Keeping up an older boat pays back in family time, not dollars

What is the point of all the effort and expense I put into owning a good old boat? I often find myself asking this question, usually after I crack a knuckle breaking loose some frozen fitting, or when I’m polishing faded fiberglass while watching others head out for a daysail in a shiny new boat. But when I cast off to sail the pristine cruising grounds of British Columbia aboard the boat I can still afford, our 40-year-old Islander Bahama 30, lovingly restored with endless hours of work and carefully doled-out dollars, I realize how fortunate this good old sailor is.

Our daughter, Nicole, was just starting elementary school when my wife, Carey, and I started our sailing life aboard a Balboa 20. A visual handicap precluded Nicole from walking the uneven ground of a campsite, but she could memorize the deck and interior of a 20-foot sailboat with ease! We sailed up and down the coast of British Columbia through the good and not-so-good times, gaining experience through adventure. We moved up from the Balboa 20 to an O’Day 25 and finally to the Islander 30. Nicole grew up gunkholing with us on those boats. She eventually went her own way, as children do, and we were fortunate enough to be blessed with a granddaughter.

Bert’s granddaughter Natasha, age 8

Natasha, born with the same visual handicap as her mother, started sailing aboard our Islander at the tender age of 5, accompanying Carey and me on trips through the Canadian Gulf Islands and up to Desolation Sound and points beyond. She has been a joy to have aboard Natasha (named in her honor) and the boat seems empty when she’s not there. Her wit, sense of humor, and positive outlook on life are a pleasure to behold. She appreciates sailing the same boat and waters as her mother once did, experiencing the same adventures and sense of belonging.

This past summer, we trekked back out to Barkley Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Now 15, Natasha wanted to return to the wilds of the west coast. The trip went well with low morning clouds breaking into brilliant sunshine, whitecaps dancing on blue waters as we thrashed to windward under white sails. Late in the afternoons, we would poke our bow into nearly empty anchorages where we would enjoy evenings of breathtaking quiet but for the occasional call of a loon, the still waters reflecting fiery sunsets. Thoughtful, enquiring discussions would envelop the cockpit as darkness fell.

On the last day of the trip, I found Natasha scribbling intently in her notebook and watching the sunset, lost in thought. She put the notebook away without comment, joining me for the traditional hot chocolate and chocolate-chip cookies. She made no mention of her writing, and I knew better than ask.

Driving home the next morning, about her most memorable moment of this particular trip. She thought for a moment and said, “The hot chocolate and cookies in the cockpit with you, Grandpa.” She then showed me the poem she’d been working on that final night.

And so we ask ourselves: why do we do this? Old sailors and old boats? Rediscovering our sailing life through the eyes of a 15-year-old reminded me that all the time and effort is an investment in the next generation, allowing them to see the world as we see it, allowing them to experience the wonder of discovery upon approaching a new anchorage.

Thank you, young lady, for your perspective on something we old sailors tend to take for granted. May the winds in your life always be in your favor!