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The Language of Boats

February 9th, 2011 · 1 Comment · Travel Memoir, travel near home

Shelley Buck had to tackle an ancient and very foreign language as she searched for a boat to live on. This excerpt is from her 2010 eBook, Floating Point, which chronicles her move to the water as a means to shorten an awful commute. The book is due out in paperback in 2011.

“Go see Phil,” the harbormaster instructed. “Phil is a yacht broker who can help you.” Dutifully, I copied down his directions for finding Phil.

Before  confronting Phil, I went home to study up on yacht brokers. I was running out of marinas to scope out and did not want to blow our chances of getting a berth by appearing ignorant. I learned that yacht brokers are people who buy and sell boats. Yacht brokers do not sell—or even talk about—Alviso specials or rattletrap wooden-hulled clunkers. Instead, they publish tantalizing lists of sleek modern vessels for sale. They buy advertisements in magazines just like the ones real estate people use to sell houses. Every marina except Alviso seemed to have its own yacht broker and racks for these free magazines. I brought a lot of them home. My husband and I pored over the tiny pictures and read the captions as we ate a late, post-commute, dinner.

The captions were an introduction to a new language: bristol seemed to mean a boat was in good shape; classic generally meant it was not. There were sailboats and trawlers and cruisers with pilothouses and trunk cabins. We read of salons, and staterooms, and galleys, boats with vee berths, boats with settees, transoms and swim platforms and davits to hang a little boat off your big boat, and heads, meaning toilets. Canvas, when it didn’t refer to the material a sail was made of, generally meant that some part of the boat was enclosed or covered with fabric, kind of like a tent at summer camp. There were high and low steering stations, which meant some were outdoors (high) and some were indoors (low). Engines were gas or diesel or missing.

Reading on, after my husband left for work at dawn, I learned many brokerages had more detailed individual listings. These told how many knots a boat could make, where it lay, and how much water it would draw. The listings described vessel dimensions at the waterline and above. The opposite of an hourglass figure apparently was desirable. Taken one by one, the listings’ words seemed simple enough, but none had the familiar meaning. I was pretty sure about galley, less so about waterline. Again, teak was easy to guess, as was fishfinder, but bowthruster and sedan befuddled me. I did not know what to make of enclosed FB, espar neat, bat car system, or the evocative furling main. Did lightly sailed mean taken out only on Sundays, or were some sails heavier than others? Would bow mooring eyes be on me or would my ropes be on them? And did I tie lines or admire them? Should I be looking for “all mahogany down below,” a dodger, a permanent slip or something with “jib-furling, 6-bags and 7-selftailing winches”?

I repeated the words “roller furler” several times aloud, pleased with the competent way they tripped off my tongue, but dink threw me. Did we have to be “double income no children” to afford the boat? After a cruise through the listings, I felt out of my depth, totally at sea, and more than a little queasy about the unknowns and the awesome prices. Nothing cost $15,000. Lee was at work. It was up to me. Feeling too green even to select a type of boat, I went to see Phil.

Excerpted from Floating Point: Endlessly Rocking off Silicon Valley. © 2010 by Shelley Buck. Used with permission. Shelley Buck lives in Northern California.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Anne Schroeder

    Great teaser chapter. I’m hooked. Gotta find out what “dink” means. You write in an understated, cheerful way that makes me feel like I’m trotting along on the adventure.

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