A life measured in boats

The author in his first boat, a 14-foot Alumnacraft with a 7.5 hp Evinrude outboard. Photo courtesy David Sharp.

October 2021

By David A. Sharp

The list of my boats could be chapter headings for my life’s story. I never owned a “yacht,” but I had a purpose in mind for every one of the diverse boats I bought, and, with few exceptions, they gave me great pleasure while fulfilling that mission. I didn’t actually own some of the boats listed – my father’s for example – but used and maintained them (at least as much as their actual title holder). So, I “claimed” them.

It may seem that I’ve been fickle about boats, having owned so many, but I don’t see it that way. When one was sold, it was because I had no choice – I moved, or it was because, while the boat had met my expectations, my life circumstances dictated a boat with different capabilities. Anyway, this is my story, and I’m sticking with it.

My boating experience was launched when my father bought a used 1948 three-horsepower Sea King outboard for fishing from rental boats. I remember much pulling on the starter rope, which needed rewinding by hand after each try. For me, fishing was just part of the boring interludes between cranking up the “Sea King” and moving to another spot in a rented clunker. Dad must have, finally, gotten fed up with the Sea King too, or got a raise, because he went to the local sporting goods shop, and bought a new boat for us.

 

Alumacraft 14

It was an Alumacraft 14-foot open boat with a new Evinrude 7.5-horse outboard. I was now in heaven. This engine had a gearshift and shone bright-blue with decals and all. We could literally fly along now on a plane. I immediately began planning how to deck-over the front of the boat and add a windshield and a steering wheel (never happened).

I didn’t really own it. But this was the first boat I was allowed to take out by myself… so you get it. I would take her on Lake Erie when we vacationed there, as long as I didn’t get out of sight. It was so much fun, and a lot faster without my father’s weight in it.

Class A racing runabout

The Alumacraft was great until the day I saw a teenager come flying up to the boat ramp in a hot-rod racing boat. Now I looked at our 7.5-horse fishing boat as an embarrassment, and went home to look for plans to build my racing boat. I found plans in “Mechanics Illustrated” for a Class A racer. I could afford to buy the plans with my lawn-mowing money, and when they came in the mail I studied every line. I started buying materials as I could afford them, and laid out the rib templates full-scale in my bedroom. The boat started coming together in the garage, but then my family moved to the South and construction was put on hold.

We lived a few houses from the Gulf of Mexico, in Bay St. Louis, Miss., and I could use the speedboat belonging to the nuns that ran the Catholic school for “troubled” girls next-door. This was great – waterskiing and going fast. But, when we moved again to a bayou-side house in Louisiana I finally finished my race-boat project.

The boat was great fun with the little 7.5-horse outboard on it, but a friend of my father’s gave me a real souped-up racing outboard motor. This was bad. The boat now went fast enough to be unstable, flying over the water with just the outboard cavitation plate in the water, and it was a danger to the driver and anything near it. I later found out that the offer (which I accepted) to buy the boat from another of my father’s friends was Dad’s ploy to save me from serious damage.

 

Lightning

The powerboat racing phase had passed without bodily injury, and, about this time, another friend of Dad’s introduced me to sailing. Mr. Gardner had three boats – an old wooden pocket-cruiser sailboat about 25-feet long, a 19-foot fiberglass Lightning, and an FRP board-boat, like a Sunfish, which he called a “Bay Viewer.”

He’d built the two fiberglass boats, and was trying to bring fiberglass Lightnings into the all-wood New Orleans racing fleet in 1963. At 15, I became his crew, and I learned a lot about sailing. Mr. G left all his boats at my parent’s waterfront house, so I had a blast sailing every minute I wasn’t waterskiing.

 

Bay Viewer

I sailed the Bay Viewer nearly every evening after school – when not waterskiing. It was easy to right, and it really taught me how to sail.

 

Lafitte Skiff

In the meantime, my father had a beautiful Lafitte Skiff, built by Emile Dufrene, in Lafitte, La. This was a great boat: fast, seaworthy, and easy to maintain. Dad and I – and later, just me – took this boat all over the Gulf Coast. Dad had the boat rigged as a shrimper, and we hauled in shrimp and fished together. I just cruised in the boat, loving the sound of the waves and the rumble of the engine.

