At the Toronto Boat Show for the first time in a decade and a half without owning a sail boat. I’m not sure if I’m happy I sold it or sad I don’t have it any more.
They say, whoever ‘they’ are, that the two happiest days of a sailor’s life are the day they buy a boat and the day the sell it. Certainly, the day I bought my 27-foot sail boat brings back many very happy memories.
It was an unwanted wreck, discovered in a boat yard where my son was working for the summer. Just the thing to keep Dad busy, I suppose he thought. The next few months were filled with new experiences as we worked in the yard to bring the wreck back to sailing trim. Once autumn set in, we built a frame and hung a tarp over it, so we could work in the relative comfort of a dry space. Everything that could be moved or removed, was taken out for refurbishing.
That year, after a long and productive warm spell, gales set in. I was actually just landing after bumping around the sky on a Porter flight to the US, when my son phoned to tell me high gusts had swept the tarp away, never to be seen again. The replacement was better attached.
By mid-February, yard work stopped as it was too cold to hold screws in numbed fingers and flesh stuck to metal implements and fittings. Fortunately, in those days I had access to a workshop with lots of bench tools for working wood. In the luxury of a warm environment, the interior fittings of the boat were almost entirely rebuilt with new wood and all completely refinished in many coats of marine varnish. Years later, they still retain their shine.
Come spring, I rescued the suit of sails, mast, spars and rigging from a yard where they had been stored. The engine was in better shape than we dared hope. Before the sale was finalized, I insisted the engine be proven. With a few drops of diesel fuel introduced through a funnel, and a running water hose stuffed into the coolant intake, and hooked to a car battery, the single cylinder 8-horsepower engine started first time. “Good girl,” I told her, and I repeat the same praise every time she starts up.
On the great day, in early May, we arrived at the yard early, to find the boat already loaded on the transport. Following the truck, it was exciting to see my own boat riding the downtown streets and past the CN Tower. We arrived safely at the Outer Harbour launch ramp and were quickly in the water.
Then my son and I splashed Champagne on the bow, christened the boat Peccavi, made offerings to Neptune and the gods of wind, water and weather, and headed off across the basin to the masting dock. My trusty mechanic was finished rewiring the lights on the mast, and soon we were ready to go. A dear friend arrived with coffee and croissants, and some shackles for the flag halyards, last minute purchases from a chandlery.
Finally, my son and I made passage across Toronto Harbour to the Toronto Island Marina, which would be the boat’s home for many years. Peccavi was docked safely twice in one day by a nervous new helmsman, anxious not to scratch the hull first time out. The boat has lived at the same spot ever since and will continue to do so under her new owners.
A word about the boat’s name. Searching the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations many years earlier, I came across an amusing remark by a distant ancestor, General Sir Charles Napier. “Peccavi,” (meaning “I have sinned”) he supposedly wrote in a punning telegram on the conquest of Sindh in 1843, at the end of the Indian Mutiny, to Lord Ellenborough his commanding officer. If I ever have a boat, my teen self thought, I will name her that. As a reward for his efforts, an equestrian statue of the General was erected in London’s Trafalgar Square. He is not to be confused with another ancestor, Field Marshall Robert Napier, 1st Baron Napier of Magdala, who also fought in India, and whose equestrian statue stands at the end of Queen’s Gate, Kensington.
It’s considered bad luck to change a boat’s name, but since the hull number is considered the official nomenclature of a boat in Ontario, I imagined no disaster would fall upon her. And none has, although we have weathered some nasty line squalls on Lake Ontario.
Peccavi was perfect for cruising on the lake and because of its size, I was able to sail single-handed when crew or companions were not available. A five-hour southbound sail across the lake to one of several harbours in New York State, alone at the helm, with the sails filling gently and a gentleman’s portion of Scotch as a reward at the end of the journey, are among my most treasured memories. As a member, and twice Commodore, of the Harbour City Yacht Club, we earned a colourful flag for every year we partook in club cruises. I believe I have more contiguous flags than any other member and now top the string off with my Past Commodore burgee. I fly so many flags that they almost fill two flag halyards. Since the new owners participated in club cruises last season, I gave them the 2018 flag to start their own collection.
In preparation for the hand-over, I have donated my entire library of Patrick O’Brian Aubrey Maturin nautical adventures, as well as most of my sailing textbooks and manuals. One gem I have kept back is Bottoms Up! by Robert McKenna, a collection of toasts, tales and traditions of drinking’s long history as a nautical pastime.
He quantifies how rum was apportioned on board: A “wet” was enough to cover the lips; a “sipper” was a gentleman’s portion; a “gulper” was one big swallow; and “bottoms up” meant draining the glass. Our eponymous masthead has gained a new meaning!
“There are old skippers, and bold skippers, but no old, bold skippers,” he notes. That’s why I’m quitting while I’m ahead. Here’s my favourite toast: “Here’s to tall ships; Here’s to small ships; Here’s to all the ships at sea; But the best ships are friendships, So here’s to you and me.”
I know my friends will have many happy years aboard and I wish them every good thought for their sailing future. They have kindly offered me lifetime visiting rights. Merci, mes amis.
This is the seventh year of weekly publication on Gentleman’s Portion and Nigel’s 239th post. It was time for a masthead update, launched this week, with many thanks to our talented graphic designer David Taylor.
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