Selling Bill Buckley’s Boat

 

Ship-shape at the end of the day ~ Port O’Connor, Texas

More than a home, far more than a means of transportation, the cruising sailboat combines art and engineering, design and construction, ages-old tradition and modern efficiency, all in the service of joining sailors to the sea. Spend enough time with a boat, and you’ll soon gain the sense that, although she may not be human, she most certainly is alive.

For years that liveliness has characterized the relationships I’ve had with boats in my care. Moving about on their decks as easily as I navigate within my own home, I talk to them, occasionally curse them, and eventually come to cherish them.

Given time, I also learn their foibles and their faults. I know which toe rail wasn’t caulked properly during construction. I can point out the soft spot in the decking that indicates water damage, or the creased stainless steel railing that suggests someone arrived at the dock under less than perfect control.

Certainly damage to fiberglass, varnish, or sails keeps a lot of us in business, but every time one of my boats is damaged, it stings just a little. After Hurricane Ike, the sting was nearly unbearable.

Family Time had been lifted up by the storm surge and taken to the grass.

Tranquility crossed a parking lot, then came to rest against a palm tree.

Dockmates Coral Caye and Muriel June survived hours of hitting against one another, with significant, albeit repairable, damage. Legacy, badly bruised, didn’t require a trip to the boatyard, but Gemini had gelcoat issues, and required weeks in the yard to dry out.

Treena simply disappeared, and never was found. Though not precisely lost at sea, she most assuredly had been struck by the hand of the sea.

Of course there are other ways to lose a boat, and over the course of years I’ve seen them all. Poor navigation brings an encounter with the rocks; poor maintenance results in a trip to the bottom. From time to time, customers load their boats onto trucks and take them overland, to other ports of call.

Oddly, of all the ways to lose a boat, selling seems especially painful. When the decision to sell comes as a result of ill-health, changed financial circumstances, or the increasing limitations of age, ambivalence usually makes the process both long and difficult, no matter how small the boat or how prominent the sailor.

I still remember the day I learned Bill Buckley would sell his boat.

For years I’d been dipping intoThe National Review, the journal of conservative thought William F. Buckley, Jr. founded in 1955, and watching his appearances on television’s Firing Line. Throughout those years, Buckley’s lectures, columns, and books made him ubiquitous; whether you agreed with him or not, he couldn’t be avoided.

In the course of being exposed to his opinions, I developed one of my own. Buckley, I decided, was both insufferable and brilliant. Acerbic and bold in his writing, a polemicist at heart and not much given to the sort of subtleties designed to deflect criticism, he wrote like a painter wielding a palette knife: laying on vocabulary, subjunctive clauses, and parenthetical phrases until his meaning began to sink beneath layers of language. Often, I had no idea what he was talking about, but I kept reading and listening.

His distinctive enthusiasms and joie de vivre certainly helped to increase interest in politics and campaigns, drawing in people who might otherwise have remained disengaged. During his 1965 candidacy for mayor of New York City, someone asked Buckley what he would do if he won the election. True to form, he dead-panned, “Demand a recount.”

But Buckley was more than a political iconoclast and sharp-witted pundit. A dependable friend known for unfailing graciousness and wide-ranging interests outside the political world, he was equally well-known as a sailor and lover of the sea.

Like critics in the political realm, sailors often regarded him with disdain. His was the world of yachting, with all the class distinctions that yachting implies, but it was part of the package you had to accept — or at least tolerate — if you were interested in Buckley as sailor.

His first boat was the result of a deal struck between father and son after Buckley’s father decided, in 1938, that he and his two sisters should be schooled in England for a year. Given the strength of Bill’s opposition, his father finally resorted to a little bribery, promising his son that he could have a sailboat when he returned to the States.

As Buckley tells the story, he named that first boat Sweet Isolation as a tribute to his father’s political leanings at the time. It was a 17′ Barracuda class sailboat, and Buckley raced it with all the passion of a Whitbread competitor. Years later, he caught sight of a 1930’s America’s Cup J-Boat, and the slide down the slippery slope began.

In 1954 he became the owner of The Panic, a Dutch-built steel cutter. After nature did her worst to that boat, he moved on to a Sparkman and Stevens Nevins 40 named Suzy Wong. Suzy eventually gave way to Cyrano, a beautiful but extraordinarily large schooner which cost so much to maintain — even by Buckley’s standards — that he came, as all sailors do, to his final boat: the Patito The Spanish diminuitive for duck, Patito happened to be the pet name Buckley and his wife used with one another.

s/v Patito ~ AFP photo, Martin Bernetti

Eventually, the day came to release even Patito.  One circumstance led to another until, as Buckley put it, “the joys of ownership  began to be overcome by the pains of possession.”  In an essay about the decision-making process published inThe Atlantic, he added, “When such things happen,  one can either putter on – or quit.”  His decision was to quit, but, being William F. Buckley, Jr., that was not quite the end of the story. 

With Buckley, no opinion came without added reflection, and his reflection on the decision to sell Patito was especially poignant:

So, deciding that the time has come to sell the Patito, and forfeit all that, is not lightly done, and it brings to mind the step yet ahead, which is giving up life itself.

Eleven years ago, that “step yet ahead” was taken, and decades after I first read Buckley’s words, his voice was silenced. When death comes to a person long admired but never personally known, an individual whose presence loomed large for decades while shaping the lives of innumerable strangers, the experience of grief can be as surprising as it is real.

Combing through the columns and op-ed pieces written after Buckley’s death, reading and listening to the stories and memories shared by those who knew him best, I came across Peggy Noonan’s contribution in the Wall Street Journal, striking in its simplicity and continued relevance:

With the loss of Bill Buckley we are, as a nation, losing not only a great man.  With Bill’s passing,  we are losing his kind — people who were deeply, broadly educated in great universities when they taught deeply and broadly, who held deep views of life and the world and art and all the things that make life more delicious and more meaningful. We have work to do as a culture in bringing up future generations that are so well rounded, so full, and so inspiring.

Perhaps inevitably, Buckley died at his desk, still working vocabulary, phrases, and clauses into his unmistakable prose, even as he contemplated the nature of the path he was traveling.

Thinking about Buckley and Patito, I realize there will come a time in my own life when the boats must be let go: when for one reason or another it will be time to stop puttering, and move on.  When that time comes, and the decision to “forfeit all that” brings to mind an inevitable future, I suspect Bill Buckley also will come to mind: a memorable model for considering all such next steps with courage and grace.

