The Joys of Small Boat Sailing- How it All Started

We recently uncovered an old abandoned sailboat on our new property in Maine. Named Polly presumably after the cove where we live, she is a cute 15-foot Sirocco (we hadn’t heard of it either). The former owner of the property bought her at the Detroit Boat Show in 1977, then brought her to Maine and first launched her in the cove in 1988. We cut our way through a forest of ferns one day and found that she had most of what she needed, lacking a little TLC. For the next few weeks, our kids would call out “Hi Polly!!” every time we passed her on the drive. This past weekend, we finally got motivated and loaded her onto a new trailer and launched her into Polly Cove. We had a few boats rafted up together out in the cove, celebrating the gorgeous July 4th weekend. We tied Polly alongside and got to work getting her cleaned out and rigged. Late that afternoon we took her for an inaugural sail around the larger Carver Cove. Her centerboard cable is frayed and not working so we did slide a bit over the water trying to get back to the boat party, but it was exhilarating! We were really sailing!!! There is something about a tiller, a small boat, and the immediacy of each sail adjustment and shift. It brought back to mind the months we spent on our first boat, a beautiful J-100 named Ayuni.

Ayuni was our entry into sailboat ownership and we sailed her every day from the day we bought her and she arrived from Southwest Harbor, ME to Lake Champlain, to the day we sold her on Martha’s Vineyard. At the time, we had three kids one of whom was only 7 months old, and a giant dog who weighed in at 140 lbs. Ayuni was all beauty, and not a lot of familial practicality. Never mind lifeline netting, there weren’t even lifelines!!! Needless to say, we got a lot of funny looks as we zipped around Lake Champlain. My husband, Jonathan, of course thought they were admiring her speed and beautiful lines, but I’m pretty sure they were debating just what kind of crazy we were. Built for speed, she had a small and narrow salon with two benches that an adult could just barely stretch out on, and a v-berth up front with a small sink and a head that I tried to keep the kids off of…this boat was just too small for some smells.

Jonathan and I had talked about sailing for several years, ever since an ill-fated attempt on his part to take me house-hunting on Nantucket. I yawned my way through it in the backseat of the realtor’s car while he—embarrassed by my lack of interest—demanded what was wrong with me. Who in her right mind, he demanded, does not want a house on Nantucket?? I shrugged and said a boat sounded better—then we could simply go to a new island when we got bored. And so our sailboat dreams were hatched. Fast-forward several years and my husband came down with a serious and sudden illness that put him in the hospital for 8 days, while every manner of medical professional failed to diagnose him. When an infectious disease specialist at the third hospital finally diagnosed a potentially lethal combination of Lyme and Coxsackie B, he started a long road to recovery. He was still on a rough cocktail of pain meds when he went online and bought Ayuni. He could not believe that he had almost died without ever embarking on our sailing adventures.

We sailed that boat every day all over Lake Champlain and spent many wonderful nights “camping” in her v-berth while anchored in some of the Lake’s beautiful coves. We swore we had found the perfect boat for our family, for “at least the next 10 years”. We thought we would spend a good three of those years sailing on and exploring Lake Champlain. (Anyone who knows us is laughing by now). Roughly 6 weeks after her arrival in Vermont, we stepped the mast and started a 10-day journey across the lake, down the Hudson River and through the locks to New York City. Our older two kids, then 9 and 7, spent their first night ever in NYC sleeping under the stars in Ayuni’s cockpit. From there, we sailed up the coast stopping in Old Saybrook, CT, Greenwich, CT, Fisher Island, Block Island, and Martha’s Vineyard before reaching Nantucket. We then spent a month “camping” on Ayuni in beautiful Nantucket Harbor. This was enough to convince us that we never wanted the sailing trip to end. Ayuni was too small to reasonably take south to the more tropical islands, so we found a buyer on the Vineyard and sold her in early October for about $1,000 more than we spent on her just 3 months earlier. (Yes, I’m still rather proud of that feat)!!

Our next boat was our current love—a 53-foot Little Harbor that we named Robin Hood. Sailing a bigger boat takes one away from the nitty gritty—and also a lot of the joy and fun—of actually sailing. I wouldn’t trade Robin Hood for the world, but spending an hour zipping around on Polly this past weekend reminded us of how much fun we had on Ayuni. Of how we would “race” the bigger boats, flying alongside them until they deigned to notice us and usually left us in their wake. The response of the tiller, the closeness of the sails, the challenge of sailing on and off one’s mooring, the water rippling right underneath…there will be many a glorious afternoon spent this summer on Polly in Polly’s Cove, zigging and zagging around Robin Hood on her mooring. All thanks to George Waldman and the free-to-us boat purchased in Detroit back in 1977.

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