Issue: April 2001
And So We Bought a Boat

My husband’s dream-come-true trawler wasn’t exactly my dish of tea, but then I saw the light.

 

     The story began, really, when the phone rang in my office. My true love was on the other end of the line, breathless with excitement. “What would you say if I told you I’d found a Krogen trawler for a hundred thousand bucks?”

     “And it’s not in Maui?” I asked cautiously. Clint had been surfing the internet to find our dream boat. Why go to a local broker, he said, when the world is online? Why indeed, I reminded him, when the first “perfect” boat he found was somewhere near the Galapagos Islands. It was just what we wanted all right, a small Bertram-esque cruiser, and it was a real deal-but it would have cost a fortune to bring it back to the Bay. His next “find” wasn’t much closer: Alaska. At least it was in the same hemisphere, but what a trek. Still my true love surfed on, his squeeze-a-buck heart going pitter-pat every time he saw a cyberspace bargain. When the Krogen flashed across the screen, Clint was ready. Here was a listing that hit both jackpots. She was cheap, and she was relatively nearby-this side of the Mississippi, no less. And it was a brand-new listing. Talk about being in the right place at the right time.

     “The boat’s on Seneca Lake in upstate New York,” Clint said. “It’s a 42-foot Krogen pilothouse trawler. Nothing wrong with it. Drive it away. A hundred grand.”

“Buy it,” I said. I am my father’s daughter, after all, and every now and then the horse trader gene surfaces. “It’s worth twice that even if it’s sinking. Why is it so cheap?”

“It’s a repo, I think,” Clint said. “The seller is a bank.”

     And not a boat-savvy bank, I thought. Kadey-Krogen builds a quality yacht that holds its value. A new Krogen trawler costs in the neighborhood of $350,000. Unless this boat was actually submerged, the asking price was a steal. It all sounded too good to be true.

     And it was. Before Clint could get his call through to the broker, the boat’s owner had managed to convince the bank of its folly and the price had gone up 50 percent. Even so, there was a lot of boat at that dock on Seneca Lake, and even with the increased price tag, she was still reasonable and within our reach. At least, that was how Clint saw it. Meanwhile, the horse trader in me threw a shoe: reasonable perhaps, but within our reach? That kind of money meant digging into reserves reserved for other pleasures, like the joy of watching our children graduate from college. And we didn’t really want a trawler, did we? I thought we were looking for something a little smaller and zippier. Something I could drive.

     Clint chucked a sleeping bag in the car and headed for the wilds of upstate New York to see what he could see. I waved him goodbye, firm in my belief that my true love only fell for bargains with a capital B and had never in his life settled on the first thing he’d ever looked at, at least not until he’d looked at a raft of other options. Our nest egg was safe for the time being. This pique of passion would pass.

     When he came back, he had a glazed look in his eyes. I mistook it for roadburn-after all, he’d been on the road for nearly 24 hours nonstop. But when I asked about the boat, he began babbling metaphoric phrases as moronic as TV dialogue: He had seen the light, found it, struck oil. It had been an epiphany, a life-changing experience. He’d forgotten how much he loved trawlers, how much I loved trawlers. (I love trawlers?)

     If this boat had been a woman, I would have been history. And as I sat in this vaporous cloud of boat-induced idiocy, it occurred to me that I may have indeed met my match. I can battle reason, but insanity will do me in. I was as helpless as Ratty and Mole when they tried to face down Toad and his motorcar madness. I almost wished the boat had been another woman. It might have been easier.

     Then he used the C-word and my heart froze. He used it gingerly, at first, letting it slide lightly off his lips and into my airspace as if he’d given off a whiff of priceless perfume. “We can charter it,” he said airily. “It’ll pay for itself.” Something inside me went thud. “You’re not serious,” I said. “Do you know a living human being who has ever made any money chartering their boat?”

     “We don’t have to make money,” Clint assured me. “We only need to cover some of our costs.”

     He did his homework. He called every charter company he could think of. Business is booming, he reported, especially when it comes to trawlers. (Big trawlers? I asked.) He worked the numbers. All we have to do, he said, is charter it eight times a year. (The summer months, right?) And we get to use it the rest of the time. Gee-Labor Day to Easter.

     Wait a second, I said. The whole reason we’re getting a boat is so we can use it. We’re the ones who want to get out on the water. Why are we going to squander our children’s future so other people can have fun?

     My logic didn’t prevail, and before I knew it Clint and I were speeding along the back roads of upstate New York so that I could see this terrific boat for myself.

     I saw it. I had forgotten how much I hate trawlers. They’re ugly boxy things. They’re big and unwieldy. This one in particular had all sorts of bells and whistles and knobs and switches and battery banks and thingies that I could never in a million years wrap my brain around, let alone distinguish between in an emergency.

     That was my first impression.

     My second impression was slightly different. I remembered that some trawlers aren’t so bad, and I could hear my father sotto voce from the heavens saying that this particular trawler was a real humdinger and that if my husband has nothing else he has good taste in boats (and women). But I still quailed at the thought of all those switches and at the idea that I might possibly be left alone at the helm someday to drive this monster into a dock.

Speaking of which . . .