 

Comments always are welcome.

125 thoughts on “Selling Bill Buckley’s Boat

  1. 1. What a vibrant and healthy and happy gal in that first image!
    2. Seeing the images of your beloved boats – through your eyes and words, made me cry! Of course it stings and pinches. I had never thought of that, and you are much more connected to those boats than I am to one of those felled balsas!
    3. Once while climbing the ladder to the ‘private’ entrance to the studio, I thought, “One day this won’t be fun anymore.” I am approaching that time! (The Chikungunya stiffness remains.)

    Beautiful post and inward reflections, Amiga

    1. I’m surprised that the Chikungunya still is affecting you. I hope it’s not too troublesome. Is it like certain malarias, in the sense that it will recur? Or is it simply a slow recovery from the illness?

      I understand those ladder thoughts. There are a couple of things I won’t do any more: varnishing a mast from a bosn’s chair, or balancing on rails to varnish pieces where there are no handholds. When work like that’s required, I simply sub-contract. Otherwise, I’m still strong and flexible enough to do what’s needed, and I’m careful. But I’m not too careful. That can get you in trouble, too.

  2. I fell in love with sailing as a kid, all without having tried it. I suppose I loved the elegance of the boats themselves and romance of going someplace in them.

    My first was a duck boat with sails. I took it out on White Bear lake to put my endless study of how to sail to practical use. Without capsizing I tacked two miles across the lake and looked forward to a long run back. No sooner had I come about then the sky turned orange, then green then a weird blue green tint. Soon sirens sounded and tornadoes appeared. I do not know how fast the wind was blowing but I figure I was drawing about an 1/8 of an inch of water across the lake with the rudder kicking up rooster tails.

    I have sailed since – but never like that.

    I guess it is like a first kiss, something you never forget and never quite experience again.

    1. That’s quite a first sail you had. The image of you hauling across the lake up on plane like some cigarette boat is hilarious. But you’re right. Sailors love those sorts of mettle-testing experiences, and at that point you were a sailor.

      My first offshore sail was similar, thanks to an earlier than expected cold front. We missed Port O’Connor and came in at Port Aransas. If we hadn’t made that, it would have been Port Isabel or Bust. I certainly haven’t forgotten that experience, and nothing’s exceeded it.

  3. Thanks for the visit into one room of your private life; the view of your boats was touching. I agree with you assessment of Bill Buckley. He was noteworthy. One could receive a lesson in his presence.

    1. Sailing and boats have become such an integral part of my life that they’ll pop up unexpectedly, as in this post. The boats are less interesting as pure objects than as characters in every sort of story; the people who own them, compete in them, and travel with them are equally interesting.

      During my college years, Buckley was an introduction to the pleasures of argument: not the snarky, obnoxious and often stupid back-and-forths of today’s social media, but issue-based argument that demanded thought. We could use more of it.

  4. The way you described Buckley’s writing style was pure poetry. “….he wrote like a painter wielding a palette knife: laying on vocabulary, subjunctive clauses, and parenthetical phrases until his meaning began to sink beneath layers of language…” I loved every word of this essay. Buckley and his boats and your passion for working on vessels of this type is an interesting topic and you covered it like the expert that you are.

    1. I confess to very much enjoying that sentence you quoted, Jean. When a good image presents itself, it’s great fun to watch it expand and take on substance. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post, too. It’s been percolating for some time, and just needed some of the deadwood cleared out of it.

      To be honest, there were times when I thought Buckley could have used a good editor — if there were any editor willing to stand up to him. But in the end I never minded that. He was thought-provoking as an essayist, and thoroughly enjoyable as a writer about the sea. It was a great combination. One of my favorite quotations comes from his book, Airborne:

      “I was raised by my father on the doctrine that, for busy people, there is no such thing as a convenient time for a vacation. That being so, my father deduced, take a vacation exactly when you want to, and let the chips fall where they will, since chips are going to fall in any case.”

        1. How nice to have you stop by, Michael. I’m glad you enjoyed the essay, and thank you for following. My blog posts depend solely on what’s caught my attention, so there’s quite a bit of variety. I don’t expect everything to appeal to everyone, but if you find something to enjoy here, I’ll be pleased.

  5. Loved the essay. Read quite a bit to my husband who has always been a Buckley fan! I am sure he would have enjoyed your write up. One can go with grace and yes, gentle into that good night. A reward for a life well lived I think.

    1. Whatever Mr. Buckley’s foibles and faults, as far as I can tell he never raged: not against another person, and not into that good night. It is a gift to live in that way: principled, willing to contest another’s arguments, but never willing to destroy the person who makes them.

      It’s astonishing, really, that so much has changed in our country since his death. Even more has changed since the days when Firing Line was considered must-see tv. Some changes are good, and were necessary. Others could stand a little clear-eyed examination — but that’s a topic for another day.

  6. I agree with all the folks above, excellent essay, first-class writing.
    My dad and granddad talked about watching “Firing Line,” and said Buckley was always so urbane, witty, well-read, and convincing – the poster boy of a consummate intellectual …and yet somehow, they knew they’d end up disagreeing with him on almost every issue. McCarthy, militarism, dictatorships, etc.

    1. One of the best things about remembering Buckley is remembering an era when it still was acceptable to respect someone, but disagree with them in part or in whole. Today, far too many people begin to shriek if they don’t find total agreement with their ideas; rather than debating specific points, they turn to ad hominem attacks, and it’s game on.

      Speaking of witty, here’s one of my favorite Buckley stories:

      During Allen Ginsberg‘s appearance on Firing Line, the poet asked Mr. Buckley’s permission to sing a song in praise of Lord Krishna. According to Richard Brookhiser, quoted by Eric Konigsberg in the New York Times, “Bill was very gentle with him. He said, ‘Of course’… Mr. Ginsberg proceeded to play a long and doleful number on a harmonium, chanting along slowly and passionately. And when he was finished, Bill said, ‘Well, that’s the most unharried Krishna I’ve ever heard.’ ”

  7. A wonderful post, Linda. You have a marvelous gift for storytelling. I always admired Bill Buckley and his ability to craft words into art. You did him proud with this tribute.

