Boatlessness in the prime of one's life: The meaning

Posted: Sunday, June 02, 2002

Everything happened all at once. I lived in a four-boat household just a few short days ago. It was a happy household with a rich boat culture among the male residency.

Nita Nettleton can be reached at

Concurrent with the leafing out of the lilacs, some decisions to streamline the household inventory made over the last year all sprouted at once from the conceptual stage and busted their way through to reality. First the powerboat, then the kayak, the project boat and even the canoe disappeared from the driveway and rack behind the house.

For me, this shedding of all things that make a wake in the water means less insurance, no payments, more space in the yard and easier mowing. But I was not the paddler, driver, tinkerer, master of outboards, inboards and overboards. I was not the one who lovingly stowed packages of herring in the freezer and could tell you exactly how many times each package had thawed, enjoyed a day out in a bucket and then been refrozen. I was not the one who looked forward to the perpetual scraping, painting and refitting. I was not the one with the personal relationship with the folks at the boat store, nor the one who took pride in putting those same folks' kids through college.

As I look around my neighborhood, I see many homes without a boat. Many people, your regular normal appearing people, don't even own trucks capable of towing boats. The boatless obviously have other hobbies and activities to occupy their time and disposable income. I must say, though, it was heartrending to watch them pass or stop and chat while I sat out in the yard sunning myself next to the canoe with the "For sale" sign on it. Some just waved and didn't give the canoe any attention, others asked politely about it. The sad ones stopped and looked it over, touched it gently, wistfully considered the extra paddles and snap-on seat backs. I foolishly thought the price was the issue and offered that the cost of the canoe spread over several weekends compared very well to several other ways to entertain a family on a summer day. It wasn't the money, I finally figured out. It is some boat wish in a part of the brain that doesn't subscribe to monetary values. I think you're born (or not, like me) with it. I was humbled by the realization.

Now I'm worried. What will happen around here without any boat business? What will happen to all the space formerly occupied with tons of boat gear? Will the vacuum created by the absence of boat stuff turn our garage into a black hole? Will it ever be safe again to go in there? More importantly, what will happen to the hours formerly spent moving, scraping, rewiring, painting, launching and unlaunching boats? I found a Web site that I hope will help me get through this adjustment to boatlessness. It's called BoatFree and uses a tiered system of daily schedules and activities designed to help people find what they would have been doing all these years if they didn't have that boat-wish thing in their heads. It seems gentle and can be as gradual as you need it to be. It's kind of expensive, but I guess the BoatFree people have kids who need to go to college, too.

There really are millions of things people can do that don't involve boats. I can't tell you off the top of my head what they are, but I have certainly frittered away a lot of years doing them. Slowly working one's way down to two, then one, then no boat would be tough enough, but to go cold turkey is a very big step. I have to trust the Program, have a lot of patience and let time do its work. I just hope there isn't anyone selling a boat along our daily travel routes or, God forbid, in our neighborhood anytime soon.

Nita Nettleton can be consoled at

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