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Whaler Wars

Rediscovering the fun of a simple boat.

December 29, 2015
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Steve Haefele

Recently, an industry pal surprised me. While he’s an expert at plumbing complex systems on yachts, he’s always grousing that the big boats are “too damn complicated.” I just never thought it would come to this: a vintage 13-foot Whaler. He adopted one from a client!

“You can’t turn the clock back,” I counseled.

“Sure I can,” he said. “She’s a ’66, the same year as my first.”

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“We’re not kids anymore, for God’s sake. You’ll look like a Shriner stuffed into one of those little cars at the circus.”

“I don’t give a damn,” he answered. “I’m fed up with complicated. The 13’s simple.”

I’d gone through a similar regression when I was 40-ish. She was a perfect 13: white hull, light-blue cockpit. She spit out her varnished mahogany innards in sour seas on her first trip to the Bahamas behind our 37-foot Bertram, Anhinga. No worries: I went native, just a seat and a stick tiller. She soldiered on over the years, surviving a thousand miles in tow and three hurricanes. My back didn’t. Old 13s are animated.

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She soldiered on over the years, surviving a thousand miles in tow and three hurricanes. My back didn’t.”

“Why not buy something new off the rack?” I suggested.

“New boats are too complicated,” my pal argued. He then shared the story of a client who bought his kids a “simple” runabout. “The damn thing had a 10,000-watt stereo, a water-toy roof rack and an iPod station. It got a little snotty, and they stuffed her, filled her to the brim with water. They’re lucky they weren’t electrocuted!”

“A 13 is plug-and-play,” my pal continued. “Plug a 6-gallon fuel tank into the motor, and you’re off.”

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We hadn’t learned seamanship ­online. Our training had been hands-on — a 13. The transition from bathtub to the tub-like utility had been almost seamless. I reminded my pal of the dumb things we did for play. “Remember Navy Frogman (“deploying” overboard at full throttle) or landing craft (plowing onto the beach)?”

Parent-imposed regulations were summarily ignored. Fortunately, the tough-skinned, unsinkable 13 was a forgiving charge. With an 18 hp Evinrude screwed to the transom, our stout little ships were almost invincible. My pal’s was lost not to the sea, but to his angry father, who spotted him bouncing across breakers in the inlet.

The hook was in. “What kind of condition is she in?” I wondered aloud.

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“Doesn’t matter,” my pal said. “I’ll pop a few holes in her transom, set her on end and bleed her dry. A bit of epoxy and paint, and she’ll be like new.”

“What are you gonna do with her? You’re too old for Whaler war games.”

“I will enjoy her simplicity, float the flat for redfish and land her on the beach to swim — slowly, of course! Wanna enlist?”

Yup! I uncovered my old 13 last night. She’s ready, and so am I. All I need is a 6-gallon fuel tank, Advil and a chiropractor!

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