8.17.2007

Dr. John's Ark

In the town of Randolph, Vermont, about 150 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, there is a boat. A big boat. Two masts, 45 feet, and century old hardwood planks that are longer than a couple F150s end to end. It's not in the water, though. It's in my friend's back yard.

The boat has a history. It belonged to an ancestor of John McEnroe, sailed across the Atlantic, dawdled it's way south over a couple generations, and then landed on the coast of Florida as the base of operations for a scuba-loving couple enjoying their golden years. And few years ago, it caught the eye of Dr. John.

Like many Vermonters, Dr. John shares a family pad down around Cape Cod. It's on Cuttyhunk, one of those blissful summer islands that seem more like dream than reality. The ocean is in his blood as much as it was in the blood of his father, another landlocked doctor with a nose for the sea.

So shopping around for a boat was a natural decision for Dr. John. The fact that this particular craft was a wooden boat put it on the radar. And the fact that it needed a "little work" made it a slam dunk.

Vermonters and their boat projects are a funny thing. Guys spend decades in sawdust floor workshops with 200 year old mallets while seasons flip by. They peel off planks and recast their own fittings. The spend months making centimeters of progress. The do stuff like read 400 page manuals on how diesel engines work so they can rebuild one to fit a custom hole in a dark corner. And they're in heaven.

Sure, there's a little carnage from time to time ("Two and four," says one Vermont boater with a grin, referring to his current situation regarding his second wife and fourth boat), but in Vermont, it seems, the bigger the boat project, the better.

After a couple glasses of wine, it's easy to dismiss Vermont boat addiction as just a personality quirk that could be handled with a good dose of Prozac ... you know, seasonal affective disorder plus obsessive compulsive plus kleptomania plus escapethewifenia.

But it's not. Vermonters love their boat projects because of two things. One, it's that they're a living challenge that requires mastering history and engineering, woodworking and nautical savvy, and local zoning regulations as well as marital negotations.

And two, it's that the celebration will happen on a summer day, sometime in the future, somewhere on the water, and surrounded by the smiles of only their closest, dearest friends.

In other words, it's a date with a happy day in the future, and you've gotta love that.

Dr. John is a couple years into the double mast McEnroe project. And he's got at least a couple years to go. Maybe five. Maybe ten. Shit, maybe more. But he's into it. SO into it, in fact, that when i teased him about coming over and torching the thing so he'd have time to come golfing with me ... he looked at me like I was threatening one of his kids.

Make no mistake, Dr. John will finish that boat. I just hope I make the cut.

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