A couple of aging vessels

David and Elsa. Older, but still seaworthy and together. Photo courtesy David Roper

December 2021

By David Roper
For Points East

It came about this October. It seems that Elsa and I, a couple of aging vessels, one human and one of the floating kind, were to be surveyed. Elsa’s surveyor was a seasoned male; mine a young female, my new GP. I was equally nervous about both upcoming dissections, Elsa’s being done primarily with a surveyor’s mallet; mine done mostly with probing hands, along with some “mental acuity” tests thrown in, including one to “determine impairment of executive function in the prefrontal area of my frontal lobe.” There I was, in for my Medicare screening (a nice way to say old age checkup). And there was Elsa, in to see if she was good enough to continue her waterborne life under the tutelage of a new owner.

In the doctor’s office, I hopped up on the end of the examining table, making sure that my young doctor saw that it was more of a hop than a groaning senior’s up and slide maneuver. Would I pass my survey? More on that later.

A day later, in the boatyard parking lot, I waited patiently for Elsa’s doctor (surveyor) to arrive. A pickup truck soon appeared with what looked like a seasoned working man behind the wheel. “This the boat?” he asked. “Yup, my boat, Elsa,” I replied pridefully. We shook hands and introduced ourselves. “Hell,” he said when I told him my name, “I read all your stuff.” That made me nervous. Would he remember all of Elsa’s issues I’d written about over the past twenty years?

In the doctor’s office, part of my survey was being subjected to the “clock and memory test.” “Draw the hands of the clock showing ten minutes after two,” she directed. “But before you do that, I’m going to tell you three words I’d like you to try to remember later in the interview: “rectangular,” “floor,” and “supermarket.” Now, please draw the clock with the time I gave you.

“May I ask a question first,” I interrupted. She smiled benignly.


“Do you do this for people under 30?”

She looked perplexed. Actually, doubly perplexed. “Well, this is just a test for seniors,” she said. “And why would you ask that?”

“It’s just that I don’t think anyone under 30 could pass since they have no idea what an analog clock face looks like.”

Elsa’s survey was quite a bit more aggressive than mine. She was hit by that surveyor’s mallet about a hundred times and in all her upper and nether regions. Then every one of her hatches was pried open, and a strong light probed her recesses. Suggestions and directives came at me as I watched: “This will have to go . . . You’ll need to change this . . . There seems to be a problem with your . . .” And on it went. Poor Elsa! Such a classy, elegant, and distinguished vessel being subjected to the rules of the day. It all made me flash back to the old wooden Atkin cutter I grew up aboard from a baby until young adulthood. When my dad decided to sell her years later, my two brothers and I sat under the lanterns below decks on a stormy evening in Marblehead Harbor. “You can’t sell the boat out of the family, Dad. There are too many memories. No, we’ll buy her from you,” we said.

“No, you won’t,” he said gently. “She’s too old. She’s tired. Worn out in too many places. You won’t find enjoyment. Only burden.” He looked up at us, the glow from the cabin’s bulkhead lantern giving a softness to his lined face. “You need to know when to let go,” he said, finally.

Back at the doctor’s office, I wasn’t worried about the clock or memory test. (You see, I made a true sentence out of the three words to give them context so I wouldn’t forget: “There’s a rectangular floor in our supermarket.”) I was feeling like pretty hot stuff. “So, I passed, right?”

She kept looking at some numbers on her computer screen. Then she looked back at me. “We’ll need to do some tests,” she said.

“Look, I’m great,” I said, hopping off the table.

She smiled knowingly, benevolently. “I know how you feel, but at your age, we need to…look, you’re not 40 anymore, and we need to….”

At the boatyard, Elsa did about as well as I did. Things needed to be fixed. Monitored. But it was worse than that for my prospective buyer: Elsa was deemed too old by the insurance companies; they didn’t want to transfer coverage to a boat over forty. So, the deal was off.

Oddly, I was thrilled. You see, deep down, right then, I realized that I never really wanted to sell her. I knew it wasn’t time to let go.

Yes, like me, she was getting old.

But, for better or for worse, we would happily continue doing that together.

David Roper’s latest book, “Beyond Mermaids…Life’s Tangles, Knots & Bends,” is finally on bookshelves. It’s a sequel to “Watching for Mermaids,” a three-time bestseller, and is available on Amazon.