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Wednesday, October 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Front Porch: Sailing into the sunset with nothing but good memories

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 3, 2020

If we have an extravagance in our lives, it’s our sailboat.

We’ve had it for 25 years now and we keep it year-round on Lake Coeur d’Alene. Before that we had a smaller “starter” sailboat for 10 years.

Sailing has always been a luxurious escape for us. Being out on the water where there are no worldly troubles to interfere with a delightful breeze, yes. But sailing is also a process that needs steady attention, engagement and a bit of skill. And it’s silent. All of that is appealing.

We were never interested in being stinkpotters, sailors’ unkind nickname for power boaters. No finesse or real ability needed there. And all that noise. No thank you.

Sure, that’s snobbish of me. But those who cherish their horsepower on the water have small-minded nicknames for us, as well. Blow boaters. Snail boaters.

We have agreed to mutually coexist. We love what we love, and there’s water enough for all of us.

And now, here we are in our sunset years, and we’re selling our boat.

We – mostly me – just can’t do it anymore. Not safely. Bad hips, bad knees and the kinds of balance issues that make me too wobbly out there. Once settled in place at the helm, I’m good, but any quick action or even the prep involved in getting the sail up and moving about the boat, and I am a hazard to my own navigation. Bruce’s sore back isn’t an impediment to sailing, but it’s getting more uncomfortable for him as he does the on-deck scrambling.

So it’s time to say goodbye to a sport we’ve loved for so long. It’s the smart thing to do.

Bruce has never been one of those sailing widowers who was out on the water alone or with friends because his wife just wasn’t into it, didn’t care for the heeling over or sudden gusts requiring quick action. I’ve been all-in since the beginning. It’s been “our” thing, no matter the weather or the conditions.

With our first boat, the one our young boys had so much fun on, we learned the sport and ventured all over the lake. We trailered it one summer and took it over to the San Juan Islands, where we sailed for a week. There we discovered that after playing with seaweed all day, an 8-year-old boy really stinks up a closed-up boat at night, that a 6-horsepower outboard doesn’t do much in a tidal eddy and that there are endless adventures to be had out on the water and exploring the islands.

A few years later we chartered a larger boat out of Bellingham and sailed with our boys around the San Juans and Canadian Gulf Islands, even traveling down Saanich Inlet on Vancouver Island in order to moor at Butchart Gardens and enter there from the water side.

We were very taken with that particular larger boat. As the only female member of the crew, I so appreciated having a marine head aboard. What the sailing geeks in us liked were the free-standing mast and just one sail, and thought that if ever we moved up, that was the boat for us. But of course, we weren’t looking for a bigger boat.

Fast forward to the mid-1990s when a close childhood friend was getting married outside Boston. Bruce and I attended the wedding. We found ourselves with time on our hands on the Friday before the big day, so we drove down to Newport, Rhode Island, where an international on-the-water sailboat show was taking place. Oh joy of joys.

Our dream boat was there, in various lengths, as was the boat’s designer, with whom Bruce spent a good bit of time while I checked out some of the other boats. When we came home, Bruce taped on the wall by the office phone a small photo of the boat he cut from a brochure. Hmm, I thought, might he be seriously thinking about this?

He was. And before long, after a bit of hand-wringing over the financials, we purchased a Nonsuch 26 from a dealer just north of Chicago and made arrangements for it to be trucked to Coeur d’Alene. A man from St. Catherines, Ontario, where the boats were manufactured, was to fly out to help us commission the boat, a more complicated task than usual because of the rigging, wishbone boom, lazy-jacks and mast needing to be lifted by crane to be inserted into the hole atop the boat and descending down to the hull.

Note to past and future self and anyone else purchasing a sailboat: Never ever take delivery of or commission a sailboat in the winter in a northern tier state.

What had been a nice mild January in 1996 turned foul, and the trucker had to hole up in Fargo, North Dakota, for several days due to a blizzard and subzero temps. Bruce paced like an expectant father meanwhile. And when the boat did arrive, the crane waiting onsite, the Canadian expert at hand – it began snowing again.

I have never been so cold in my whole life. Even the ropes froze to the mast when we were setting it in place.

That story tells much better than it lived, as I remember, but it did launch a wonderful couple of decades of enjoyment onboard. Time with family and friends. Diving off the boat in the middle of the lake to swim when the wind abandoned us. Getting caught in a thunder storm. Racing other boats. Yes, all of it.

But now we know it needs to be over for us. As ours is kind of a specialty boat seen more on the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay and in the Virgin Islands but less so in the Northwest, it may take some time for this to happen. With precautions, on select days – with sunny skies and light breezes and maybe an able-bodied pal along to give Bruce a hand – we’ll probably still venture forth every now and then during the happy weather season.

Once a blow boater, always a blow boater. Pretty soon, just in our memories.

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