It’s difficult for me to describe how much I love my boat. A 40-foot, 30-ton steel trawler that was co-designed by the legendary Phil Bolger and Melville Traber, the master steelworker who built her, she is truly one-of-a-kind. When I found her in Okeechobee, Florida, she was a chalky battleship gray. Her decks were blindingly white in the midday sun. Shady Lady was stenciled in big black letters on her high bow and square stern. She was so absolutely perfect that I didn’t even let that name give me pause.
I had spent months reading books on passagemaking, poring over Internet listings, leafing through brokerage offerings in magazines. … I was looking for a boat with range and salty character but I didn’t have infinite dollars for my dreamboat, either. I drooled over Nordhavns and Krogens and Romsdals and Malahides but they were way beyond my budget. And then one day, I entered the word custom in the search engine, and it was as though I’d found the button that opened the secret panel in a library wall. My eye went down the list and landed on Shady Lady. Days later, I was in Florida, and the moment I spotted her across the dock, I knew she was the one.
Aboard, I marveled at the roominess, the abundant stowage, the 14-inch portholes, the full walk-around engine room, the reverse raked pilothouse windows. … I had to resist the urge to jump up and down with glee: This was the boat for me. Rugged, seaworthy, well-built, simply equipped. She had a no-nonsense shiplike quality — comfortable but not fancy, yet she lacked the ugly, homemade quality that can be so off-putting in some custom builds.
An hour after I first laid eyes on her, I sat at a picnic table and filled out the paperwork. A few weeks later, Shady Lady was mine. She had soared through her survey. Overbuilt, her single screw was powered by a Ford Northeast 135-horsepower engine that sat low in a box keel. No bow thruster, no windlass. I will be honest: I loved the instant sea-cred I got when I docked her, single-handedly.
So, why am I waxing on about her now, you wonder, eight years later? The closest analogy I can draw is that I am at the emergency room, waiting for a doctor to come out and tell me if we can save her. It seems clear there will be no magical, much-needed summer on the mooring this year. And it’s possible that what Bossanova (well, you didn’t think I was going to keep her original name, did you?) needs may be beyond my financial reach.
Despite the fact that I took regular and excellent care of her, the steel below the waterline has been suddenly corroded. There’s some pitting and some overall wastage. Exactly how this happened is presently unknown. Stray current in the marina, a chafed wire aboard?
Whatever caused it, I am sick about it. Bossanova has carried me through thousands of miles of ocean, through sunny days of New England island-hopping, through storm-tossed seas under low black skies. … She has never let me down and I have affection for her that goes beyond what one can feel for an inanimate object. Laugh if you like, but I believe my boat has a soul.
I am an optimist by nature, so I am trying not to panic. I’ll get a second opinion, maybe even a third. But if you’re on the water any time soon, don’t forget to count yourself lucky — spend an extra minute appreciating your vessel and everything that boating adds to your life. And keep a good thought for Bossanova, will you?
Mary South, Editor-in-Chief
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