Of boats and beauty

Two beautiful boats — Briar Patch (left) and Appledore — add drama to Perry Creek on Maine’s Vinalhaven Island. Photo by David Buckman

By David Buckman
For Points East

There are few expressions of man’s genius more beautiful or enduring than a boat, and few endeavors more satisfying than boating. Anyone who’s drifted across the quiet waters of a lake, fetched along the coast, or crossed an ocean, knows this much to be true – or at least recognizes the potential for it to be so.

And how about the remarkable craft we’ve devised for these pursuits? Sailboats represent one of the most organic ways to travel ever invented, powerboats answer the need for speed, and canoes and kayaks – and, these days, myriad other small craft – encourage intimacy with nature. Different kinds of pleasure, yes. But similar in that each, at the end of the day, still counts as time spent on the water.

Boats please the senses both emotionally and aesthetically. Whether built of fiberglass, wood, steel or aluminum, there’s utility, charm and allure to the most humble of them that we value highly, invest in deeply and put a lot of energy into maintaining.

A Herreshoff 12½, with its classic proportions, is a work of art, and the 16-foot Town Class Sloop, with its sweeping arc of lapstrake planks, is possessed of a symmetry that has weathered the test of time well.

Our beloved “Birch Island boat,” a 1965, 20-foot long Bertram Moppie, is serving its fourth generation of family on the waters of Lake Winnipesaukee. It has outlived four engines and any suggestion that it’s time to upgrade.

There are many expressions of beauty. My old homegrown cruiser of a Lightning sloop wasn’t exactly pretty, but it sailed like a thoroughbred, which was nothing less than beautiful when I was clawing to weather against a remorseless fang of a Bay of Fundy sea in the ’70s.

Dean and Kathy Mendhall’s wooden 34-foot McIntosh cutter, Briar Patch, was seven years in the making by their own hands. Possessed of a sweet sheer, comely lines and practicality, it is a living expression of Bud McIntosh’s classic New England boating sensibilities. The workmanship is extraordinary, which, in the great scheme of things I suppose, reflects the value of beauty.

There’s an unforgettable allure to a sailboat’s way through the water, the arc of sail an ancient alchemy as she puts her shoulder to the sea and commences a mesmerizing water dance that never grows old.

The New England and Canadian maritime coasts are possessed of great depths of beauty, historic sweep and a breathtaking expansiveness. Few cruising grounds in the world come close to the drama and civility of a wild, Downeast anchorage. Bucking a Bay of Fundy tide, we come to feel the raw power of the sea. A quiet Nova Scotia fishing port or a wild Newfoundland fiord is something altogether different; possessed of stirring allure.

Few things in life compare with the satisfaction of sheltering in a snug eel rut. Especially with rain slanting down, thunder rumbling, and a kerosene lantern flickering warmly while one is wearing a wool sweater full of homespun comfort. And there’s fabulous beauty to fog, which renders the world abstract and mysterious, requiring a new way of seeing, sensing and sailing.

There’s much more to the beauty of boating. It’s one of the few places in life with things yet to be discovered and quiet times – the latter being a necessary condition in which to cultivate a relationship with the real world.

David Buckman sails a Swedish-built Folkboat out of Round Pond, Maine.