Peter's Discussion Group (boatdesign)

by Guest Columnist Peter H. Vanderwaart

A Short Story With Several Lessons:

I begin with a short story about a friend of mine. I'll call him Bob. Bob has an intelligent and efficient wife, Brenda, and a family of girl children. I'm not quite sure how many girls there are because they always seem to be accompanied by a small posse of friends. That's the kind of family they are. Bob has prospered in business, and, about five years ago, he bought a 36' Jeanneau sloop. It replaced an O'Day 26 that was probably starting to seem a little crowded. Bob and Brenda took the family cruising around southern New England and joined our low-key club racing program.

So I was surprised to hear this winter that Bob had put his Jeanneau up for sale. When I asked him if it was true, he said it was. He explained that as his daughters approach middle and high school, their schedules are so full that the family can't get away for cruising. As an example, the Memorial Day weekend, formerly a prime time for cruising, is now devoted to a girls' soccer tournament. He thought he would sell the big cruiser and get smaller, cheaper boat for racing and local sailing. Perhaps he and Brenda could get another cruising boat in a few years.

This short story prompts a number of observations.

First, note how Bob and Brenda have put their daughters ahead of themselves. It is a tiny indication of the extent to which we as a culture pour our time and treasure into our children. A discouraging amount seems to go for Barbie dolls, Happy Meals and computer games, but at the end, there are young adults capable of doing the most astonishing things. I mean things like sequencing genomes and inventing fiberless optical data links. It is small reminder of how our prosperity depends on our values.

Second, it's a law that scheduled events crowd out unscheduled events. I'm not sure whose law this is. Murphy and Gresham put their names on other laws. Perhaps this one is Vanderwaart's Law. This law is one reason that I am not a big fan of Little League and other sports leagues for children. I especially disapprove of all-star and travel teams. The heavy schedules of practices and games displace other family activities. Every family meal disrupted is an unmeasured social loss. Scheduled events are not all bad, of course. Our Thursday night racing schedule enables me to get out on the water every week.

Peter's 6% boat

Finally, Bob is correct that a boat need not be large and expensive to be satisfactory. I race and daysail in a boat that cost about 6% of the asking price for the used Jeanneau. However, most people want big boats. My unofficial polling indicates that thirty-six feet is about median for new cruising boats here in western Long Island Sound. Even first time boat-buyers feel anything much smaller is squalor, and there aren't many boats similar to Bob's old O'Day 26 being built these days. Granted this is a wealthy area, but a thirty-six foot boat requires a large investment of time as well as money. It's a truism that every sailor wants a bigger boat, but it seems to me that on a typical sailing day most sailors would be better served by a smaller and simpler boat than the one they have.

In the end, there weren't any bidders for Bob's Jeanneau and he took it off the market. He now feels the transaction costs make it more reasonable to keep this boat than to trade down. We're looking forward to a good season.


Editor's Note:  Peter Vanderwaart is the moderator of the Yahoo discussion group on boat design: