Catboat Marsaili and Me

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The stock price was at $14.85 per share and the refresh button on my phone was exhausted.  If it would hit $15, my limit sale would kick in and a long-standing dream of mine would be a reality.  The 1973 Marshall Sanderling “Sea Pup” in the Marshall Marine yard in South Dartmouth, MA would be mine. Refresh again, one more time.  $14.90. 

I had made a deal with my better half, Meg, that if the stock hit $15, I would sell enough shares to fund the purchase of a Marshall Sanderling catboat.   The term “deal” is used very loosely.  I more mentioned it in passing and was hoping she’d be OK with it when I made it a reality.  I had been sailing a 1984 14’ Sturdee Cat for 5 years. It is a wonderful boat and the family was really starting to enjoy sailing, but with the basic cockpit and no shelter from the sun, the kids (3 and 5) attention spans were roughly the duration of a Dora the Explorer episode.  My theory (read: justification) for purchasing a larger boat was that the kids would have more space to distract them from their boredom.  Refresh again.  $14.89.  It was falling again just like it’s done for the past 3 months!

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I had been looking at Marshall Sanderlings for about 8 years and had been dreaming of owning one for the better part of a decade.  I found a number of boats that I fell in love with, but knew that it just wasn’t in the budget.  I came up with the stock selling plan and had been watching the stock rise and fall (mostly fall) every day for about 4 months.  Obviously, in this economy, the odds were not in my favor, but now it was crunch time.  I needed to have a Sanderling, for the kids of course.  This time, similar to the dozen or so other times, I really felt that I had found my dream boat.

About a month prior, my search took me to CT to look at a boat named Tar Heel.  She was in excellent condition with everything I wanted in a boat.  Her owner was a former Naval Officer which always seems to be a positive factor in regards to how well a boat is kept.  The only problem being that her deck was Carolina Blue.  It was a beautiful boat and right in my budget, but just didn’t hold the classic look like the tan or buff deck finishes did.  I could not get over it despite my efforts to try to convince myself otherwise.  I have an unfortunate disorder when dealing with purchases like this.  Instead of having a critical eye as I should, I have hopeful eye.  My heart constantly tries to convince my head that every Marshall Sanderling is beautiful and with just a little effort, she’d be perfect.  I overlook the problems and search for all the positives in an effort to convince myself to like it.  It started years ago when I purchased my first sailboat.  She was a 1976 Kells 22 sloop and the “little effort” piece of my disorder nearly lead me to a divorce as I spent countless nights and dollars just getting her seaworthy.  In all honesty, she was an ugly, tank of a boat and slow as a snail, but she provided a wonderful education in boat repair and maintenance.  My disorder was a force to be reckoned with, but in this case, I simply could not get past the desire for classic look of the buff deck.
My hunt took me to Dartmouth Massachusetts to the Marshall Marine shop.  I met the owner Geoff Marshall and he immediately recognized my now infamous name.  “Oh, Jed.  The tattoo guy,” he said in reference to the large tattoo of a Marshall Catboat I have on my arm.  We chatted for a while and I looked over a number of used boats in his yard.  I tried very hard to fall in love with something, but nothing felt right.   One was the right price, but needed the bulkheads replaced.  One was perfect but just out of my price range.  One was cheap but would need enough to revamp the Kells 22 divorce proceedings.

After an hour or so, I hung my head, said goodbye to Geoff and slumped back to my car for the long drive home.  On my walk back, something caught my eye.  There was a Sanderling sitting right next to my truck that I must walked right past in my excitement when

arriving.  She was missing her boot stripe which may be why she didn’t catch my attention on the first pass by.  I walked around the boat surveying her like a curious cat.  The deck looked clean and recently re-finished.  I could tell by the thick build-up of Cetol on the teak rub rail that she was probably an older vintage.  The cockpit sole looked solid and new.  In the cabin I could see a bunk extender and I knew Marshall hadn’t offered those in years.  Despite the age I perceived from the rub rail, the boat looked like it was maybe 5-10 years old.  Somebody had taken very good care of her over the years and put a lot of work into her.  Her name was “Sea Pup” and she was quickly gaining my interest.

