Linda Hoffecker likes her boats presentable, so it was no surprise to find her waxing the hull of her latest acquisition, a nameless 22-foot Starwind, on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay last spring. After applying a second coat along the waterline, she started on the transom.
Working the paste wax from port to starboard, she noticed a vertical ridge about a third of the way across. Under her cloth, it felt like a raised letter, a “P” maybe. Next came an “a” then an “r” and another “a.” By the time she reached the other side, her boat was no longer nameless.
I first met Linda 10 years ago when we were sharing a finger pier in a Havre de Grace, Maryland, marina. She was in her late 60s then, and her boat was a well-maintained early 1980s Catalina 22.
The first thing I noticed about Linda was her wonderful, quirky sense of humor. Shamelessly devoted to the double entendre, she loved verbal sparring, and I did too. We became instant friends.
The second thing I noticed was her affection for the sailing life. I could tell within minutes that she loved being a sailor. The tedious boat maintenance and repair responsibilities that I hated, she enjoyed. Not that she did all of the work herself, mind you, but she did what she could and then called on a network of sailing friends for help.
Not surprisingly, when repairs required the attention of a professional, Lynda was no easy mark. She knew what needed to be done and how much she was willing to pay for it. She is so knowledgeable, in fact, that I’ve consulted her on a number of occasions about repairs of my own.
Linda seemed to know everybody on those docks, from the marina staff to the concert pianist over on the 500 dock. She referred to the outboard motor salesman by his first name and was up to date on all the latest sailing gadgets. If you needed directions to the nearest sail loft or wanted to keep up with the latest marina gossip, Linda was the one to see. She was that kind of a sailor.
Interestingly enough, Linda didn’t sail much. In fact, I’ve kidded that she’s logged less time at the helm than the spiders that live in her tiller cover.
I used to attribute her lack of sea time to the physical demands that sailing puts on her 100-pound frame. But while that’s certainly a factor, I’m now starting to think that the act of sailing is not what appeals to her the most. I think it’s the waxing and the gathering of scuttlebutt and the friendships that she loves. To her, sailing is a personality and a way of life.
I’ve learned since that Linda’s 22-foot Catalina was the third in a series of five sailboats she has owned since 1997; her current thought-to-be-nameless Starwind was her fifth.
Sadly, with the frequent boat changes and the lulls in between, Linda and I aren’t finger-pier neighbors anymore. In fact, she keeps her sailboat at another Havre de Grace marina a half mile north. Still, we keep in touch. We exchange emails regularly, and it was her most recent that prompted me to share her story.
After buffing the wax off of her Starwind’s transom, Linda stepped to the side and could see that, in spite of a previous owner’s attempt to hide it, her boat was named Paradise. While a surprising discovery, it wasn’t until she looked down at the port-of-call that, as she told me, she “almost fainted.”
There, in a matching script, was printed “Paradise, PA,” the tiny little hamlet in southern Pennsylvania’s Amish country where Linda was raised and graduated from high school (“24 in my class—three boys!”) “Is this some kind of message on a boat?” Linda wondered in her email to me.
Well, Linda, what it says to me is that you’ve been presented with a unique opportunity. After repairing your Starwind’s leaky rudder tube and replacing that old cabintop winch, you’ll be able to tell all your friends that you discovered Paradise—and improved on it. Not bad for a septuagenarian with a penchant for a corny joke.