So why do we go to boat shows? For a few lucky souls like my friend Bob, the intent is actually to buy a boat! And what a beautiful boat Bob got. I can't wait to hear about his first experience on the water with his versatile, historic, elegant Adirondack guide boat!
For the rest of us, the vast majority of boat show attendees, however, we go for inspiration. The eight hour drive from Northeast Pennsylvania to Maine for my wife and I was all about inspiration. I must admit, of course, that I am always anxious to jump at the chance to travel to New England and to Maine in particular. I lived in New Hampshire for many years, and it was special to stop in Portsmouth for a pastry and a cup of tea at Uncommon Grounds, early on Saturday morning. But, when we drove over the bridge and into Maine, I literally experienced a shiver course through my spine. My wife asked what that was all about, and I replied, " I just got the sense that I belong here!"
So what about this inspiration? Well the boats themselves are completely inspirational. The craftsmanship, the commitment of time and energy and skill on the part of the builders, and the love and care that the owners display is palpable. The beauty of the varnished wood, the sweet sheer lines, and the smell of fresh fiberglass - wait a minute - fiberglass? Well, yes - not all of the boats presented at the Maine Boat Builder's show are made of wood, but it is just as amazing to see and wonder at the modern day craftsmanship as well as at the beauty of the timeless woodworking skills that continue to be passed down in small shops and at a handful of schools.
More importantly, however, inspiration flows from the people you meet. My friend, Bob, for instance. We spoke with Bob soon after we arrived at the show and then a second time a little later in the afternoon. How neat is it to value a friendship born out of the Com-Pac Yacht Owners Association, an active forum on the web. We forum members know Bob as a bit of a character with a great sense of humor. But there is much more to Bob than his sense of humor or his beloved Com-pac 23, Koinonia. Sure he is passionate about boating and about spending time on the water, but over a short couple of years with just sporadic actual face to face discussions, I have come to know Bob as a guy who is just as passionate about his work and even more so about his family, an all around good guy who is a pleasure to be around.
Then there is Bill Thomas - at the show Bill was representing Off Center Harbor, a group of boat builders and designers who have created a wonderful website that is filled with great blogs and instructional videos. It is a membership site, but the cost is minimal and well worth it , in my humble opinion.
I first came across Bill's own website when I was researching Redwing, a design for a camp cruiser by Karl Stambaugh. Bill built the boat for a series of Wooden Boat articles a few years ago. We exchanged a number of emails over the course of the last year, and I was anxious to meet Bill during one of my trips to Maine. Bill designs and builds a number of different boats and shares his love of boating through boat building classes across New England. He builds furniture and he is an avid cyclist and photographer. It was wonderful to see his fox canoe at the show, to discuss his finishing techniques, and then to move beyond the boat related topics to hear how he rejects the modern day approach of collecting expensive biking attire, preferring instead to ride in shorts, a short sleeve buttoned shirt from goodwill and even sneakers, foregoing the "must have" toe clips at times. In the short 20 minutes that we spent with Bill, I was totally inspired, quickly delving below the superficial and talking about the dynamics of interpersonal relationships with our kids - the kind of topics that you might expect to explore with a friend, only after knowing them for some time.
Bill Thomas' Fox canoe
We did not stray very far from the Off Center Harbor Booth before running into Kurt Spiridakis, the boatshop manager at the Maine Maritime Museum. Kurt was anxious to share his background and to discuss the program that he runs for middle school aged students at the shop. He quickly made it clear that the program was about so much more than the boat that happened to be being built, that it involved helping the students to learn to work together and to experience the joy of completing a project with their hands.
Kurt enthusiastically described his experience as an apprentice at the Carpenter's Boatshop in Pemiquid Maine, a program that he entered after spending time in the business world. When we mentioned that we planned on hiking Morse Mountain the following day, he invited us to stop by the shop to see the surfboard that he was building. I wonder if he was surprised when we turned up at the door on Sunday. He welcomed us into the shop and described the various projects on the floor, including his surfboard. It was abundantly clear that he was excited to try out his first prototype, but that he had visions of building more boards in the future as time and finances would permit.
One of Kurt Spiridakis' students
Leaving the shop, I could not deny just a bit of envy. Here was a young guy who had a great place to work, a job through which he could teach meaningful , hands-on skills to kids, and a life experience that included the typical pattern of high school, followed by attendance at a competitive college, followed by a job in the corporate world - but then having the imagination and courage to act on a dream and to take a radical turn in a new direction ending up the manager at a boat shop in Maine. Wow!
After lunch we met a woman who may potentially be the most inspiring of all, Judith Silva, author of The Voyage of Yankee Lady. Judy was sitting at a table on the second floor with her grand daughter. She quickly engaged us in conversation and explained that we needed to buy her book. I congratulated her on excellent saleswomanship. Of course, she had me hooked. I quickly noted that her book was about a voyage that circumnavigated New England. As I am currently preparing for a voyage from New Jersey to Lake Champlain on our Compac 23, Adagio, I was instantly both impressed and interested. In actuality, I would be following in the wake of Yankee Lady on the initial leg of her voyage.
My wife has been supportive of my passion for boating, but she does not share it to the same extent. Boating was not part of her experience growing up in Wapwallopen, PA. Even with the Susquehana river flowing (and periodically overflowing) just a few steps from her home. I understand that very few, if any, summertime adventures included venturing out onto the water. And so, these past few months, the agreement has pretty much been that I would single hand the boat and that she would meet me from time to time along the way to explore sites along the Hudson River and, perhaps, for a short time on Lake Champlain. But that was before we met Judith and bought the book!
We spent most of the 8 hour trip home to PA, one driving while the other read out loud from Judith's book. What we have read so far has helped my wife to visualize herself aboard Adagio, sailing through New York Harbor, enjoying a perspective similar to that described in the book, one only possible from a small boat in the river. In fact, that is the key. While I have no problem visualizing myself aboard the boat, sailing up the river, it is sometimes difficult for me to help my wife see the same thing. Hearing about it in Judith's words has made all the difference. Having been there, her words are able to convey the images that my wife needs to envision. All that I can do is predict what we will encounter, and that is not quite as convincing! When we got home last night, she asked me if we could continue reading the book out loud to one another. Are you kidding? Of course we can, and we will. And it just might turn out that there will be the two of us aboard when Adagio leaves the dock in late June.
All in all, we had a wonderful trip. We enjoyed the time that we shared together, we connected with old friends, and we made some new ones. We experienced a hike through the spruce and hemlock to the top of a hill overlooking the coast and the marshland below and then down to the white sands of the beach with the sparkling ocean speckled with islands waiting to be explored. And we were inspired by the boats we saw, by the people we met and by the potential of sharing an adventure aboard Adagio this summer!