Not wanting to waste any more of Geoff’s time, I took some photographs of the boat and went on my way.  I emailed Geoff on the way home to inquire for more detail and his reply was at least encouraging.  She was a 1973 Sanderling.  This was much older than I wanted, but the owner had spent a considerable amount of money keeping her up.  The decks were refinished with Awlgrip.  The mast, trailer, and sail were brand new.  The bulkheads and cockpit sole were rebuilt.  Above all, the price was right in my wheelhouse.  The coming weeks had me bartering with the owner and falling deeper in love.  I pestered Geoff almost daily and he very graciously answered my every whim.  I must have cycled through the pictures I took 1000 times.

Refresh.  $14.80.  Dammit!  I could not go through another day of this!  I broke out my calculator and starting plugging in numbers to figure out how much of a hit I would take for $.25 below my target.  Eventually, I made the executive decision and sold at $14.78/share.  It was painful to sell at that price since the stock had been riding comfortably around $25 for years prior, but I couldn’t put a price on my dreams!  That was the exact line I gave my wife.  She didn’t buy it either, but the deed was done.

After passing papers with the owner and Geoff, the day arrived for me to take her home.  It was early October and the leaves on the trees created the perfect New England scene at the Marshall yard.  Men were busy running around the yard pulling out boats and breaking them down for the long New England winter.  Sea Pup had her newly hinged mast installed and she stood proudly at the front of the lot waiting for her new owner.  I shook Geoff’s hand and talked to the yard hands like a giddy grade-school boy.  Slowly and proudly, Sea Pup and I rolled off the lot.

The ride from Dartmouth to Stow, MA is about an hour.  The ride home was uneventful, but high winds kept my knuckles white on the steering wheel.  I counted 3 people driving by giving me the thumbs up.  I’ve trailered many boats in my day and never once got a thumbs up from a passing driver.  Sea Pup was a catboat and whether a person knows what they are looking at or not, the beauty of a catboat provokes just that kind of response.

I pulled into my driveway and my two kids immediately ran out to greet me.  They climbed all over her like she was a jungle gym at a playground.  It was a suitable welcoming to the family and a glimpse of times to come.  The next day, I took her to a warehouse space that would be her home for the winter.

In the coming winter months, I renamed her “Marsaili” and hand-carved a mahogany name board for her transom.  The name is in honor of my wife and daughter (6) whose names are both the family tradition name of “Margaret.”  I occasionally visited Marsaili to clean up and do some odd jobs, but it was a long winter from October to June.  Every night I would think of her and dream of warm days out on Lewis Bay in West Yarmouth, MA.  My daughter’s excitement grew with me as we sat around at bedtime and fantasized about the grand adventures we’d have on Daddy’s new boat.

 

Winter crept to an end and the warmer days rolled in.  Marsaili took up shop in my driveway for the majority of May and Maggie and I continued to prep her for her wetting.  On the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend, I hitched her up and made the trip down to The Cape.  Unfortunately, the person slated to help me launch her got hung up and could not make it.  I had to launch solo.  Luckily, one of my winter projects was making a mast raising system.  No better time than the present to test it out.  The mast went up easily and she was in the water in short order.  I motored over to the mooring and packed her up for the evening.  The sailing conditions were so poor all weekend, I did not get back out on her until later.

As I got closer to the big first sail, the anxiety crept in and I realized that I really knew nothing about sailing a gaff rig.  I have read books about it, but this was game time.  I emailed the CBA members looking for any techniques they could offer.  Out of about 10 replies, I think 2 of them were the same.  Everybody had their own technique.  This was a lot more sail than my little Sturdee Cat not to mention a whole extra spar at the top of the sail.  I was nervous but was comforted knowing that small levels of anxiety often spawn cautiousness.