    1. I appreciate that, John. If nothing else, exposure to Buckley meant that my compact edition of the Oxford English served as more than a doorstop. He could tack through language as easily as he tacked across oceans, and keeping up with him could be a challenge.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Shimon. It’s always worth taking a bit of time to remember and honor those who’ve influenced our development — even if we weren’t aware of the extent of their influence at the time. My best to you.

  8. Ben was a Buckley fan, and as you may remember, a sailor. He very much enjoyed your lovely essay, as did I.
    I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing the delights of Buckley’s writings as Ben did, but I certainly appreciate the delights of your writing.

    It was nice to see a photo of you and to read personal reflections.

    1. I do remember that Ben was a sailor, and I certainly remember your post about sailing with an injured leg. The details are a little fuzzy now, but your determination then was just as strong as it’s been in the recent past.

      I’m glad you both enjoyed the post. We live so many lives during our span of years, and while boats still are part of my life, sailing’s given way to other things. But Buckley continues to give pleasure, as do memories of days and nights on the water.

  9. What a wonderful essay on Buckley and such a sad scene of all those boats damaged or moved to rest on the land.

    It would have been a very sad sight for their owners after the hurricane left the area.

    1. Simply getting all those boats raised, untangled, and moved was quite a production. It was an odd storm in a way, because the surge that did this damage came from the bay and the lake — not from the ocean. Still, damage is damage. Many of those whose boats were damaged had houses that suffered, as well, and some whose only treasure was a little 14′ fishing boat were just as bereft. But recovery came — just in time for Hurricane Harvey to take everything out again. It’s life on the coast.

  10. Very enjoyable article. We used to live on a street near the water-front of a densely populated inner-city suburb. It had a yacht slipping facility. Above it was a small sail-making factory which employed about a dozen workers, making sails. Small factories and families living happily together worked very well. With huge increases in real estate prices those small businesses have disappeared now. A great pity, but that’s how it is. It’s a different sun that shines above modern families’ lives.

    As for those final years yet to come. They say,’ use it or lose it.’ To remain mobile enough to stay independent and still able to hear bird’s morning song is hopefully possible till the last farewell.

    1. I’ve seen the same sort of changes here. When I began working on boats, there was quite a collection of small sail lofts, independent boat yards, metal-working shops, and chandleries catering to the boating community. Today, a combination of forces — the coming of national chains, governmental regulations, the retirement of many older business people — has led to a far less interesting business environment.

      Still, beneath the slick surface, there’s a community of independent contractors doing everything from rigging to diesel repair to compounding and waxing that keeps the boats (and their owners) happy. None of us mind well-off customers. They keep us in business.

      As for what’s possible in our latter years, I still remember my mother asking her doctor, in my presence, “Just how long is she going to be able to keep doing this?” He grinned at me, and said, “As long as she keeps doing it, she’ll be able to keep doing it.” So far, I’ve proven him right, and that was about fifteen years ago.

  11. Enjoyed this essay very much, Linda. I didn’t know Buckley was a sailor, though I know you are! I liked how you describe his writings and opinions; I like that you read him, even though you found him annoying (I think your word was ‘insufferable’).

    Funnily enough, I grew up on the coast, but have little interest in water, boats, beach; it’s a little weird. I like mountains and big trees. I think I’m in the wrong place.

    1. I’ve never understood people who read or listen only to those with whom they agree. It’s reached such a point today that ‘echo chamber’ seems the perfect description for what’s happening, especially with social media. It’s the triumph of an easy either/or sort of thinking, which can be both boring and dangerous.

      The first time I saw the Gulf of Mexico was a revelation. I knew Minnesota lakes and Iowa rivers, but such big water really captured my imagination. Oddly, it was nearly twenty years and a lot of living before I first set foot on a sailboat, but as soon as I did, I knew I wanted to sail. Had I not begun sailing, I never would have begun working on boats. Strange, how these things work out. It’s even stranger that, despite my time living in places like Salt Lake City, the mountains never appealed to me that deeply. Prairies, yes. I think it’s the horizon that I love.

      1. Well, I agree with you! That said, it is good for our brains and opinions to hear differing views–necessary, I think–though I have to admit to increasing blood pressure at times. :)

        Interesting how our lives change when an unplanned door opens, or in your case, a boat ramp.

  12. “…deeply, broadly educated in great universities when they taught deeply and broadly…” Oh, to have to use the past tense for teaching deeply and broadly… Your sorrow over damaged and lost boats parallels mine over education.

    1. And, as we both know, it’s far easier to repair fiberglass and wood than an entire generation or two. Beyond that, patches don’t work for boats, and they won’t work for education. Rebuilding the structure of a boat or an educational system takes both time and will. Whether we have either is an open question.

  13. I wasn’t a close follower of Buckley. There were of course instances when I saw him on a talk show with people like Dick Cavett. I found him both amusing and annoying. Conversations usually didn’t get very far beyond witticisms. He was a curiosity.

    Boats I knew even less about. Having grown up on the midwest oceans of corn and beans never gave me opportunity to test my sailing mettle. I could guide a tractor, truck, or harvester with wheels firmly on the ground. No need to be concerned about the winds or hidden rocks.

    Is that you with a glass of wine in hand in the top pic?

    1. It occurs to me that I never saw the Dick Cavett show. How that can be, I’m not sure, but he’s only a name to me, with no memories attached. As for Buckley, ‘amusing and annoying’ seem perfectly apt as a description, although I always thought him truly witty, and and curiosity-stirring.

      As a child of the midwest, I never gave a thought to boats, either. I was forty years old before I first set foot on a sailboat: proof, I suppose, that new adventures aren’t only for the young. That is me in the top photo, but I recognize that red cup, and am fairly certain it’s filled with coffee. A glass of wine might accompany a meal at anchor or when docked somewhere, but otherwise we never consumed alcohol: especially not while underway. When I was working charters, guests often drank, sometimes even to excess, but I never did.

      1. I agree about the witty and curiosity-stirring descriptions. I find witty people to be fun. When their wit becomes demeaning or cruel, it turns me off.

        Coffee while at the helm is a good policy. Many many boaters have made awful mistakes drinking while boating.

        I’ve been watching the tide ebb through the Tacoma Narrows this morning. It was at high tide about 6 am. It will reach low about noon some 10 ft below high. The gulls sit and drift then fly upstream and sit and drift some more.

