I had $5,000 dollars, a pickup truck, and a dream. My lifelong
goal had been to take a small boat through the canals of Europe.
Inspired by the Brendan voyage, in which five men sailed from
Ireland to Newfoundland in a 36-foot leather boat, I resolved
to cross the Atlantic and experience Europe. My plan was to construct
a 28-foot St. Pierre dory, trailer it overland to the East Coast,
and either ship it aboard a freighter or sail her myself to England.
Towards that end, I rented a 100-acre abandoned dairy farm for
$50 a month, moved into one of the old milk houses, set up shop
in the barn, and mailed away for a set of dory plans. I figured
to add to the dory hull design with a small cuddy cabin, a deck,
centerboard, and sail. I felt confident that I would, one way
or another, sight the coast of England within the year. I would
have made it too, except for a chain of events entirely beyond
A seaman must be sensitive to shifts in wind, however subtle
they may be. Change is the very air we sailors breathe. When I
went into town to pick up the dory plans at the post office that
September afternoon, I had no notion that the winds of fate were
not only shifting, but backing, and with a vengeance, immured
in the calm of my own sailing dreams, I failed to observe that
I was actually sitting in the eye of a hurricane. If that storm
were to have a name, it would be Mary Lou.
On a whim, I decided to celebrate the arrival of my boat plans
by going to a dance in town. My intent was to go only for the
music, to leave early, and to be fresh for the lofting the following
morning. Then Mary Lou walked up and asked me to dance. I should
have observed the telltale fluttering and sensed on my skin a
shifting of the winds. Instead, the warm breeze that caressed
my cheek that night was the breath of a beautiful woman.
In between dances, I related the many finer points of boat construction
to what seemed like an enraptured audience. As the evening progressed,
I even told her of my dream — to build this boat and sail
single-handed to Iceland, then to continue on, alone, to Europe.
Encouraged by her mellisonant laughter, and awash in my own self-adulatory
image reflected by her aqueous Italian eyes, I sailed new seas
of eloquence. I lectured on the tricks of the solo sailor's trade;
I told her how I understood spiling and planking, lofting and
sailmaking. What I failed to understand in her serene silence
that warm autumn evening was the power and will of a woman in
What I failed to understand was the power
and will of a woman in love.
Mary Lou appeared unannounced at the barn the day following
the dance with a pair of coveralls and a lunch pail. I was lofting,
and grateful for the extra hand. She returned the next week to
assist in the framing. Working steadily together, we had the hull
rolled over and ready for the house and deck — all within
a month. An ardent student, Mary Lou demonstrated a remarkable
gift for comprehending boat construction and design. She had been
pouring over the plans during her first month with an intensity
that I admired greatly. We were sitting sipping coffee when she
tested ner newly acquired knowledge.
"I see the plans only show one bunk," she noted.
"That's right," I told her. "My tool boxes go
on the other side."
She grabbed a measuring tape and a pen. "Listen,"
she said, "all we have to do is move this bulkhead aft 6
inches, shorten the cabin by a foot here, alter this bridgedeck
slightly, and extend the hold to this spot, right here."
She adeptly drew in the changes on the plans. In pen. "There.
Now there is plenty of room for your toolbox in the hold, and
a second bunk right next to yours. Which one do you want, port
"Look," I replied, "when I bought the design
for this boat, the envelope included a set of lines drawings,
a materials list. It did not include a set of marriage plans."
Mary Lou looked up and smiled. "Sorry, sweetheart, you'll
have to speak up. Remember, I was raised on rock and roll."
She paused, then added, "You know, I've been to Europe, but
I've always thought Alaska would be a great place to spend a honeymoon.
What do you think?"
I learned, on that day, the difference between an honestly solicited
opinion and a woman's rhetorical question. And I knew that I was
destined not to reach Europe alone, or make my mark on the world
as a single-handed sailor.
Mary Lou and I lived aboard the dory for two years, cruising
the waters of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest before coming down
with a severe case of the Bigger Boat Bug. We sold the dory and
bought a 28-foot full-keel bluewater cruising boat. Our goal was
to sail, ultimately, to Europe via the East Coast. We left Seattle
and, after three weeks of coastal cruising, arrived in Sausalito,
California. I came down the companionway one evening to find Mary
Lou studying the charts in silence. Finally, she spoke up.
"Listen," Mary Lou said, "as near as I can figure,
at this pace we're about two years and $8,000 from England. If
we sell this big boat, and build a couple of kayaks, we can get
to the Mediterranean much sooner, and a lot cheaper. What do you
A folding tandem kayak is currently under construction.