By Joe Butera
The elderly couple had sailed together for most of their lives. They had raced both casually and more seriously in club and local events on Long Island Sound and Block Island. They had even raced to Bermuda twice and had cruised with their yacht club more times than could be remembered. These folks were the very definition of a “sailing couple.”
But now, after more than fifty years of sailing and fast approaching their eighties, they were seriously considering hanging up the sheets and moving to the dark world of power boating. It was a move that had never appealed to them before, but both were suffering from the usual difficulties and ailments that come with the aging process. Racing was a thing of the past for them, and their cruising memories were just that – memories.
It was becoming harder and more perilous for them to hoist and furl the main on their 38-foot sloop. There were times when it was physically impossible for them to properly trim the jib. Their boat was a racer/cruiser and things sometimes happened faster than they could keep up with in a stiff breeze. Her racing pedigree made her too tender for comfort, and she tended to round up violently in strong puffs.
All of this was coaxing them toward making that unthinkable decision. They began talking to fellow sailors who had made the switch. Most of them had transitioned to trawlers. It was the logical move for a sailor; trawlers are displacement hull boats whose motion is most comparable to sailboats. Their relatively lower speeds are also more suitable to a sailor’s sensibilities. Eight to ten knots in a straight line sounded fast enough for them.
Their search began at local dealers, and then up and down the East Coast. One of their trawler-owning friends even accompanied them on several trips out of state to inspect boats that were listed online. By that time, the couple were serious prospective buyers. The brokers could sense their sincerity and were avidly competing for the sale that was sure to happen.
Boats from 36 to 45 feet were considered. All of them were luxuriously appointed, and loaded with systems and gear designed for comfort afloat. After settling on a 42-foot Grand Banks Classic, they thought it would be wise to do a sea trial before putting a deposit on the boat.
The couple set out of Greenport Harbor with the broker, motoring out to the Sound through Plum Gut. They pointed the bow west, on what would be a close reach on a sailboat. The motion was about what was to be expected. The boat certainly felt solid and seaworthy. There was a little port starboard roll, unlike a sailboat under comparable conditions, but it was acceptable, and one could become accustomed to it.
They steered the big trawler from the pilothouse and later from the bridge. The two helm stations delivered different experiences; both were comfortable and stable. But they felt that there was something missing that neither could put a finger on. The broker looked surprised and disappointed upon hearing that they had to “think about it” before making a final decision. But he politely gave them his card and asked them to call him with any questions or concerns.
The next day, the couple went out on their sailboat, hosted the mainsail and began to motor out of the mooring field. The wind freshened as they motor-sailed down the long channel to the Sound. After about twenty minutes, the boat passed the green #1 buoy that marked the channel and the familiar confines of Long Island Sound. They instinctively fell off to a close reach and unfurled the jib. When the motor was turned off, they expressed a joyful sigh of relief, “Ahhh!” …That was it! That’s what was missing on the trawler – the “Ahhh moment” when the engine is turned off and the sailing begins.
The broker received a call from them the next day and was emphatically told that they were no longer interested in the trawler, or any powerboat for that matter. Before the broker could react to his disappointment, they asked him to find for them a cruising sloop in the 40-foot range with a furling mainsail and electric winches. “We want a boat that is easier to handle in our senior years, but we just can’t live without the ‘Ahhh moment,’” they explained. When the broker hung up the phone he wondered out loud, “What the hell is the ‘Ahhh moment’?” ■
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to persons living or dead is purely coincidental…Joe Butera
Joe Butera and his wife Pat enjoy sailing their Catalina 42 Harmony out of the Northport Yacht Club, where Joe is a Past Commodore and a member since 1973.