        1. Oh, believe me — I have stories about sailing while drinking. One of the best involves a very well known sailor (now deceased) who set off for a sail in the bay with his girlfriend. When he fell off the boat in a drunken stupor, his girlfriend, who didn’t have a clue how to handle a boat, called his wife to ask what to do. Only the old-timers remember that now, but it was told and retold for years.

          Tides like that always amaze me. Our normal tidal range is between one and two feet, although wind driven tides can be much higher or lower.

          1. I don’t know why he wants to be rid of it. I talked with him not long ago. He said he considered putting rocks in it and sending it adrift to sink. Then thought better of it. He carries the small pieces up the 212 step staircase to the garbage dumpster each time he makes a trip to work in the mornings. He said he was able to carry 10 this morning. Eventually it will be off his deck.

            1. Every sort of storyline could be attached to this one. Who knows? Maybe it was his wife’s boat, and she tired of it, then asked him to dispose of it. Or…

  14. Buckley and Vidal engagements always interested me. Their debate language was fascinating and edifying though could be quite exasperating, too. Delighted in your sailing descriptions prompting me to think with my affinity for Midwest waters I would have enjoyed during my youth living where sailing was prominent. Perhaps in my next life!

    1. Strangely, I never imagined midwestern sailing when I was a kid. Iowa rivers were for fishing, and lakes were for fishing and water skiing. Even when I thought of Lake Michigan, I never would have imagined one of the more famous sailboat races in America taking place there. We were land people, for sure. Some day, I want to see at least Michigan, and maybe all of the Great Lakes, even though my sailing days are behind me.

      Buckley and Vidal could be exasperating, but exasperation’s a far cry from enraged rejection, which is increasingly common. Buckley was interesting as a person, and I was perfectly willing to set aside his occasional pretentiousness and questionable assumptions to hear what he had to say.

  15. I have sailed exactly once. A woman whom I was dating brought me to a marina to go out with her folks and I was quite happy, with a bit of Dramamine, to hop on board. Her father even allowed me to read the compass in a thick fog and guide the boat back to its slip. As exciting as that was, and quite pleasurable to be on the water, I have never sailed again.

    I always admired Buckley although I also rarely agreed with him. But his opinions were so well thought out it was impossible not to admire his thoughts and I wish we still had his type in our political arena today.

    1. Did you not have the chance to sail again, or were there simply other things you preferred to do? Sailing’s not for everyone, just as marathon training or photography isn’t for everyone. Boats certainly turned my life upside down, but in time I was happy enough to let the sailing go. For one thing, sailing’s hard work, especially offshore, which I preferred.

      We’ve lost a lot of good people over the years. Buckley was one of the best, but Tim Russert comes to mind, too, along with Barbara Jordan. I’d just be pleased if people would stop yelling. Whether it’s Chris Matthews on the left or Mark Levin on the right, I can’t tolerate the apparent belief that increased decibels are proof of a better argument.

      1. Yes and yes. The woman and I stayed friends after ending our romantic relationship and the folks liked me well enough. But I get seasick easily so found other ways to be entertained. There is Dramamine but after getting sick whale watching and then being a little queasy on that sailing jaunt I decided I liked solid land better.
        One of the things I dislike about current politics is the lack of bipartisan discussion and the need to keep from the other. I won’t get carried away with particulars but it is quite disheartening to hear some of the ridiculous statements being made by our representatives. I also hate the fact that so many people feel insult and ridicule is the best way to express your differences with someone of different ideas. Too much snark.

    1. You’ve reminded me how much Firing Line could resemble a tennis match. I remember watching Buckley and his guest lob comments back and forth. Every now and then someone would land a good shot, and occasionally you felt like exclaiming, “Game, set, match!” You could watch Buckley think, and it was an amazing thing to witness.

  16. Fascinating story. My son Sam lived on a boat beneath London’s Tower Bridge. He married an Australian. They took their two small children on a six-month trip around the Mediterranean before selling the boat in preparation for returning to Australia.

    1. What an intriguing place to live aboard, Derrick. It must have been a fascinating experience, particularly for the children. I lived aboard for a while in a more conventional marina, but the challenges and delights of that sort of arrangement don’t differ much, no matter the location.

  17. People think one can own a sail boat, but boats have an odd, secret way of anchoring you to them – tying their string of owners and crew firmly like bumpers over the side. We are useful to them, I suppose. Seeing them roughly handled after a storm just makes you weep.
    Appreciate greatly this post on Buckley. Really enjoyed the artist comparison and that quote by Noonan. Seems to me he, his writings, his skills with logic should be a mandated course in senior year of high school and repeated in college. Might make sailing through society and life much more steady.

    1. Your comment about the boats anchoring us to them reminded me of a funny (and true) comment by Lin Pardey: “I grew to judge every purchase by how many bronze screws I could buy for the boat if I didn’t spend on this, or made do without that.” They do become the center of life, and we know them better than we know ourselves.

      Even before Buckley became a household name, we were studying rhetoric, grammar, and logic in school. We certainly weren’t baby Buckleys, and we resisted from time to time, but we didn’t produce blank stares when names like Artistotle or Horace popped up. I’ve been reading David Ferry’s new translation of The Epistles of Horace, and anyone who thinks they’re not relevant might have a surprise waiting. Take these lines, for example:

      “As soon as her wars were over and done with,
      Greece began to sink into triviality,
      Foolish in her good fortune. She burned with passion,
      Now for athletes, now for horses; now
      She fell in love with sculptors and their sculptures,
      Ivory marble, bronze; now she gazed
      At the latest painter’s painting, out of her mind
      With rapture…
      She was like a little child importuning
      Her nurse to give her something that she wants,
      And throwing it aside as soon as she has it.”

      Sound like any society you know?

  18. The above suggestion of mandating a course on Buckley’s writing is a very good one. I despair at the shallowness of today’s society and wonder what will become of people when all of the grownups are gone.
    This is a wonderful photo of you! You look perfect on that boat. Yes, I can certainly understand how it would hurt to see your boats get harmed, and especially to see them sold. It reminds me of the exchange between Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly, when he is telling her he is planning to sell their first boat. “To that fat old RUMPOT?!” she exclaims.
    Oh, and the ache of letting things once important, go. The illness I told you about made butterfly monitoring no longer fun, or really, even possible. I’d swung my net for over 20 years and suddenly, it was time to hang it up. I still keep it there, in my studio.

