I got the chance to take the helm of a 30 foot keelboat last weekend. It had soft cushions, a head, a bimini, and a nice big electronic chart above the wheel. Music drifted out of two speakers strategically placed in the back of the cockpit. When we got tired of fighting the current, we cranked on the diesel engine and motored back to the dock. There was good company on the boat, but I didn’t enjoy the sailing as much as I do on RowBird. To be fair to the keelboat, it could have been a Herreshoff, but because I’m in love with RowBird, it wouldn’t have mattered.
In RowBird, I feel close to the water. Each bump, each gust, each splash seems intimate. Although high enough and dry, I’m right down near the water. I love that I am in the boat, but not on it. On the keelboat, I was well above the water, sailing yes, but not thinking so much about the water itself.
RowBird will handle some challenging conditions when I focus my mind on the wind and the waves. Secretly, I like the scary feeling that if I don’t pay careful attention, the boat and I could end up more in the water than I’d like. On the keelboat, I mostly worried about staying in the channel.
Most sailors know that every boat is a trade off. You get something and you give something up with each design choice. The perfect boat today, may not be the perfect one in ten years, depending on what you’re doing. When I dreamed of the ideal boat for my needs five years ago, Iain Oughtred’s Arctic Tern came to the top of the list. And if I were to review that list, the Tern would still rank pretty high today.
First and foremost RowBird is my toy. Easy to launch, retrieve, and sail by myself, I love the independence that she provides, allowing me to get out as often as I like. I never search for crew. She can seat up to four people, but really comes alive with just me, and frankly, I like it that way. The cockpit is just the right size and has four different comfortable places to sit. And although Andy Bike gets nervous when I do it, she’s a pleasure to steer standing up.
She rigs up quickly. It’s about 15 minutes from trailer to sailing. When other people are tangling with shrouds and stays in the parking lot, I’m rowing away from the dock, knowing I can step the un-stayed mast whenever I’m ready.
RowBird lives on a trailer, which means that I never get bored with any location. Each day I have the satisfaction of going where the wind and currents are most favorable: the Willamette today, the Columbia tomorrow, the Salish Sea next weekend. Instead of paying moorage fees, I just roll her up my driveway at the end of the day.
I love the stories that RowBird brings to mind. The thwart is from an old bleacher board Andy Boat salvaged from a high school in Bellingham. Bill and I built the floorboards. When I look at the sails, I’m grateful for Andy Bike’s sewing lessons. The nick in the gunwale is damage from flying windstorm debris. And the boat’s name reminds me of my mom, Roberta.
But what I love best about RowBird though, are the possibilities. Even when I’m day sailing, I know that RowBird could keep going and going under sail or oar. I can easily pack a week’s worth of supplies and sleep aboard without the need to stop. Nothing’s complicated, which is just the way I like it. The oars work flawlessly and never stink like a motor, which means I can go just about anywhere, as long as I have the muscle.
Someday I’ll be too feeble to raise the mast, hoist the sails, or row against the current. When that happens I’ll know RowBird isn’t perfect for me anymore. But for now, I’m still in love.