by Guest Columnist Peter H. Vanderwaart
A Short Story With Several
I begin with a short story about a friend of mine. I'll call him Bob.
Bob has an intelligent and efficient wife, Brenda, and a family of girl
children. I'm not quite sure how many girls there are because they always
seem to be accompanied by a small posse of friends. That's the kind of
family they are. Bob has prospered in business, and, about five years ago,
he bought a 36' Jeanneau sloop. It replaced an O'Day 26 that was probably
starting to seem a little crowded. Bob and Brenda took the family cruising
around southern New England and joined our low-key club racing program.
So I was surprised to hear this winter that Bob had put his Jeanneau up
for sale. When I asked him if it was true, he said it was. He explained
that as his daughters approach middle and high school, their schedules are
so full that the family can't get away for cruising. As an example, the
Memorial Day weekend, formerly a prime time for cruising, is now devoted
to a girls' soccer tournament. He thought he would sell the big cruiser
and get smaller, cheaper boat for racing and local sailing. Perhaps he and
Brenda could get another cruising boat in a few years.
This short story prompts a number of observations.
First, note how Bob and Brenda have put their daughters ahead of
themselves. It is a tiny indication of the extent to which we as a culture
pour our time and treasure into our children. A discouraging amount seems
to go for Barbie dolls, Happy Meals and computer games, but at the end,
there are young adults capable of doing the most astonishing things. I
mean things like sequencing genomes and
inventing fiberless optical data
links. It is small reminder of how our prosperity depends on our
Second, it's a law that scheduled events crowd out unscheduled events.
I'm not sure whose law this is. Murphy and Gresham put their names on
other laws. Perhaps this one is Vanderwaart's Law. This law is one reason
that I am not a big fan of Little League and other sports leagues for
children. I especially disapprove of all-star and travel teams. The heavy
schedules of practices and games displace other family activities. Every
family meal disrupted is an unmeasured social loss. Scheduled events are
not all bad, of course. Our Thursday night racing schedule enables me to
get out on the water every week.
Peter's 6% boat
Finally, Bob is correct that a boat need not be large and expensive to
be satisfactory. I race and daysail in a boat that cost about 6% of the
asking price for the used Jeanneau. However, most people want big boats.
My unofficial polling indicates that thirty-six feet is about median for
new cruising boats here in western Long Island Sound. Even first time
boat-buyers feel anything much smaller is squalor, and there aren't many
boats similar to Bob's old O'Day 26 being built these days. Granted this
is a wealthy area, but a thirty-six foot boat requires a large investment
of time as well as money. It's a truism that every sailor wants a bigger
boat, but it seems to me that on a typical sailing day most sailors would
be better served by a smaller and simpler boat than the one they have.
In the end, there weren't any bidders for Bob's Jeanneau and he took it
off the market. He now feels the transaction costs make it more reasonable
to keep this boat than to trade down. We're looking forward to a good
Note: Peter Vanderwaart is the moderator of the Yahoo discussion
group on boat design: