was love at first sight. After two years of searching up and down the East Coast, we were taking an evening stroll down by a yacht club just a few blocks from home in Connecticut. And there she was, a black-hulled beauty with varnished mahogany decks, capped by a smart-looking canvas top that offered full protection from the sun along with seven feet of headroom from the windshield to the transom. A few weeks later, through a chance encounter, we learned that the 26-foot Lyman lapstrake we had been admiring was owned by a neighbor and that the object of our admiration was seriously for sale.
Negotiations ensued, funds conveyed, papers were filed, and in the waning days of summer, the Lyman was ours. It was just after Labor Day 2002 that we took our first ride in the new-old boat, but it proved to be a memorable experience.
Anxious to get aboard the Lyman the first day she was ours, I rushed home from work, picked up my wife, and dashed off to the marina just to give the boat a quick once-over. Though my wife had rightfully insisted that the boat wasn’t yet ready for a shakedown cruise, the temptation of the black beauty tugging at her dock lines was simply too strong. Within minutes the vintage Chrysler V-8 engine was barking, spewing cooling water out the transom.
We had agreed to take just a short ride up the Connecticut River, heading north from Hamburg Cove, where I keep her, but as the hull came up on plane, it left our resolve in its wake. Within minutes I was on the cellphone, making arrangements to meet friends in Haddam for a quick dinner by the shore. We’d be fine, as long as we were back before dark, because although we had all the required safety equipment onboard, we had no searchlight, no charts, and no means of navigation other than by sight. But we had plenty of daylight, and it seemed a simple matter to just stay between the buoys.
You can guess what happened next. Our short jaunt turned out to be an hour-long run, and dinner evolved into an evening of camaraderie. It was long past dusk when we cast off to begin our run back down river. With my wife at the wheel, I could see just well enough to spot the buoys to keep us in the channel. But I had no idea where we were, the scant lights along the shore offering no clue as to where our destination might be.
After a while, the old engine overheated and quit. We called SeaTow, but when they asked where we were, I could only say, “up river somewhere, just look for a black hull (in the dark).” They found us; it turned out the boat conked out right at the entrance to Hamburg Cove. It’s like she was telling us, “We’re home.”
Now named Ebony and powered with a new fuel-injected V-8, the black Lyman is part of our family. Whether we’re day-tripping across Long Island Sound or just hanging on the hook in Hamburg Cove, she’ll be helping make memories for years to come.
This article originally appeared in the November 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.