Sometimes, Downsizing is Harder Than it Sounds

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Bliss (on right) in action

Bliss (on right) in action

Before it all went haywire, it seemed like such a simple and straightforward situation: my wife, Patti, and I are sneaking up on our 80s, and our Cape Dory 30 cutter was more boat than we wanted to wrestle with by ourselves. Time to downsize.

I’ve long admired the Nonsuch boats, with the simplicity of a single sail and all the control lines managed from the security of the cockpit. I always hoped I’d own one someday and even joined the owners’ association years ago to learn all I could about them. And so at this point, a Nonsuch 22 seemed the perfect little craft to enable us to continue our gunkholing around Penobscot Bay without the aid of our strong and agile kids or grandkids to haul in heavily loaded sheets and to go forward on a slippery, bucking foredeck with the staysail boom flailing about to crack our shins.

Money in hand from the sale of the CD30, I immediately checked the brokers on the web, hoping to find a listing for an NS22, of which only 58 were ever built. None were listed there, but wait! One broker had a Nonsuch 30 listed at a bargain price almost the same amount as an NS22 would cost! How could this be?

I leapt into my car and sped across three states to see this bargain boat. The broker drove me to see it, and of course, like all apparently fabulous deals, it was too good to be true. Sitting uncovered on the hard during our last terrible winter in the Northeast, it was a sadly neglected, almost derelict craft that made my heart sink.

A joyful sailor

A joyful sailor

Here’s where it all went haywire. Well, actually, it had gone haywire before I even got in my car to go see the boat. In a moment of severe brain-cramp, when reading the bargain price for an NS30, I totally blew right past the age-old axiom “A bargain is a bargain only if you would have bought it at the regular price anyhow.” And I had just sold a 30ft boat because what I really wanted was a 22-footer.

But it got worse. As we returned to the broker’s office somewhat disgusted by the wretched mess of a boat we’d just seen, he mentioned that there was an NS30 in his personal slip that would be featured in the upcoming weekend’s in-the-water boat show as the finest possible example of the breed. They had even made up an eight-page color brochure on this particular boat. Would I like to go aboard her?

Well, of course I would. And the moment I stepped aboard I was a goner. Here was a real “gold-plater” whose owner had lavished endless amounts of money to make her literally better-than-new in every respect, from over-the-top electronics and upgraded rigging to custom woodwork and eye-popping new upholstery.

My knees went weak. My mind went weaker. No hormonally turbocharged teenager swooning over an adorable classmate ever displayed more mindless passion and less critical judgment than I did in those seconds just before I turned to the broker and said, “I’ll take her!”

[advertisement]Back in his office I signed the purchase-and-sale agreement, scarcely noticing that the price was about double the cost of the “bargain” boat or a really nice NS22. Even the name of the boat described my spaced-out mindset: Bliss. (The dictionary definition includes the word “oblivious!”)

The next few weeks featured a happy campaign of carting our personal belongings aboard and preparing for a 10 to 12 day cruise up the coast to our home port of Rockland, Maine. I charted out all the legs and key waypoints, made plans to visit friends in various ports along the way including Mattapoisett and Marblehead, and spent endless hours visualizing the wonders of myself sitting at the helm of this magnificent new boat.

All too soon, though, reality set in. We set sail and were barely into the cruise when several difficult situations walloped me with the awful truth: this is not a cozy little Nonsuch 22 just right for two nice folks approaching their 55th wedding anniversary. This is a huge boat, dramatically larger than the Cape Dory cutter I had just sold at a giveaway price in order to scale down.

Eliot and Patti, blissed out no more

Eliot and Patti, blissed out no more

Sure, both the CD30 and the NS30 were 30ft long, but Bliss was substantially broader in beam, considerably heavier in displacement, and her towering 53ft mast carried a massive sail nearly twice the size of the mainsail on our CD30. Nestling a little 22-footer up to a gas dock would be a cinch for a pair of somewhat (hate the word) elderly sailors; wrestling an 11,500lb displacement NS30 to a hault at a dock in an agitated seaway was an entirely different proposition for a couple who don’t possess the strength, agility or balance they once did.

Of course, I had been drowning in denial up until this point. After 65 years skippering a wide variety of sailboats, my impulsive purchase was surely all about hanging onto my self-understanding as a capable guy who could still stand tall at the wheel and command a serious boat in serious conditions with a satisfying mastery of self and craft; as a guy whose margin for error had not diminished considerably; as a guy who was not in fact experiencing every day the ebbing of capacities ranging from grip strength and hand-eye coordination to balance, flexibility and endurance.

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Just a few days into our voyage to Rockland, we sat in the cockpit one evening on a mooring in Mattapoisett Harbor soberly reviewing our experience of sailing this magnificent boat, and there was no ducking the truth: I had made a monumental mistake in buying her.

That was the bad news. The good news is I am still capable of readily admitting when I have screwed up and then responding decisively. And so, clear-headed for the first time since mindless infatuation and denial blissed out all my critical faculties a month earlier, I rented a car the next day and we continued our “voyage” to Rockland on the hard. A delivery captain would return Bliss to the broker to find a next owner for whom she was the right boat.

We arrived at our place in Maine that night, and I logged onto the Nonsuch owners’ association website where I found a new listing for a lovely little Nonsuch 22 lying in Coconut Beach, Florida. I contacted the owner, made an offer, commissioned a survey, closed the deal and shipped her to Rockland. And finally this last summer, we spent a heavenly afternoon sailing Penobscot Bay.

I kept the name my Nonsuch 22 bore upon arrival: Joy. In sharp contrast to the obliviousness that characterizes “bliss,” the definition of “joy” includes heightened awareness of delight and even triumph. Now with a tiller in my hand again, feeling a stress-free, intimate relationship between the water, the wind, the craft and this sailor, an entire lifetime of sailing joy is reawakened, wells up, and fills me like a gentle breeze.

I just had to let go in order to grasp it.

Eliot Daley has been a sailor for 65 years, from prams on inland lakes to bareboats in the South Pacific. His home sailing ground is Penobscot Bay and the Maine coast out of Rockland

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