     Where are you going to keep this thing? I asked. Something smaller and zippier could actually live at our dock. This behemoth would have to graze elsewhere. Silly, said my true love, she’ll be in charter. We’ll keep her at a marina to make it easy for the charter company.

     I didn’t see red at this, but perhaps I should have. After all, we’d never kept our sailboat at a marina the entire time we’d lived aboard (not counting a few months at the boatyard in St. Michaels). We took baths in teacups and watched the batteries. We were readying ourselves, we said, for cruising the wild blue yonder, where showers and electricity would be a novelty. But that was back when we didn’t have two nickels to rub together, unless it was to make a spark to light a candle. All of a sudden, if I was reading the signals right, we had enough lucre to spring for slip rent-on top of the price of the boat. So why was I still shopping at Goodwill?

     I’ll admit, I didn’t take too much time to mull over this little detail. The boat that floated before me was filthy, and since a certain person expected me to actually sleep onboard that night, I needed to get busy. And as I washed down every exposed surface, I found myself marveling at just how much exposed surface there was: two staterooms, a roomy saloon, a fully equipped galley, two heads with showers-a lot more room than our sailboat. I was just going over the settee cushions and thinking they weren’t so bad-in pretty good shape, all in all-when Captain Big Bucks piped up.

     “We’ll get them all re-covered,” he said, patting the fabric paternally. “And new curtains.” I kinda liked the cushions. They were a nice, serviceable, seagoing green. And I kinda liked the curtains, too. A trip to the dry cleaners would do wonders, I said. “No way,” he said. “If we’re going to charter this boat, it has to look like new.” It did? Since when?

     A pale pink flashed before my eyes. I thought immediately of the two wonderfully comfortable, overstuffed armchairs sitting in our living room back home. They were in woeful need of new upholstery, but Clint had snapped when we got the estimate from the slipcover lady. I’d  had to ditch the swank country comfort look and settle for early college dorm, draping them in sheeting with a ruffle stitched around the bottom. They were in our house where we lived. We sat in them every day. And here’s Mr. Cheapo chucking money at boat cushions.

     “And I’ll have to fix this,” the captain said, pointing to the merest track of a water stain that climbed down a stateroom wall. “That’ll set us back some. To have it done properly, I should take it to a yard.”

     And that’s when the crimson cloud rolled across my horizon and engulfed my vision. “Not before you fix the roof,” I growled in a demon-throated voice as my head swept in a full 360-degree circle. (I learned to do that when I taught public school.) The captain was clearly startled. “The roof?” he said stupidly, looking up. “Not that roof,” the demon hissed. “The roof where you live. The roof that leaks into your son’s bedroom.”

     We needn’t go into the discussion that followed. Suffice it to say that my husband is a carpenter by trade and so, of course, the house we live in is a wreck. I’m not a nester by any stretch of the imagination, but when water pours down the wall on wild stormy nights, I find it cause for alarm. Call me old-fashioned, call me a nag, but I felt it needed to be taken care of. It was certainly higher on my priority list than anything on the bleeping boat.

     And then came the epiphany. My epiphany . . .

     Many years ago, I had the pleasure of chatting with a prominent Annapolis businessman about the pros and cons of the annual boat shows. “Love ‘em!” he said. “I do as much business in the month of October as I do the entire rest of the year.”

     How could this be, I wondered, when this gentleman sold diamonds and furs-not boats. The town is crawling with big spenders during the boat shows, to be sure, but they’re here to buy high-end boats, not high-end jewelry. “Ah,” he said, flashing a knowing smile. “It’s the ladies. Their husbands plunk down half a mil on some spiffy race boat, and they fork over a separate but equal amount for gewgaws. It’s only fair.”

     I pondered this phenomena for about half a nanosecond before I swallowed down my demon and smiled sweetly. Radiating angelic light as a celestial choir filled my inner ear I said, “You want this boat? You can have this boat, as long as you promise to take care of it properly, do all the maintenance, feed it and take it in for all its shots.” My husband stopped in his tracks. His eyes narrowed suspiciously. “When Stewart is out of school, we’ll move onboard, if that’s what you want,” I continued. “But”-and it was a big-bucks but-”you have to take care of our house. You have to fix the roof, do the remodeling you promised on the living room, build the porch. . . .” He got the idea.

     “We can’t afford all that,” he said darkly.

     “Ka-ching!” I said blithely. “Sure we can. Think of all the money we’ll make when we rent out the house while we’re living on our boat.”

 

     And so we bought a boat. The charter bit didn’t work out (duh!), but the new cushions and curtains materialized nonetheless, along with the wherewithal to procure that swank country comfort look I was after on the homefront. I eat dinner every night in my new dining room, where I can watch our boat swing at anchor out in the creek. (She never did go to a marina, rest assured.) And I watch as piece by piece my new kitchen comes together-and I do mean new. When Clint began surfing the internet auction sites to find a kitchen stove, I kicked him. Hard. We’re going to have a fireplace in the new family room, and French doors leading out to a new patio, and. . . .

     In a few years, you may well find in these pages a classified ad to this effect: for rent country-style home on the water near st. michaels. It’ll have a fairly new kitchen, a fireplace in the family room, a screened-in porch and French doors leading out to a brick patio. Its owners will have moved aboard their delightful Krogen trawler (once the she-owner has learned to handle it), and gone off to see the world.