    1. The line about the fat old rum-pot appeared in Philip Barry’s original play, “The Philadelphia Story,” in which Katharine Hepburn played the female lead. Much of the dialog was carried over intact in the movie “High Society” that you referred to.

    2. One of the most remarkable tales of what happens when all the grownups are gone is William Golding’s novel, Lord of the Flies. There are times when I see the various mobs in our society as disturbingly similar to the boys in that book — when they’re not reminding me of the protagonists in the Salem witch trials.

      I’ve toyed with the idea of scanning some photos from my sail from Hawaii to Alaska. Two of my favorite sailing photos are from that trip. In one, I’m at the helm as we make landfall at Cross Sound, and in the other, I’m sitting on the stern of the boat about two days out of Kauai, doing my nails and thinking, “Maybe this was a pretty good idea, after all.”

      It can be hard to let things go, but sometimes it’s just part of a natural evolution. A line from one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett songs says, “every stop there’s a place to start,” and I’ve found that to be true over and over again: even in the most difficult circumstances. It seems as though your painting’s been a wonderful new start for you, despite the changes that illness brought.

      1. How thrilling that trip must have been. I hope you do share those photos~I’d love to see them.
        You’re absolutely right about that. New things wash up on your shore. All you have to do is be still and keep your eye peeled. And, this spring I’m feeling stronger than I have in years. Hooray!

  19. Having been brought up in the land of silver-tongued Celts, and spent much of my growing up in and out of boats of varying degrees of soundness and decrepitude, I loved this post, Linda. And – we seem culturally to be losing the ability to respond to the whole of a person, appreciating the parts that inspire us, and gliding past the rest. How diminished we are becoming as a consequence: all the more important to cherish the memory of the Bill Buckleys of this world.

    1. It’s so true, Anne. We used to allow for and even cherish complexity; differences; variety. Today, lockstep is the name of the game: uniformity of thought is demanded, and any sign of disagreement is considered heresy. It’s a sad state of affairs. The kind of reductionism you’ve written about in your field is becoming more common in society at large; the content might differ, but the dynamic’s much the same.

      Thank goodness for the winds and the sea, and for the clear-headed, cleared-eyed ones that remain among us. We need them, badly.

  20. Growing up in the Midwest among corn and soybean fields, I had little chance to sail a boat. In fact, the only boat I personally recall was a fishing boat my dad insisted on way back when. I laugh recalling his comment, ‘The two best days of boat ownership are the day you get one and the day you sell it!’

    Loved your photos and tribute to Buckley, as well as Peggy Noonan’s comments. Something tells me that, despite the proliferation of information available to practically everyone everywhere, we’re only scratching the surface nowadays and failing to dig deep enough for the real meat.

    1. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard say exactly what your dad said. Sometimes, they say it over and over, as they buy one boat after another. Of course, the truth is that even an aluminum fishing boat or a little sailing dinghy can inspire as much affection as even a grand yacht — and maybe more.The size doesn’t matter for the truth of Rat’s words from The Wind in the Willows to hold true: “there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

      I think you’re right about the lack of depth. Part of the issue may be that thinking has gone out of style. It’s so much more satisfying to throw up a meme or issue a snarky response. Sometimes today’s public discussions remind me of my childhood’s schoolyard, where insults like “So’s your old man” or “Your mother wears combat boots” were as sophisticated as we got.

  21. A marvelous piece of erudition, narration, and nostalgia. We, too, miss Bill Buckley’s prose, full of thought, care, and wit. The giving up of our wishes and whims, hobbies and loves as they fall to the aging process is indeed full of a swallowing bravery.

    1. It doesn’t surprise me that you miss Buckley. I’m glad you found this an enjoyable reminder of what he offered during his life. As for the changes that come with age, they’re inevitable. You’ve been lucky to have a few people around you who know how to deal with them with grace, humor, and a good bit of courage.

      1. Yes. and you too, it seems from your writing. Kayti continues to astound despite vision and health issues. She turned 91 on the 4th. And yes, my mother will always be a beacon of courage for me. I am grateful for her lessons in courage. My practice of staying in the present moment is becoming more vital as the years go by. Your amazing writing with depth and style, not to mention fascinating content, continues to inspire many.

  22. You may have to sell the boat, but with any luck, you get to keep the memories.

    Vocabulary. I’ve decided I’m going to quit down-sizing. I’ve decided to cull instead. Downsizing is reducing the amount. Culling is getting rid of the stuff that doesn’t matter and keeping the best.

    1. There are at least a couple of advantages to memories that I can think of. They don’t take up much space, and they don’t have to be dusted.

      Your distinction between culling and downsizing made me smile. I’ve got a post on the back burner that’s partly concerned with the distinction between collecting and accumulating. It’s a different way of considering the same issues. I’m not sure Marie Kondo would approve of either of our approaches.

      Here’s a question: is the increasing use of emoji (emojis?) the natural result of linguistic downsizing? My impulse is to say yes, but it’s a question I’m still pondering.

  23. What a beautiful post. How I enjoyed it. Here’s to you working with your beloved boats for years to come. How sad seeing all those boats damaged by the hurricane. Loved the pic of you!xxx

    1. One thing to keep in mind is that all of these boats are insured. It certainly doesn’t remove the sting, but it makes repair or replacement somewhat easier. The people who really suffer are the shrimpers, fishermen, and such who just get by, and often don’t insure their boats. When they suffer damage, recovery is much harder.

      I hope I have years of working left. I do enjoy it, despite the frustrations that can come: weather, especially.

    1. Was it the heeling over of the larger boat you didn’t like? It took me a while to get used to that after beginning to sail on a catamaran, which stays upright. But offshore, the bigger the better, in my book. At least, somewhat bigger. I always preferred about a 36′ or 38′ boat, which I could handle by myself if the rest of the crew went overboard!

    1. I think we all wish for more of his kind. He was perfectly willing to destroy an argument, and obviously delighted in doing so. But he never destroyed a person, and that seems an unfortunate goal of too many, today.

  24. Interesting photos of wrecked boats. I imagine you have seen more than a few, in your life along the coast. I also imagine that seeing the results of the storms was more than depressing.

    I remember watching Buckley on various television shows as he was expounding on politics and other topics. He was quite conservative and an intellectual and opinionated or at least that is how I viewed him. He also seemed to be a stuff shirt but perhaps in private life, he was very different.

