MY FIRST BOAT — I
LATITUDE / TIM
t was late afternoon when Vince called the Latitude office, looking to get rid of his boat. "I don't have time to sail," he said. Vince told me that he'd put some money into his boat last spring, but never went out. "Not even once." He asked if we knew where he could donate the boat, or if we knew anyone who might want it. Well, maybe I did.
The totally decent 1963 Columbia 24 Challenger 'Esprit'.
The boat — a Columbia 24 — was at Lowrie Yacht Harbor in San Rafael, about a half mile from my house. That evening I had a look. It reminded me of a big Cal 20 with its flush foredeck and beefy, heavy-set nature. The boat, Esprit, was totally decent. Some of the blocks were a little old, as were some of the halyards and sheets. The deck and cockpit looked like they'd been painted recently, but her hull was a little cracked and faded — exactly what you'd expect from a 54-year-old boat. But the mainsail was crunchy and new, and the outboard motor was shiny and clean. I've never owned a boat. I grew up in San Diego, and started working at sailing schools and yacht clubs in my early 20s, jobs I sought in part (if not entirely) to have use of the boats. I worked at the Navy Sailing Center in Point Loma, where we had a fleet of keelboats and dinghies. I worked at Southwestern, San Diego and Tom's River Yacht Clubs. I'd raced on all manner of boats (but preferred dinghies). I worked on yachts and did a few deliveries. I worked at a Club Med. I always sailed Other People's Boats, and never once considered owning my own. I met Vince a few days later at Lowrie. The interior of the boat was surprisingly tidy (old, but tidy), and had a good supply of lifejackets, two headsails, and even a spinnaker. There were also loads of tools and parts. It was totally decent, and I Page 72 •
• December, 2017
considered renaming the boat Totally Decent. Vince signed the title and handed it to me. I can't do justice to the look on his face. He relaxed and sighed in relief. He was genuinely glad I had the boat, but glad to be rid of the burden. Vince said he owned two restaurants in Modesto, worked seven days a week, and only had time to worry and pay the dock fees. And just like that, I owned a boat. The Gas Line Lowrie said taking over the slip wasn't a given. I would need to fill out an application, register the boat in my name, and get insurance — all trivial tasks that I knew I'd have a hard time getting done. I wrote a check for my slip fees ($210 a month), started the tally on my boat ownership, and made preparations to get on the water. A quick trip to the gas station — $12.74 for fuel — and I was getting really excited to sail. When I left San Diego in the early 2000s, I strayed from sailing. I worked at a few windsurfing shacks, and was immediately drawn to the awesome speed, the connection to the wind, and, especially, the total on-your-own-ness of it. Racing, with all its yelling and egos, was never my thing (mostly because I was never that good). Windsurfing had spoiled me — I just wanted to go fast. I hadn't stepped on a keelboat in almost 15 years. But the idea of singlehanding some old tub off San Rafael got me fired up in a way that surprised me. Working at Latitude had rekindled an old flame. I forgot how much I loved boats — I mean
None of the expenses were extravagant, but they accumulated and slowly encroached into the 'freeness' of the boat. any kind of boat at all — and how fun it was to sail with some breeze, the rail buried, the boat plowing into waves. I plopped my full gas tank in the transom, and, with some trouble, lowered the motor (more on that in a bit). I went to attach the gas line, and found the end that went to the engine hanging in the water with a long, slimy beard dangling off it. I cleaned it up as best I could, but because the 8-hp Honda outboard was one of the nicest, newest features on
My friend bought me a roll of Gorilla Tape for the boat, which he told me doubled as a drink holder perfectly. When new, the roll is sticky, and perfectly accommodates a can.
Esprit, I decided to replace the fitting. No sailing that day, which was a surprisingly stunning letdown, like going to surf, but arriving at the beach only to find the ocean flat. It was a few days later before I made it to West Marine. Thinking I was smart about these things, I brought the old fitting with me and matched it with a new one — it was $10.57. Back at the boat, I immediately tested my new end on the motor. It seemed fine . . . But it didn't work. The end of the fitting that went into the hose was too big. Way too big. I tried to work it into place, but, yeah, it wasn't going to go. I'd made a mistake; I should have tested the other end. Rookie error. No sailing on this day, and once again I felt let down, as well as the increasingly burning desire to get the hell out on the water. I'll go so far as to say that since starting at Latitude, I'd also felt the romance about my sailing heroes such as Bernard Moitessier, but also modern heroes whom I'd interviewed, like sailor and ocean rower Lia Ditton, circumnavigating hopeful Randall Reeves, and Elana Connor, who singlehanded (with her dog) to Hawaii in June. No, I certainly did not put myself on any of these sailors'
The December 2017 issue of the West's premier sailing and marine magazine.