|Joshua Slocum - Leadin' the Way|
Took this li'l fixer-upper round the world
I got an Old Fat Boat, she's slow but handsome --
Hard in the chine, soft in the transom --
I love her well!
She must love me,
Though sometimes I think its for my money!
-- from Gordon Bok's Old Fat Boat
Crank Boats and the Cranks Who Love Them
It used to be, tucked away in cove and backwater or moored along the far end of otherwise respectable harbors, one could find boats and persons of interest. Crank boats and the cranks who love them.
Cranks exuded personality.
Crank boats were strange and wondrous of line, often fantastic of rig. They had been built or converted or repaired or transformed, by steady and patient labor, to match the visions of some dreamer. Their pedigrees were dubious, mutted beyond all classification. Each a bold statement of individuality. Each a leap away from the mundane. Ex-centric.
Invention and experiment were casually strewn about, aloft and alow. Solutions by those long of need and short of pocket. Improvisation, makeshift and found-art the rule.
Form may have fit function in obvious albeit unfamiliar harmony. Or cross-purposes, inscrutable to the uninitiated, might jar the beholder.
Previous incarnations – as a ship's lifeboat, a painter's punt or fishboat – glimmered through overlays of ingenuity, hinting of past lives.
Their paint might have needed renewal, their rigging could stand tuning, moss or even grass might have found a foothold. Plank and timber may have relaxed, here and there, succumbing to entropy's lullaby.
Someone invested themselves in these vessels. Someone loved them. Created them in their own image.
Like their craft, those someones were a crank lot.
Often gimpy or missing bits... teeth gone awry or just plain gone... knurled by a life of hard knocks... piercing eye(s) squinting through clouds of smoke... gruff and squally of temperament.
They generally had nothing better to do than offer a drink and an afternoon's worth of pleasant company. Stories to tell and lives to recall. Big ideas and small. Horizons to cross once the Old Girl was brought back into shape. Any day now.
Mostly single men, but sometimes not. They formed a community who knew and looked after one another. Welcomed and mentored new-comers, young and old.
There is challenge and pleasure to a crank boat, mostly lost to a generation of sailors with standards. Who expect much of their toys. Even the renaissance in traditional boat-building often demotes tradition to dogma. Takes innovation for heresy.
A crank boat is created by warm-blooded hands to convictions personally felt and lived. Even second or third hand, it sings a siren song to seduce a kindred spirit. But somewhere along its way, someone with a soul cared enough to breath life into her.
Crank boats have personality. You've got to learn their ways and humor them. Maximize strengths and work around weaknesses. Most everyone loves their boat. Crank boats are loved passionately.
Why? What is it about imperfection that inspires true love where perfection palls?
I think the answer lies in intimacy, in the partnership which crank boats demand.
They are not turn-key. They won't settle for 'pride of ownership', that smug and shallow glow from having the sense and means to make a fine purchase. They didn't roll off some assembly-line perfected by specialists.
With a crank boat, you have to earn your pride. Overcome challenge and obstacle. Apply will, wit and wisdom to deficit and obstacle. Work the angles, break a sweat. Pick up a few scars.
Crank boats teach us to think outside the box. We learn from them, their lessons arriving without syllabus. They demand the best from us, and we love them for it.
When we buy a factory boat, we so often fit ourselves to them. Reduce ourselves to the dull mean for whom they have been designed. Our creativity is exhausted in the choice of colors, fabric or accessories drawn from a narrow list of 'options'. We convince ourselves that we are now among the Beautiful People who inhabit glossy advertisements. Worse, perhaps, is that it becomes true – that our lives become a photo-thin imitation of happiness.
Take a walk, now, down the docks among the gleaming extrusions. If anyone's aboard at all, how often are they polishing chrome to a glister of glare? Or washing salt spray from their topsides, as if their boat was allergic to the sea? How many have a morning or afternoon to while away? How many have even a story to tell?
Hmm. I'm being a bit hard and less than accurate, here. But you know what I mean.
The cranks are mostly gone, whether afloat or afoot. Pushed and priced and fined and impounded and scuttled and land-filled from the public harbors and corners of the sea. 'Cleaned up', as if we weren't talking about a person. A home.
Who gives a fig for vagabonds with their eye-sore fleet of derelicts?
I miss 'em.