    1. There’s certainly enough distress to go around after a storm, but I can’t remember ever being depressed by one. I suppose part of that’s due to the fact that there’s just so much to be done. There can be frustration, anger, and confusion about what to do next — even paralysis in the beginning — but things do sort themselves out. It usually takes longer than anyone wants, of course, but that’s often life in general.

      I can understand thinking of Buckley as a stuffed shirt, but he never seemed like that to me. One thing I admired about him was that he seemed to be the same person in private as well as in public. He certainly did have strong opinions, but even those who disagreed with him on almost every issue admitted he could make his case convincingly. Best of all, he seemed willing to listen to every side of an issue, even when he disagreed with the position being presented. We could use a little more of that today.

  25. I love passion, Linda, and your passion for boats has been obvious to me since I read your first post. That and your passion for words. And your curiosity. There is no doubt you live life to the fullest. Nice photo, BTW. –Curt

    1. Funny that it was my introduction to sailboats that taught me ‘love at first sight’ is a reality. Passion’s the right word, I suppose — although there’s nothing very romantic about an offshore slog in 40 knots, or sweating to the oldies in midsummer. But that implies the same sort of movement that exists in any good relationship — from passion (or intrigue, or interest) to commitment.

      I once said something to my mother about my curiosity. She just looked at me and said, “Yes, you’re curious, all right.” I have a feeling we weren’t exactly on the same wave length with that word.

      1. Laughing about your mom, Linda. I suspect that she said it with a certain amount of fondness and sense of humor.
        When Peggy and I first ‘fell’ for each other, we had a certain amount of maturity behind us. We decided to let the passion run its full course, knowing that time would soften some of the more intense feelings. It has both mellowed and matured, but it is still there. –Curt

  26. I love the ocean….but from the shore. The thought of being out on that powerful eternity of waves has never been something I wanted to do. I watched Titanic…didn’t care much for the ending! LOL. However, you make it sound so natural and exciting, that if I lived closer, you might be able to take me out for a short sail!

    1. A pleasant afternoon on the bay is delightful, and I’d love to take you. One of the best things about that kind of sailing is that you can pick your time. If it’s going to be too rainy, or too windy, or too ‘anything,’ you just stay on shore until conditions are better. That’s why friends who’ve circumnavigated have taken so long, and been so safe. They’re smart enough to wait for the right conditions to make a passage. None of us wants to end up like the Titanic, after all!

  27. How nice to read this today, after just returning from sanding the deck of Santa Maria. We are planning on painting it before she goes into Hamilton Harbour on May 3. Weather is a bit of a complication since marine paints want it a bit warmer than today’s high of 12 degrees Celsius! But we are keeping our fingers crossed.

    I loved learning more about Buckley, whom I only know by reputation. A well reasoned argument in any direction is a joy to read, I find. Perhaps these days will return. We can only hope. In the interim, the water continues to call us to test ourselves, to expand our horizons, and to learn to weather storms, of all sorts. I’m glad to know that your boats did exactly that, with a little loving help. And yes, I look forward to reading of your Hawaii to Alaska trip!!

    1. Sure enough, you’re just under the line. I’ll varnish down to 7 or 8 Celsius if the humidity’s low or the winds’ up, but all painting stops around here below about 15C. I just peeked at your forecast, and it seems you could stand for it to be a bit drier, too.

      Buckley’s books about his sailing life are interesting, but it’s a different sort of sailing. Of course, we all read things like Fastnet, Force Ten even though we’ll never be doing that sort of sailing, so there’s that. The sea-writer I really enjoy is Tristan Jones. He’s a yarn-spinner of the first order, and can play fast and loose with the facts, but he’s still one of the best. I quoted him in another comment, but I’ll add the same quotation here, just because I know it will resonate for you:

      “The sea knows nothing of money or power.
      She knows only loyalty and audacity and determination and courage,
      and, by God, you knows an unthinking, unseeing fool when she encounters one.

      She knows awareness,
      she knows patience,
      she knows staunchness,
      she knows foresight:
      yet she knows nothing of man’s longing for riches or fame,
      or even of his efforts to overcome or thwart her.

      She gives an illusion of freedom,
      but in reality she demands restraint, caution, self-discipline,
      and a deep belief in the grace of God.

      If we have none of these precious attributes when we join her,
      we shall have them when we have known her for any length of time,
      or we will be defeated or dead.”

  28. I do not know much about Buckley, and I know even less about boats, but this essay certainly made a connection with my life on this little ranch, especially lately. For the last several years, many experiences have caused me to consider how many things change as we mature. I have begun my own downsizing of work and realize I cannot keep up with what Mother Nature presents. A foolish, younger woman thought she could compete. I have learned to respect Mother Nature, and I embrace what she’s shown me. Sometimes it is about a challenge and moving forth, but certainly, there also comes that time to “forfeit all that”, and move along.

    Brilliant essay, Linda. You always seem to send just what I need at the time.

    1. The way you describe your experience of trying to compete with Mother Nature, and then learning that respect and cooperation with what she offers is a wiser course, seems so similar to what sailors have to learn, I’m smiling. In fact, you sent me off to look for my sailing scrapbook, and this quotation from Tristan Jones. He was a rogue and a liar, as well as being a great writer and crack sailor, but he could speak truth. Substitute “nature” for “sea,” and I think you’ll find his words ringing true:

      “The sea knows nothing of money or power.
      She knows only loyalty and audacity and determination and courage,
      and, by God, you knows an unthinking, unseeing fool when she encounters one.

      She knows awareness,
      she knows patience,
      she knows staunchness,
      she knows foresight:
      yet she knows nothing of man’s longing for riches or fame,
      or even of his efforts to overcome or thwart her.

      She gives an illusion of freedom,
      but in reality she demands restraint, caution, self-discipline,
      and a deep belief in the grace of God.

      If we have none of these precious attributes when we join her,
      we shall have them when we have known her for any length of time,
      or we will be defeated or dead.”

  29. Wow. Peggy Noonan’s tribute to Bill Buckley is quite a statement!
    So that’s you in the photo. So sad to see the beautiful boats all tossed around. With Mother Nature, we just accept whatever she offers. You love the water and boats like I love the backroads.

