By Joe Cooper
As I write this column, it is blowing 25-30 from the northeast at Buzzards Tower. The clouds out my window are low, grey and windy. It is cool, too chilly. Fall is here. Autumn: the end of summer. The end of shorts and T-shirts, of sunset cocktails and of watching the kids mess around in boats. The evenings, curled up in the cabin, the glow of the lamp coloring the glass of red an even more tasty color. Maybe some favourite music is playing, or maybe just the sounds of the anchorage filter down the hatch. A new set of memories are done and dusted and “saved as” into the remote hard drive of our minds.
I am consulting for Hood Sailmakers and the other day I was handed a letter by Dawn, “She Who Keeps It All Going.” Yup, a letter. An honest to goodness, real life, business-size manila envelope with a hand-written address. There was even one of those little stickon return address labels you could order from the back of The New York Times Sunday Magazine years ago.
Actually, Dawn was standing at her desk with a stunned look on her face. She had the one-page letter in one hand and its envelope in the other. “Have a look at this,” she said, offering me the letter and envelope. Her tone was not that which one uses when conveying information like, “Gee, you got the order for that J Class yacht,” or similar exciting news. Her tone was, “Someone has died,” but she didn’t say that either.
I quickly scanned the letter, looking for the punchline. I noticed the opening “This is an unusual request…” I scanned again, reading at somewhat slower RPM…and then again. I started to see the implications. The letter discusses a boat, but that’s not really what’s being written about. I looked at Dawn, who was standing motion- and speechless. Tom, our service manager, looked up from his desk and inquired, “What’s he want…”? “Better read it,” says I and handed it to him. He was quiet while reading it. Dawn and I quietly waited for Tom’s take on it. He handed it back, saying only, “Wow.”
Letter in hand, I walked down the hall to the design office. I was aware of the boat and her class, and could find info on her in the archives. I read his letter again, slowly, carefully. The written words are a narrative of the boat’s performance when racing and that, in her day, she was fast and successful. He is writing of performances that were many, many days ago. Almost all of the letter is about racing. There are two sentences where he touches briefly on a boat that the family can all sail on during vacations.
A boat perfectly suited for weekends away. The letter does not really discuss weekends and cruising vacations or the kids or the grandkids huddled under the dodger on a fresh beat home. There is nothing about empty anchorages she has been into, the “round the boat” swimming races the kids had, or sailing lessons in the dinghy. There is no direct reference to the countless evenings when board games were played with the kids curled up on their bunks all warm and fuzzy and safe in their flannel PJs and woolen blankets, back when fleece was either Golden or on a sheep. No mention of times where Mum and Dad forwent their winning Scrabble hand so young Timmy could win. No reference at all to the glow of the kerosene lamp making more golden Timmy’s smile at “winning.” Or the shouts of victory, his excitement enough to dim the night sounds of a secluded anchorage. All of this happens across the lingering smell of Mum’s “weekend away” meatloaf doing battle for smell supremacy with the freshly painted white bulkheads, the varnish on deck and the curious smell of salt water in the bilge of a wooden boat.
None of this is actually written in the letter, but it is all there as plain as Montauk Light on a clear night. It’s so tangible I can see the Scrabble letters over Mum’s shoulder. I smell my own Mum’s meatloaf. I am transported to about age 7, when on my Dad’s boat there was the same scene. Tom is right: “Wow.” The author had finally reached the conclusion that his own autumn had arrived and he could no longer do justice to this cherished family member and so had decided she needed a new home. So, what was the actual point of his letter?
He was asking if we knew a yacht broker we would recommend to handle this transaction. Think about this for a minute. In this day and age, where a list of yacht brokers and their specialities can be had in about 20 seconds on YachtWorld, or leafing through the back of WindCheck, here was this gentleman, for no other word could describe the letter’s author, asking for a referral from the firm founded by the boat’s builder, designer and sailmaker. This entire letter seemed so much like a thing from the 1960s that it ought to have its own display in the Museum of Yachting.
I thought hard on whom to call for this transaction. I finally called three brokers I know who have the personalities and bedside manner to handle this the way it deserves, with great dignity. The problem was the boat was too remote from them and the asking price was going to be insufficiently promising in terms of compensation that they all, understandably, begged off.
After a day or two of thinking on this letter and its implications, I wrote an email – the author does have an email address – and told him of my findings. His response was very gracious and thankful for my efforts. In my research into his boat I had unearthed a sistership for sale and I told him of this and the brokers in question. He said he would talk to them.
There is a large cloud approaching. It is multi-shades of grey and could be the picture in Chapman’s that signifies “rain cloud.” Autumn has set in.
Australian born, Joe ‘Coop’ Cooper stayed in the US after the 1980 America’s Cup where he was the boat captain and sailed as Grinder/Sewer-man on Australia. His whole career has focused on sailing, especially the short-handed aspects of it. He lives in Middletown, RI where he coaches, consults and writes on his blog, joecoopersailing.com, when not paying attention to his wife, teenage son, dog, two cats and several, mainly small, boats. Joe can be reached at email@example.com.