THIS SIDE UP

Traditions carry even more value today

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 7/23/20

It's a small craft slightly longer than 12 feet with a full keel, a graceful transom and a pleasantly curving bow. We're not sure of the model - she's been called a Bulldog - but that doesn't really matter. A brass plate just below where the mast meets

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THIS SIDE UP

Traditions carry even more value today

Posted

It’s a small craft slightly longer than 12 feet with a full keel, a graceful transom and a pleasantly curving bow.

We’re not sure of the model – she’s been called a Bulldog – but that doesn’t really matter. A brass plate just below where the mast meets the deck declares she’s a product of T.A. Kyle Yacht Building, City Island, New York. It’s not a familiar boat builder. My son, Ted, did some research on the internet but came up with nothing. I suppose if she were a Herreshoff, she’d be a pedigree. But that has never been the concern.

A member of the extended family – great uncle Harold – bought it in the mid-1930s long before fiberglass altered boat building. She’s wood with a small, triangular foredeck covered in stretched canvas painted light beige that sets it off from the rich mahogany of the bright work and cockpit combing.

I don’t remember ever seeing Uncle Harold sailing her or for that matter seeing her in the water. My first recollection of the craft was more than 30 years ago when my father bought the property from the estate of my late great Aunt Alice, who outlived Harold by more than a decade. The boat was perched on a trailer made from a converted hay wagon and was in sorry shape. She had solid bones, but planks had dried out in places leaving visible gaps. The canvas decking was in shreds, having been chewed by chipmunks and the bilge was filled with acorns.

My father assessed our unexpected acquisition that had been stowed away in the back of the barn on the property for multiple decades. Remarkably, as one doesn’t expect to find boat builders in upstate New York in the midst of an area known for its dairy farms, he connected with Tom Kreig. Even better, Tom lived all of five miles away and was happy to take on the project.

She returned in lake worthy shape. The painting was left up to us.

The launching was actually a sinking. Water gushed from between the planks and in less than an hour she was sitting on the bottom with waves lapping over the decks. Armed with buckets, my father and I bailed furiously. Incredibly, by the end of a week, she had swelled and was floating high.

She became a regular summer resident of the nearby lake.

My mother named her Bohemian, not for the easy swings on the mooring with the slightest zephyr, but for the small yellow birds that perched in her rigging – Bohemian Wax Wings. We gave her sails fitting of her name. White sails, and technically canvas white sails, is what she once wore. Such attire would have been fitting for the classic look, but with the name the multi-colored Dacron sails made by a loft in East Greenwich have suited her well.

For several years in the wake of my father’s death, the Bohemian sat in the barn. Then, at Ted’s suggestion and with his help, she went back in the water. It took some doing. The tires to the converted hay wagon were cracked and crumbling. The chipmunks had resumed their residency. Nonetheless, the Bohemian remained true to her core. After a couple of days to swell up, she was dry, ready to sail.

I write about the Bohemian because Ted and I, suspecting she would get little use over the next month and fearing she could slip her mooring should there be a severe storm, pulled her out and wheeled her back to the barn. The process gave me pause to think of what we consider of value in these times defined by uncertainty.

For one, it would have been easy to postpone launching her, to put her in lockdown. Questions haunted us. Should we travel to New York? Might we be quarantined either there or returning to Rhode Island?

Wouldn’t it have been prudent to forgo launching the Bohemian at least for this year? Besides, might family members fear joining us, or could they be suggesting rides when we might feel more comfortable without them?

This pandemic has prompted questions we have never contemplated.

When have trusting families stopped to question one another?

The Bohemian has become a fixture of summer. She’s a destination for young swimmers who hang on her sides before swimming back to the dock. She’s sets the scene, evoking a sense of history and especially important at this time, endurance.

We need reminders that while we should minimize risk, we needn’t sacrifice traditions and friendships. Like the Bohemian, we’ll keep sailing … but only if we are in the water.

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