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A Wooden Boat Love Affair

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When you cruise aboard a classic wooden boat, it’s somewhat like living in a room at Downton Abbey. You don’t just admire the wood from outside – the elegance and beauty envelope you. A wooden yacht moves through the water differently, it flexes differently; and the sound is completely different. On a cold day a wooden boat seems warmer.

On a cold day a wooden boat seems warmer.

I have a passion for wooden boats that could be described as a disease. I was surrounded by wooden boats as a child – row, sail and motor from 8’ to 45’, but surprisingly, I didn’t really come to appreciate their grandeur until much later in life. My dad truly believed that if God had meant to have plastic boats (“Clorox bottles”), he would have grown plastic trees, and his fleet of decrepit vessels reflected that conviction.

Mike’s sweat equity is one reason wooden boats make sense for us. Photo by Jody Reynolds
Mike’s sweat equity is one reason wooden boats make sense for us. Photo by Jody Reynolds

Of course, many of the wooden boats we owned had issues. Keeping these various vessels afloat took a lot of time and Git Rot, a product we used by the gallon. By the time my dad purchased his last boat, a pretty little Town Class sailboat, I was into cruising my 44’ fiberglass Hylas. With a job that required extensive travel, and my interests in my own boat, I found it hard to keep his boat afloat on her mooring, let alone under sail. It seemed I spent more time bailing, painting, varnishing and rerigging his boat than I did on 44’ of fiberglass sailboat.  Frankly, wooden boats to me were just a pain in the ass.

It wasn’t until 2006, when I took on a delivery of a 60’s era vintage 55’ Trumpy Motor Yacht from Palm Beach to Annapolis, that symptoms of wood addiction surfaced. People along the ICW waved constantly, to the point where we had to put a designated “waver” on watch. I experienced the motion, sounds and sights of a well-cared-for classic wooden boat, no bailing required.

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Somewhere along that cruise I became hooked. And the rest, as they say, is history.

There’s no question that part of my conversion was due to our captain, Mike, who is now my partner.  Mike’s visceral love of wooden crafts is contagious. He not only loves them, he respects them. What I learned from Mike on that first cruise and subsequently with our own fleet of classic woodies, is that if wooden boats are treated with care, they can last forever.

Mike truly believes that wooden boats have a soul.  “Technically, of course, wood isn’t alive,” he admits,  “but it has a vibrance that no other material can match. Woodies are warm and comfortable, alive with sweet sounds, and they have forgiving nature.” I’ve come to believe he’s right.

A year after our first cruise together, Mike and I bought our beloved and beautiful 1925 56’ Elco, Hermione, and cruised her thousands of miles. When Hermione was tragically lost in the McCotters Marina fire in January 2011, we had an excuse to end our wooden boat insanity. But of course we couldn’t. Ignoring the perfectly set up Defever 44 (fiberglass) cruiser we went to see in Jacksonville, we instead purchased the beautiful 1930 custom 56’ motor yacht Cygnus II, which unfortunately was berthed on the same dock.

So now we own another piece of history, not to mention a 19’ Lyman, an 18’ Chris-Craft, and 10’ Penn Yan dinghy, classic woodies all.

Living aboard Cygnus II is like being in a room you might find at Downton Abbey. We never get over owning this gorgeous wooden boat. Photo by Jody Reynolds
Living aboard Cygnus II is like being in a room you might find at Downton Abbey. We never get over owning this gorgeous wooden boat. Photo by Jody Reynolds

Living and cruising aboard the incredible Cygnus II astonishes us, even after three years of ownership. Everywhere you look is a stunning architectural detail. Everywhere we cruise, dock or show her, she is an absolute magnet. If we had a dollar for every photo taken of her as she cruises, we wouldn’t need to work for a living and neither would she.

A wooden yacht isn’t for everyone, but one kept up/restored and repowered as Cygnus has been, with purring Yanmar diesels, can be a reasonably practical investment (compared to a fiberglass vessel). And although I’m a person who would far rather cruise than tinker or varnish, maintaining a wooden boat is actually fulfilling: wood responds to TLC almost like a person responds to a good massage.

Even at the end, I have a rationale for wooden yachts: As we cruise the waterways, I can’t help but wonder how many times over you could encircle the earth with the hulks of old fiberglass hulls, abandoned and ugly. There is something majestic and tragic about a wooden hull sinking slowly into the mud. There is nothing remotely romantic about an abandoned fiberglass hull stuck in the water for the foreseeable future.

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So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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