’Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING — absolute nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,’ he went on dreamily: ‘messing — about — in — boats; messing — about in boats—or WITH boats,’ the Rat went on composedly, picking himself up with a pleasant laugh. ‘In or out of ‘em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like …’
— Kenneth Grahame, The Wind In The Willows
I’ve been painting a rather gloomy scene here, over the past couple of weeks. I sincerely need to “lighten up” this space, and the best way might be to write of something I enjoy: my boat, my fiberglass mistress, my “significant other.” It’s not only the sailing of her that I enjoy, but I actually enjoy working on her, taking care of her, the improvements I can make on her, and the projects that I can take on during the cold and inhospitable winter months on the Chesapeake Bay. In fact, I should introduce her formally: This is Halcyon, my yacht.
Halcyon is a Bristol 29.9, built in 1979 by Bristol Yachts of Bristol, Rhode Island. She was designed by Halsey Herreshoff – the grandson of “Wizard Of Bristol” Nathaniel Herreshoff, and a fine yacht-designer in his own right. She is just an inch short of 30 feet long, to comply with the size restrictions of the Midget Ocean Racing Club class, and boats of this design have taken on some serious storms and gotten home safely; I’ve heard from Bristol 29.9 sailors who have been caught out in truly wild conditions, one of whom said “I doubted myself, but I never doubted the boat.” I didn’t buy Halcyon to brave the Atlantic, but it’s good to know she’s that sturdy. I bought her because she’s big enough to make a fair attempt at living aboard, but not so big that I’d have a hard time handling her single-handed.
She’s only four feet longer than my previous boat, a MacGregor 26 trailer-sailor, but she is a whole lot more boat. Her lead-ballasted keel alone weighs more than the all-up weight of the Mac with its water-ballast tanks full. She’s beamier, too; the Mac is 7’8″ abeam, while Halcyon is 10’2″. She is much roomier inside, and she makes good use of that space.
A boat of this size is comparable to more than a car, and certainly it’s more than the kind of outboard motorboat that you’d take your kids out for water-skiing or wakeboarding on a bright July afternoon. It’s more like a weekend cottage, that just happens to be on the wet side of the seashore. Halcyon is not so big that I’m overtaxed, getting her ready to go out just for a couple of hours’ sailing on a nice day, but she is big enough for me to live aboard, comfortably, for a week or two – maybe more.
And she has “all the comforts of home” in the compact fashion that will fit aboard a boat. This is the “salon,” or main cabin; the dining table folds up against the forward bulkhead, when it’s not in use. And the left-side settee pulls out into a bunk nearly the size of a double bed. The head, or marine toilet, is just ahead of this salon, and there’s a forward cabin with a V-berth up in the bow. She has comfortable beds, comfortable seats around the dining table, indoor plumbing (the infamous “marine head”), a tiny but well-laid-out kitchen (or “galley” to the sailor – with a two-burner stove, an icebox, and a fresh-water sink), and a comfortable “porch” in the cockpit – with the ship’s wheel across the back of it. The spray hood, over the main hatch, and an awning that zips to the back of it, provide me with some shelter out there when the weather requires it.
Back under the cockpit, there is storage space for an inflatable boat (or “tender”), for fenders and dock lines, and for other “stuff” that needs to be brought along but doesn’t need to be kept in the cabin. There’s also a 15-hp diesel engine, and its 15-gallon fuel tank. Taking care of this engine, and of the plumbing and electrical gear on the boat, sometimes makes boat ownership seem like a Faustian bargain – but these skills and competencies are utterly needful, if I want to “sail away” some day. And I take satisfaction in learning these tasks, and doing them well.
Halcyon may not be enough boat to reach the full extent of my dreams. Last year’s review of the Bristol 29.9, in Good Old Boat magazine, described it as “an adequate coastal cruiser,” suggesting that I might be wise not to take her too far out to sea; but the marine surveyor who checked her out for me, prior to my buying her, re-stated my question about it as “Well, could you sail her to Bermuda?” His implication was that the boat could make it if I could handle it.
Halcyon is not “the perfect boat.” There’s no such thing as “the perfect boat,” short of one that you’ve adapted perfectly to your plans and needs and desires. But I enjoyed the summer, sailing her close to home; I’m enjoying the work I’m doing over the winter, things such as new cabin windows and new upholstery for the settees and bunks, to make her more comfortable. In the coming summer, and in the coming years as a matter of fact, I’m going to enjoy taking her farther and farther afield, and learning if I could be comfortable living full-time aboard my sailing yacht. And … simply messing around in her. Kenneth Grahame’s “Ratty” is right; there is nothing else half so much worth doing.