On Monday night, just before sunset, Brian and I were at the marina tying up the sailboat we bought last summer, and the conversation started like it always does. A couple of fellas from across the docks lobbed an innocent query our way about what sort of boat ours was, incidentally, a 1980 Cal 31’. We hollered back, and in no time, we’d bonded with a couple of our hooked brethren.
“I got him into all of this,” I yelled, motioning at Brian and smiling proudly.
“She did,” Brian said, smiling at me and then at them.
“I sold my little boat,” I said, “and we got this one last summer, did a bunch of work but mostly had a great time sailing as much as we could.”
“I bet you did. I’m buying my second, a liveaboard, at the end of summer,” one of the men hollered across the water. “That one’ll be 45 or 50 feet. My wife says it needs a washer and dryer, so it’s gonna have to be big. You can see, I’m hooked.”
A conversation about laundry and the fluff and fold service up the road followed, but this is how bonding with members of our lunatic fringe happens. We recognize the crazy, and we cheer. Though, I suppose this is exactly how it happens with everything we humans fall for: hobbies, travel, rock and roll, poetry, opera, stamp collecting, and scuba diving—any passion that’s illogical, indescribable, frequently expensive, and consuming. While it may be difficult to explain our specific brand of insanity to outsiders, we immediately spot members of our own renegade clan.
When it comes to us sailboat nuts, we are indeed a breed. They say the definition of sailing is “long periods of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror.” Though I might revise the quote to read something like “long periods of restful tranquility punctuated by moments of panic and shock—typically brought on by docking in wind or viewing one’s account balance upon exiting a marine store.” But despite the fact that our illogical lusts sometimes cause us discomfort and often part us from our pay, I believe our irrational passions are one of the truest things about us—and one of the primary paths that connect us with each other.
Two things have brought all this to the top of my mind. First, I’m enrolled at the University of Washington in a memoir class taught by Theo Pauline Nestor, and I’ve been struggling for two quarters to describe what my old pal, Daniel Bennett, and I referred to as Boat Lust. For Daniel and me that summer, when I was an intern and he was the assistant boat shop manager at WoodenBoat Magazine, Boat Lust meant immediately flipping to the back of each new issue to scan the free boats section—just as one might the classifieds or an online dating site—with hope of seeing the boat that would become The One. Our One just right for us—and, of course, being free, just right for our meager budget. Boat Lust also meant bragging to each other about erratic driving and nearly ditching our cars upon spying a breathtaking boat for sale on the hard. Boat Lust was simply lust. It was swooning, sighing, and feeling flushed with passion, just over an inanimate object: a boat.
The second thing that set me pondering on Boat Lust and about chasing passions is the fact that I’ve somehow convinced award-winning author, Pam Houston, to teach a writing class on a windjamming schooner, the Isaac H. Evans, which is run by my friend, Brenda Thomas. This crazy little adventure of pulling together a floating writing event has gotten me thinking about some of the people I admire the most and why they stir passion for me. Those who have this impact nearly always turn out to be those who manage to pull their own disparate passions together to make art, music, houses, history, boats, or any old odd creation—and frequently these folks make for themselves a tantalizingly original life.
While it seems near impossible to convey the texture, the storms and urges of our passions, and transmit the why of our batty obsessions in ways the uninitiated can understand, because as Pam Houston says, we are stuck with “the failure of language to mean,” I find myself thinking about a Kerouac quote mentioned at AWP last month. It goes, “They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!" I think Kerouac’s right; when we connect with those who share our daft obsessions, we connect with that which burns most brightly in them—and in us. We recognize our own ineffable spark.
And so it is that I am drawn, not only to boats and all they promise, but to the people who sparkle and glimmer and break free from the mundane and ordinary as often as they can. My friend, Brenda, who’s the captain of the Isaac H. Evans signed the bank papers and bought her 99-foot, 1886 schooner before she even had her captain’s license. Crazy, brave, and seemingly fearless, she remains a hero for me. Not to mention, she’s now doing it all with two kids. My buddy, Daniel, eventually found that boat that was just right for him: Plumbelly—a boat made by another dreamer, a German man, who built the boat by hand on a beach on the Caribbean island of Bequia. Daniel sailed Plumbelly across oceans for years, and now, he has yet another boat, Bufflehead, and he’s running a charter business out of Rockland, ME—right down from where Brenda runs the Evans. About a year ago, I met Tele Aadsen, an Alaskan gal who now spends half her time commercial fishing for salmon and half her time writing. She’s at work on her first book now. It’s called Hooked. The subtitle of her blog says, “one woman at sea, trolling for truth.” These are just some of the souls I feel drawn to, and I believe it’s precisely because they’ve been passionate about things that didn’t make pure, logical sense.
The year after Brian and I started dating, he called me from Florida, where he grew up and where he was visiting his mother.
“I’m down at the marina,” he said into the phone, “looking at boats.”
“You don’t say,” I said, smiling.
Brian had been slow to warm to my little sloop, Shady Lady. He initially thought sailing was something people did just to keep antiquated expertise and nautical history alive in the manner of Civil War reenactments. But, I’d given Brian a couple of books about young sailors who had gone off to sail around the world, and eventually, he warmed to the whole idea. As a student of physics, he became intrigued with the science of sailing, and when he grasped the potential of long-range voyaging by boat, he was awed. But it was the day he called me, trolling boat yards that I knew.
“You’re hooked now, darling,” I said.
“You’re hooked now, darling,” I said.