    1. I’ve always enjoyed reading Peggy Noonan, even when I disagreed with her, and I thought that tribute was perfect: not only an acknowledgement of his virtues as a person, but also as a reminder that we all could stand to be a little more virtuous ourselves.

      You’re right about accepting what nature offers. I was thinking about that recently as I drove past newly-plowed fields and around huge pieces of farm equipment on the highway. We’ve had so much rain that even yard tractors were getting stuck. As soon as the fields dried out enough to get plows and disks into them, everyone was working, and greatly relieved to be able to do so.

      I certainly do love water and boats, but I’ve come to be a bit of a backroad lover, too. As a friend and I often say to one another, we’re glad for our time with the boats, and we’re glad to have left them behind — at least, as sailors.

  30. I thoroughly enjoyed this essay on boats, Linda, as well as the undercurrent on life and the storms we endure, and the cycles that are life. Enjoyed your descriptions of Buckley as well. Your writing is a true pleasure to read–smooth and deep and poignant. Many thanks.

    1. Like life, my writing has its good days and its bad, but I ended up being quite fond of this piece, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. You’ve had your own share of disaster in the recent past, and the similarities in recovering from both hurricanes and fire have occurred to me more than once. Lessons on learning to let go come in a variety of forms — it’s best that we begin learning them sooner rather than later!

      Thanks so much for visiting and commenting, Jet. I always enjoy your presence here.

  31. I realize that Buckley was a multifaceted man, and some of those facets were endearing or even admirable. And yet for me, I cannot get past the ugliness of many of the political views he proclaimed. Sorry you have gone through so many trials with your boats, I look forward to more posts on this topic.

    1. I suppose in the end we all have views or personal characteristics that others struggle to get past, and Buckley’s views, if not a scandal and and offense, at least were a stumbling block for a lot of people. I came to him early, long before politics of any sort was a concern for me, and my early admiration for him was grounded primarily in his use of language. I used to watch Firing Line with my dad, who was given to word play himself, and we delighted in what Buckley could do with the English language. Later, when my views of Buckley became more nuanced, that still was something I enjoyed.

      I’ve secured boats for more storms than I can count. We’re lucky that, in most cases, the need for repairs is far less than it was for Ike. Most of the time the pleasure outweighs the pain, and I’ll try to show some of that, too.

  32. Loss, and letting go. Your combination of the stories (and images) of loss and destruction with the Buckley story is an artful one. Catastrophic damage is one thing, leaving a way of life is another. Buckley was letting go of ownership, the (rich) yacht-owner way of life. He didn’t have to give up sailing. A different kind of ache than a loss from a catastrophe.

    He was a remarkable man, articulate, cultured – he was a musician as well. I remember hearing him play Bach on the harpsichord.

    1. Buckley’s love of music didn’t belong in this post, but it was another important aspect of his life, and I’m glad you mentioned it. I found a delightfully informative article online that included such details as the inscription on top of his harpsichord (“Shame on anyone who plays me badly”) and the fact that when sailing, he practices on a Casio keyboard.

      In truth, letting go is part of our experience from our earliest years. I suspect few remember the experience of releasing a parent’s hand in order to take those first independent steps, but from that point on, a willingness to let go is critical to moving forward, in every sort of situation.

  33. The pictures and tales of your boats grounded, broken, lost — so painful to see and read about! No matter how sturdy, it seems that a boat’s proper place is to be surrounded by smooth liquid or at worst, drydocked on pieces of carpet. When your friends are knocked about so… Ouch!

    I did love Bill Buckley and read one of his books in which there was a long passage about sailing. Though I’ve never been a sailor or boat person, it was a thoroughly enjoyable and fascinating read. I found most of his non-fiction to be engaging, and I recall his reputation as a model of civil discourse, the sort that I think G.K. Chesterton was known for, in that his good friends included many people whose political views were diametrically opposed to his.

    He was still writing some of the magazine when my father gave me a subscription to National Review way back. I almost didn’t care what the contributors were writing about, it gave me so much joy to read the prose in that magazine, which had a lighthearted tone to it even when on serious subjects. But most of all it was the literary ability of the various writers. I feel certain there are fewer of that sort nowadays, and it makes me sad in a different way from the boat wreckage.

    1. We’re accustomed to hearing about ‘fish out of water,’ but a boat out of water is in the same, entirely difficult, situation. Boats on the hard always remind me of beached whales. I swear they sigh with the same relief as their owners when they’re safely afloat again.

      Civil discourse is increasingly uncommon today, there’s no doubt about that. Part of the problem is that shortened attention spans aren’t conducive to complexity of thought or expression. We hardly have time for complete sentences these days. In Buckley’s time, ‘text’ was a noun rather than a verb, and it’s more than amusing to contemplate him in an age of emojis.

      It is a fine experience to encounter good writing, and I’ve found myself less satisfied over the years with publications I used to devour. But there still are people who care, and some of them provide lighthearted advice of their own. Although I don’t issue tweets myself, I do follow a few people on Twitter. One, who goes by the name Henry W. Fowler, offers critiques to writers on a regular basis. This is his latest, offered to USA Today:

      “Dear editors: When what your writers mean is friendship, agreement, alliance, mutual admiration, or accord, do us readers a favor and strike all uses of the asinine portmanteau ‘bromance’.”

      It’s almost as though Buckley’s ghost is lurking about.

  34. I just left a comment introducing myself. I have to chime in on this discussion. Many years ago my wife and I were involved in a local political action. The two people coordinating it were pause a party politically: one of them described himself as somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun and the other one described himself as definitely to the left of Marx. Despite this vast political difference they were inseparable best friends. This seems to be missing in what I somewhat ironically refer to as society these days.

    1. Reading your comment, I was reminded of another unlikely pair: Mary Matalin and James Carville. I don’t come across them as often as I used to, but they still show up here and there, offering some much needed wisdom for our uncivil society.

      Despite his identification with the political realm, it seems to me that Buckley also stands as a reminder that there’s more to life than politics. Important as the issues of the day may be, a visit to a gallery, a concert, or a few hours with a good book never is wasted time, and it may even lower the blood pressure.

      1. Thank you very much for the link. It was an enjoyable read. I believe Buckley was first in foremost a gentleman. Not many of them around anymore…

        Life exists in an infinite variety of directions, areas, and interests. Today my wife and I are exploring and photographing the superbloom on Carrizo Plain. Watch my blog later this week or early next for photos.

