Canoe Yawls embody a double nature shared by many of us coastal sailors. We are drawn to the shore. We spend whatever time we can afloat, but we are not sea creatures, more amphibians. These boats are so well suited to estuarine sailing as to be a wonderful expression of that dual nature. They are equally at home afloat in choppy tidal waters as snug amongst the reeds high up a winding marsh.
I grew up between a bay-side beach and a brackish marsh. Beach Point lies between Cape Cod Bay and Pilgrim Lake, the old East Harbor. The smell of marsh mud at low tide is one of my most cherished olfactory memories. It is an aroma of supreme fecundity. Marshes and estuaries are the sea’s nurseries.
These lobed structures with winding passages branching from brachia to alveolae are like lungs for the ocean. Just as the Amazon is for our atmosphere. Tides are their diaphragm, pumping sea-water in and out to mingle with fresh water. Bright, warm sunlight nurturing the young who will follow that tide seaward to a wider life amidst the perils of the open sea. My first and greatest teacher, as well as my home.
Rozinante has roots with the whaleboat. This tied in not only with my home’s heritage, but also the pivotal role reading Moby Dick had for me as a youth. Albert Strange’s Canoe Yawls bring to mind another literary influence of long-standing, Erskine Childers’ Riddle of the Sands.
Boats act on our imaginations and the way they connect with us intimately. Our involvement with boats, whether just reading and looking at them, or designing, building, sailing them, provide routes to what has been called “the better angels of our natures.” Our time spent with boats strengthens our connections with the natural world, its rhythms, and also with aspects of our cultural histories. These engagements feed us.
The prime conditions for what is now a quaint, traditional activity may have past us by. If there ever was an ideal moment and place, Albert Strange’s life and Arthur Davies’ fictionalized existence probably came closest.
Since then, the means to what had been considered a relatively modest form of boating has receded as a realistic possibility for many. Estuaries and marshes have been seriously degraded.
Any outing, instead of simply nourishing us with an immersion within the bounty and strength of the natural world, now either depresses us or demands that we turn a blind eye to its condition. Those of us who still care about such things are in retreat along with the Fiddler crab, the Mud Skipper and the Woodcock.
These conditions have a direct impact on our lives. They do so for everyone, but we are more likely to notice, to feel it in our bones.
This is a good thing. Mourning over a loss, even the anger we feel towards senseless destruction wreaked in our name, are healthy reactions. Much preferable to a numbed paralysis, sleepwalking as the destruction continues.
The intersections of all of these currents is what drives me to persist in the folly of designing small craft.
This brings us back to Rozinante. Named after Don Quixote’s wispy mount. L. Francis, the son of the great Nathaniel Herresshoff, was keenly aware that the moment for such things was already on the wane even in his day. He knew that our choices were to either admit defeat in the face of overwhelming odds or to stand and tilt at our windmills, that in doing so, we at least stand witness to what was and what might be again, someday.
This is far from a call to nostalgia. Those of us who look to the past for guidance. Who look askance at promises of Utopian futures held out as baubles in front of children, are used to this charge.
We look to the past, and the present that’s grown out of it, for lessons. To discover what has endured. What has failed to endure.
We take those lessons to heart. We restore what can be restored. We fashion out of what is at hand a new circumstance to bring what we value to life.
A daunting task. Just as Childers felt in his day, on the eve of immense disruption and danger, somehow small boats and those of us who love them can find a “chance” to do our part.
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