Marsaili and I motored off the mooring.  I spent about 30 minutes toying with the motor and seeing how she handled, how far she glided, and how long she stayed pointed into the wind unattended.  Eventually, I brought her into the wind and locked on the Raymarine Tiller pilot that I bought off a gentleman in VT.  Marsaili held her course for about 20 seconds and then slowly veered off.  I turned the boat around to give myself some more sea room and tried it again.  This time it seemed to be holding its course so I started to hoist the sail.  Again, the Tiller Pilot slowly lost its heading.  It quickly became a shuffle to disengage the Tiller  Pilot and wrestle the sail back down.  I gave it another try with the Tiller Pilot but got the same results.  I suspect it needs some calibration.  I set the purring outboard to idle and pulled out my phone to re-read some of the CBA members emails to me.  Oddly enough, out of all the replies I got from CBA members, not one mentioned engaging any sort of autopilot.  They are a more traditional bunch.  Catboats were designed as work boats and for the sails to be raised in just about any condition or heading.  I’d try lashing the tiller and raising the sail hove to…with the outboard idling at the ready.

I lashed the tiller to leeward, pulled the board up and started my drift.  As I pulled the throat and peak halyards together, the throat stuck about half-way up the mast.  Being very green to the gaff rig, I did not want to yank the halyard too hard.  I pulled the sail back down and went forward to investigate.  By the time I was back in the cockpit, I was out of sea room.  I motored upwind again.  I would imagine if there were people watching from shore they were at least confused and at best entertained.  Board up, tiller to lee, motor idle, sail up.  This time everything went well.  Once I got it done I realized that it is in some ways much easier than the Sturdee.  The sail is not attached with slugs so there is not tension on that connection when the boom is out to lee.

 

The sail was now up and I was hove to.  My heart raced.  I was so close to sailing my dream boat.  I looked around the cockpit to see if anything was out of place and everything looked OK.  Marsaili rattled and bucked like a caged rodeo bull.  She wanted to sail as bad as I did.  I freed the tiller, pulled up the outboard motor, and dropped the centerboard.  I started hauling in the mainsheet and Marsaili sprung to life.  The giant sail puffed out and she heeled over in respect of its power.  A quick tack pointed me out to open water in Lewis Bay.

Marsaili and I spent the next 3 hours together.  The conditions were perfect for the single reef I had in.  We sailed back and forth through Lewis Bay.  I adjusted the sail constantly in an effort to get to know her a bit.  She responded to my success and failures like an encouraging sibling.

I sailed out the channel toward the Atlantic, but the wind kicked up considerably.  I had a high-speed ferry coming toward me that was going to hit the no-wake line at the same time as me.  Right when the ferry comes off its plane, it creates a monstrous wake.  My Sturdee Cat and I learned that one day over a pair of white knuckled hands on the tiller and about 15 knots surfing down the face of one.  Behind me, was a sea of boats and another ferry on its way out.  I decided today was not the day to be adventurous and kept my journey inside the bay.

Eventually, the feeling overtook me like a wave.  That feeling that everything was right in the world.  That feeling that I was one with the boat.  That feeling like the first kiss with a new lover.  That feeling of sailing your dream boat for the first time.  Marsaili and I were now friends and we were both excited for the rest of this day and the many adventures to come.  “The days pass happily with me wherever my ship sails,” says Joshua Slocum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Responses to Catboat Marsaili and Me

  1. Great blog and podcast – keep it up! I jumped to this post first — as I’ve been looking at the Sanderling. Your experience and insights are terrific. thanks!

  2. Hi Blair! Welcome aboard and thank you for the kind words. I LOVE my Sanderling. I am going to send you an email with all of the items related to Marsaili.

  3. I feel as though this could have been written about me. After more than two decades of sailing a fourteen foot open cockpit cat (and three summers trying to sail in the sun and rain with small children), I finally found my own heart of oak in the form of a 1973 Sanderling this spring. She’s been a very patient teacher.

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