Places we visit frequently have a way of developing themes. After awhile you begin to expect the particular feature of a place to show up as surely as the deep bass notes in a movie involving man-eating sharks. Sometimes you don’t really notice until you look at the photographic record. When I lived in central Pennsylvania a favorite haunt of mine was Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut. There was always plenty to see and do and I stopped in whenever I was in the area. Like most museums they offer memberships that get you in the gate cheaper and access to programs not available to the general public.
One of the best bene’s for a Mystic member is the annual Member’s day. I attended several times and had a blast. I got to sleep on board the Joseph Conrad and climb the rigging. Member’s were given access to the storage sheds where they kept a variety of watercraft owned by the museum but are not on full-time display. A lot of the boats stay in storage because of condition and space considerations. it was a fascinating look behind the scenes.
I was a highly motivated shutterbug in those days. Many of my photos have been lost to me because of dramatic changes in my personal life several years ago. I came across a pile of photos from my rambles in New England circa the 1980’s. Naturally, Mystic visits were included and most of them featured boats – catboats. There are plenty of other types to be seen all over the museum grounds and in the water. Never-the-less the existence of the theme can’t be denied.
Confession is good for the soul making this a therapy moment for me. I freely admit to a genuine affection for this plain and simple type of boat. It’s a bit like saying you really dig Mennonite chicks. here we have a design that boils wind driven propulsion down to one generous stretch of canvas on a single, usually rather short, mast. The numerous Cape Cod style craft are none too slim and feature a rudder that could steer a Buick Roadmaster. On the other hand (the one pulling hard against a hefty weather helm) This boat is a quintessential American classic. It’s rough character speaks of the thrifty ethics and plain speaking nature of the native Yankee.
It was my pleasure to watch The seaport’s recreation of the type in the form of the Breck Marshall. Workshops centered around her building were inspirational and informative. Her launching was held on one of the Member’s days and on a later occasion I was pleased to be able to go for a sail.
Sailing a catboat is uncomplicated and very low on stress as long as you reef early and leave the day planner and your Blackberry at home. If you are lucky enough to go cruising the accommodations will surprise you. Because of their generous beam catboats pack more space between the stem and sternpost than most boat types. Huge cockpits are the norm. When I see a catboat resting solidly at it’s mooring Shaker furniture comes to mind. The lack of pretension is at odds with all we know of modern fashion. Inherent in the form is a purity of purpose that makes this an enduring watercraft which will never go out of style.