We built a cypress-decked dock for the boat in front of the house, and Marlain (named for my sisters Margaret and Elaine) was happy sitting there on the bayou in her element. Much later, Dad sold Marlain to the owner of a local seafood store, for use as a shrimpboat.

 

Lone Star 13

When I graduated from LSU, I bought a Chrysler Lone Star 13, the first boat I actually purchased myself. Dad worked for Chrysler, so I got a deal on it – $850, with sails and trailer – and I took it to my new home in Dallas. We sailed it on all the lakes around Dallas, especially White Rock, and had great fun with it. The LS-13 was easy to trailer and rig, comfortable for a picnic, and it was fast enough. It had a lot of room; the bilge boards were operated with levers so there was no centerboard trunk.

 

South Coast 21

But I soon wanted something larger and bought a used South Coast 21 in so-so shape. Designed by Carl Alberg and built in the late ’60s, she had nice lines. I kept the boat in a marina on Lake Grapevine, fixed her up, and started racing with the Grapevine Sailing Club. We had great success. We won the overall class three years in a row, and the club asked me to give a lecture on windward tactics. Duh, just don’t drink all the beer until you finish the race.

 

Silhouette

Soon the sailing club got too serious about racing: Those who couldn’t afford new sails every year became non-competitive. I now saw myself as a “cruiser,” so I sold the SC 21 and bought an old wooden Silhouette MK II built around 1958 in England. This was a cute boat with nice lines, wonderful craftsmanship in the little details below, and an inboard engine. Unfortunately the engine was frozen solid, and the hull had rot in important places.

This was my introduction to old wooden boats, and I should have quit there. I hauled the boat and worked on it in the parking lot of the apartment complex I lived in. I finally got it to where I thought it might float, gave up on the engine, added an outboard, and off I went on cruising adventures up and down the length of Lake Grapevine.

 

Gulf Coast 20

The upkeep and slowness of the Silhouette convinced me to unload it for a new fiberglass Gulf Coast 20. This was a nice sailing boat, and perfect for the lakes, but, soon after I bought it, I quit my job, sold the boat, and moved to Mexico, where I did some serious sailing on other people’s boats. But that’s another story.

O’Day Mariner

Back from Mexico and enrolled in graduate school at Texas A&M, I went boatless for a couple of years except for the use of my dad’s vessels. I moved to Newport, R.I., for a job, and I was pretty broke on arrival. But I did have a job, and I couldn’t stand being in the “sailing capital of the world” without a boat, so, in September 1976, I bought a 1969 O’Day Mariner, a 19-foot, fiberglass, centerboard daysailer with a cuddy cabin. This boat was great on Narragansett Bay: simple, fast, seaworthy, fun to sail, and easy to maintain. It also had a four-horse Evinrude outboard.

 

Alexis

When my finances started to recover, I thought that a traditional wooden boat, capable of coastal cruising, would be a good idea (I’d already forgotten the Silhouette experience). After an extensive search, I found Alexis in Christmas Cove, Maine. Alexis was a 14-foot, mahogany-on-oak, bronze-fastened beauty built with great craftsmanship by an ex-Gamage Shipyard employee for an old friend, who was selling her in his old age. I sailed her home, making hops over the summer with help from friends. Alexis was a great boat; she was simple, rugged, pretty, low-maintenance for a wooden boat, and easy to sail.

 

Weekender

But Alexis wasn’t very fast, I couldn’t stand up below in most of her, she was underpowered with a one-lung Westerbeke, and she had minimal accommodations. So, along came an acquaintance, who convinced me to go into partnership with him with Dodieva, a 35-foot, 1938 Weekender, No. 15. S&S-designed and Lawley-built, she was handsome and fast, but she was old and wooden.

We bought her in Glen Cove, New York, and sailed her home from Long Island one April. We (mostly my partner in the project) spent tens of thousands of dollars rebuilding and maintaining her. Some work was done by Gannon and Benjamin, on the Vineyard; some by Ned Reynolds and other Newport, R.I., craftsmen; some by a Norwegian couple we let stay at our house in Middletown, R.I., in exchange for boat work; and some by me.

We had good times on Dodieva when our girls were young, and we sailed her all over New England. But my partnership dissolved when I quit drinking and smoking, and I donated my share of the boat to him. The last I heard she was in Maine.

Catalina 25

After I quit drinking, I wondered if I could ever sail again without a beer in my hand, so I bought a safe investment as an experiment. We bought Freebird in Marion, Mass., for about $6,500. She had a pop-top, and we sailed her many miles with two kids aboard. It was a bit crowded, but it didn’t seem too bad until the girls got bigger.

We’d also had harrowing experiences in rough seas with her (outboards are pretty useless in a good blow), she wasn’t great to look at, and I knew that I could sail without a beer, so we started looking for something larger. We sold Freebird in 1996 for $7,400.

 

Tartan 34C

After many weekends spent searching, we finally found Pegasus in New London. Marie and the girls fell in love with her interior, which had been redone by the previous owner, and I liked her S&S lines and reputation for sailing. So we overlooked some flaws and bought her in June 1997. I spent an entire spring commuting, two or three days a week, to New London to prepare her for the sail back to Newport. A great boat, Pegasus has come a long way since we bought her, and we sailed her through 2017.

 

Cape Dory 10

The Cape Dory 10 was the first boat that Cape Dory Yachts built, in 1963. A friend put it on the rocks, and gave it to me somewhere in the ’90s. I fixed the bottom, bought a trailer for it, made a new centerboard, and made general repairs so the girls could sail it. We had fun with it off Third Beach, in Middletown and in Newport Harbor. Her unofficial name was Island Girl. I think I’ll do a proper restoration soon.

 

Luhrs Alura 27

EASY started out as a thought that I wanted a boat for Florida or Louisiana in the winter. I bought her cheap, parked her 10-foot beam in my partner Nancy’s 10-foot-wide driveway, and, over two years, restored her to a reliable condition. She was so much fun to have in New England that I had to buy another boat for the South.

Her huge cockpit was nice for lunch-and-swim cruises. We often took her from Portsmouth to Westport, Mass., for lunch, and did occasional overnights in close-by harbors. In the spring of 2019, when we decided we needed a more comfortable power cruiser, we sold EASY to buy what turned out to be Carry On.

 

Key West 17

I bought this in Slidell, La., during a visit in October 2016. The plan was to keep this 17-foot center-console, with a 90-horse Yamaha outboard, between Florida and Louisiana for family use, especially during the winter. We kept her in a rack-storage facility at the Bradenton Boat Club, in Cortez, Fla., until the red tide hit that coast. We then had her transported up to a friend’s house in Henniker, N.H., where the kids use her on the lakes and rivers. I named her WHIM for obvious reasons.

 

Cape Classic 30

The Ed Monk-designed Carry On (ex-Carpe Diem II) was built by Southwest Fiberglass, in Nova Scotia, in 2002. She’s powered by a Cummins 220-horse, six-cylinder diesel. We bought CO in Sag Harbor, N.Y., in spring 2019, and use her to cruise the local islands.

Each of these boats has given me pleasure, some more than others. They all taught me something about boats and boating, and the ones I own now are still doing that. My family is skeptical, but I believe, at 75 years of age, that my fleet has stabilized for a few years. My daughter Natalie said she will believe it when she sees what is on my mooring next summer. Time will tell.

 

Herreshoff America Catboat

Designed by Halsey Herreshoff, Leota is a 1974, 18-foot catboat and a nice little daysailer that was to be kept on my mooring in Newport in place of Pegasus. I bought her early in 2020 during the COVID pandemic and worked to restore her all that spring. We sailed her during the summer of 2020, but as handsome as she is, she had some flaws for us older folks. Her boom was too low for my tall body, she had no room on the foredeck to handle the mooring, and her big sail was a handful for a single-handing 75-year-old not used to gaffers! So, I sold her in the fall of 2020 and considered her a fun learning experience! She went to Brewster, Mass.

 

Pearson Ensign

We bought Leota (named after my grandmother) in Quissett Harbor on Cape Cod in the spring of 2021 and put her on my mooring in Newport Harbor with the idea that she will satisfy my need for a sail while we cruise in Carry On. So far Leota is working out beautifully – she’s handsome, easy to maintain, sails very well and has a huge cockpit for just lounging on the mooring. I think she’s a keeper.

David Sharp is a retired Ocean Engineer living in Newport, R.I. He and his partner Nancy currently cruise New England aboard Carry On, a 2001 Cape Classic 30 trawler, and they day sail their Pearson Ensign on Narraganset Bay. David’s fleet also includes a Key West 17 and a Cape Dory 10 sailing dinghy.