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The Mast-Head: Worth It All

Wed, 08/04/2021 - 17:41

I have been spending a lot of time aboard Cerberus this summer, though not as much of it sailing as I would have liked. Though the weather has been fine, responsibilities ashore have been one explanation, the other is that the old sloop needs a lot of attention.

My newly bought Cape Dory 28-footer came off the moulds in 1979 in Taunton, Mass., and until last fall spent most of its life around that state’s waters. Stan Wheatly had logged the most sea miles aboard it, and his name is inked on the sails. He called it Nonsly, after his wife’s Scandinavian hometown. After Stan, a Marblehead, Mass., couple bought it, but illness halted their plans, and so the former Nonsly, its name at some point removed from its transom, sat under a tarp in their backyard for the better part of a decade.

After looking at Cape Dorys from Maine to New Jersey, the ex-Nonsly’s price of $4,000 seemed like a bargain. Stan’s sails were in terrific condition, and I had reason to believe that its 13-horsepower Volvo Penta diesel motor would stutter back. Plus, boats in those days were built tough, so I knew that the hull and deck would be okay.

There are a lot of clichés about boats and their attendant expenses, and with good reason. They are indeed holes in the water into which you pour money, but I disagree with the one that says that the happiest days in boat owners’ lives are the day they buy it and the day they sell it to someone else.

From the initial $4,000, the costs came in as inexorably as the tide, for new standing rigging, installing a new seacock, servicing the engine, and who knows what else. The boatyard bill was very precise, down to pairs of disposable gloves, but I still can’t say where all the cash went. Not that I really minded in the end; when I arrived in October to take it home via the Cape Cod Canal, it was clear, sound, and ready to go. All in all, it came in less than the $16,500 asking price of the runner-up Cape Dory I saw in Maine, which would have also required money to get ready to sail.

The trip home was worth it all. After an afternoon’s shakedown out toward Children’s Island, I set out alone the next morning down Marblehead Channel and into Cape Cod Bay. My friend Jameson came aboard for the last legs down Narragansett Bay and then from Point Judith to Montauk.

We did not talk much while sailing. Jameson steered, concentrating, and I sat in the companionway, looking at the water and clouds. It was the clearest that I had felt during the year of Covid or, frankly, for as long as I could remember. My friend said the same.

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