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The Mast-Head: Boater or Yachtsman?

Wed, 01/24/2024 - 17:22

“Are you a boater or a yachtsman,” a frequent letter writer in this newspaper asked for the second time this week. Most of the time here we do not add our opinions on letters as editor’s notes. The letters pages are the readers’ space, with few restrictions other than that they be original and sent only to this newspaper.

Jeff Plitt, who posed the question, and I have been acquainted for a long time; since when I can’t even guess. A few years back, I tied up my sloop, Cerberus, for several weeks near where Jeff docks his cabin cruiser near the Head of the Harbor. We were in speaking distance across a corner of the basin and chatted about this and that.

Jeff might rib me about the state of the varnish on my boat, while tending to his own immaculate brightwork. “It’s on my list,” I would reply. I spent long days that early summer getting ready — fewer actually sailing. Boater or yachtsman. I’d have to think neither. Nonprofessional boat repair guy is frankly closer to the facts of the matter.

The depths of January might appear to be the wrong time to take on these definitions. Yet after a few days when the ponds were frozen enough to skate on, we might as well start looking forward to the boating season. Puzzling out Jeff’s near-Zen koan is also on my to-do sheet.

Crossing Shelter Island Sound on a ferry the other day and noting no other vessels, I was reminded of how different things used to be. Commerce and social visits did not stop after the first frost. People rowed or sailed year round, and when the bays froze hard, they would drive horse teams across on the ice. David Hempstead Sr. drowned crossing this same water in November 1843 on his way home to his 93-acre farm on the island. He was neither a boater nor a yachtsman, just a hard-working farmer with things to do on the other side.

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