  35. I have no doubts boats feel very much alive, and thus I also believe it’s hard to part from a boat that one has shared many moments with. But of course, that day comes to all of us, when we have to let go, whether a boat or other parts of life.

    1. That’s so true, and it’s interesting to me that every sort of object can evoke the same mix of emotions. One of the reasons older people experience such pain when it comes time to begin culling possessions in order to downsize their living space is just that: they’ve shared a lot of life with objects that others might consider valueless.

    1. What’s most interesting about the photos from this marina is that although the winds were involved, it was an odd sort of storm surge that created the havoc. This place is miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, but it sits between a lake and Galveston Bay, and it was a tremendous surge of water heading toward the bay from the lake that did most of this damage. A well-secured boat can survive the winds, but the water is something else.

      In fact, there’s a saying down here that’s both common and true: “Hide from wind, run from water.”

    1. The good news is that sailing generally doesn’t involve damaged boats. People who push the limits, or don’t pay attention, or don’t do their boat maintenance can run into problems, but there are thousands of boats around here that never see anything worse than scratched fiberglass or a torn sail. If you ever have the chance to sail, take it! It’s wonderful to be on the water, and relaxing as can be. (Well, except when it isn’t — but we get the best stories from those times.)

  36. What a lovely piece on both boats and Buckley. I remember when my dad sold the various boats we had when I was a kid … always sad days, but he was usually selling in order to buy again in that same domino effect you mention in your story! We could have used you one fall when the boat was apparently not attached well enough to the hitch when my dad was moving the boat into dry dock (we lived up north, and the lakes would freeze). As he was driving down the highway, he saw a large, white “vehicle” begin to pass him on the right; he slowed down to look and saw with horror that it was the boat. Just when he thought it couldn’t get any worse, the boat swerved into a car dealer’s display of vehicles on the side of the road … That was our last boat. Well, my brother had caught the bug and still has boats, but my dad was done.

    I loved your early line about boats being alive. I didn’t notice this much as a kid, but when I spent that week cruising around the Madagascar islands last summer with a friend, I certainly felt the body and spirit of Amandla day and night. It’s easy to see how humans fall in love with their watercraft!

    1. Oh, my. What a story. On the other hand, it wasn’t only an experience for your dad. I listen to the hunting and fishing show that’s on 610AM four days a week, and I’ve heard similar stories from the fishing guides: boats that get loose, trailers that lose wheels — even discovering that one of the kids has tied two boats together, and you’re dragging two boats down the road. Have a boat, and you’ll have stories; that’s a given.

      One of the bits of wisdom that seems counter-intuitive is to stay with the boat when things go horribly wrong. As the wise ones say, the boat will take care of you — and I think that’s right. It’s not a one-way relationship, as strange as that sounds to some.

  37. I especially appreciated this post. My experience with Buckley’s mind was a lot like yours. He both baffled and intrigued me. I could be exasperated or even infuriated, but I couldn’t stay away. I watched “Firing Line” regularly, ran his column in my paper, and read his books. I felt bad for him when he was betrayed by the murderer Edgar Smith whom Buckley had publicly defended.

    1. I’d forgotten the Edgar Smith case, but found it in the NY Times archives. I’d always thought that Buckley was one who was able to combine a sharp, discerning mind with a natural inclination to believe the best of people, and I can see some of that in the Smith saga.

  38. I thought I loved Ginsberg.’s poetry until I attended one of his readings and heard his stumbling-voice style of talking, and watched him do the chant thing seated cross-legged on the floor,  and cringed as he intoned his lines as if they were swooping birds. But actually I do like –appreciate, respect, enjoy– much of his poetry, still.  On the page.

    I disliked  B.Buckley’s teeth-gritting grin on the tv screen, his routinely tousled forelock and off-center necktie, the whole understated style topped off with the rocket-shot questions fired as if casually, second thoughts, conversation starters not debate topics. But his ideas, when I got to them later, in writing, meant a lot then. Even more now.

    So your describing the two of them together brought back memories, some of them uncomfortable.  (I had tricked myself with visual and auditory impressions.) But I really liked your summary of B.B.’s sailing activities. Great stuff. A contribution to our cultural history and a reminder that artists, writers, leaders all might have personal interests which probably enrich their work in the long run, and which could make possible but also confine their intensity of mission they experience.

    1. Your comment about Ginsberg cracked me up. Back in the 1960s he came to the University of Northern Iowa and gave a reading there. I don’t remember any chanting, and I think he was sitting on a chair, but that wasn’t the oddest thing about the evening. Once it was over, some of us went to a Holiday Inn coffee shop near the campus for late night coffee and pie. We looked over, and there was Ginsberg, sitting by himself in a booth. Brave beyond our years, we did go over and thank him for his reading, but that was about it.

      I thought Buckley was just fine — I never noted the personal affectations. (Perhaps they weren’t affectations at all, of course.) Even at that age I could see some similarities between Buckley and the member of our high school debate team I most admired, so that probably played into it. It’s hard to imagine now we were debating such topics as RESOLVED: That Red China Should Be Admitted to the United Nations — but we were, and Buckley helped us learn to think our way through those thorny issues.

      1. No,  they probably were not affectations. My comment came from remembered feelings, long gone yet tempting to revisit..

        I also had associated Buckley, much later, with at least one member of the debate team in our high school. We were classmate’s competing for recognition. When he and I reconnected a few years after he had graduated from Princeton with an impressive degree, he actually looked and talked a bit like Buckley. I suspected my friend was after an image, one that I was excluded from. It was an easy step to conclude that Buckley himself was using that same image to enhance his appeal among the eastern college set. Wrong, but an easy trap to fall into. I shouldn’t have done it again in my comment.

        I made similar judgments about Ginsberg. Similar reason, I think. Or it simply may have been a way of moderating my admiration for his work

        (Funny that I would have picked up on the Ginsberg/Buckley story when I returned to add a comment some days after reading through everything. There’s so much more to your post.)

        1. I smiled at your comment that “I suspected my friend was after an image.” Some time after starting this blog, and after reading a good number of ‘writing’ blogs, I came to the conclusion that there are people in this world who enjoy being thought of as ‘writers’ more than they enjoy the act of writing itself. Afternoons in a sweet little café with a moleskin notebook and a Montblanc pen make for a wonderful image, but so much self-consciousness doesn’t aid the development of a poem or an argument.

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