Novelist | Singer
The other day my husband bought a boat. This is not an unusual occurrence in my house. It was actually expected, since we were without a sailboat, which for us, is like being without a car for most people. We’ve been married 20 years, and in that time, he’s bought 7 or 8 boats, which numbers vary if you count inflatables and other small crafts. Most of these boats have been purchased without my knowledge, but he’s a boat- and car-buying expert, so I don’t stress anymore when he says, “Wait ‘til you see the boat I bought you!” over the phone. And we both know who he bought it for.
This newest one is small – a trailerable 18’ Precision shoal draft centerboard sailboat. A very cute boat – and as it turns out, quite a sailer. We went on a sail yesterday for hours and hours. It was that much fun. We covered every inch of Gloucester Harbor, the outer harbor, inner harbor, even up Smith Cove, which takes some focus. The wind was just perfect for a small sailboat, not too much, but just enough to move us right along. It was just what I needed to recover from the reviews I read the other day before going for that first sail. I scared the shit out of myself. Several reviews on-line cited instances of how easily this boat goes over and immediately turtles. For those who are not familiar with the term, it’s something you never, ever want to experience on purpose. To “turtle” in sailing means that the boat goes completely over with the mast sticking straight down into the water so that the hull looks like a turtle. We have turtled little boats before, seriously little ones that will pop up if stand on the rail and then the centerboard to right the boat. Not a big deal, though everything in the boat gets wet. Which is exactly why dry bags were invented.
My mind went all over the place – isn’t that what happens to writers? Seeing the boat slap down on the water with one mighty gust, then in slow motion, the mast sinking out of sight into the cold green water, lines snaking down to the depths. No life jackets, and the temperature of this north Atlantic water can kill you in minutes. And it’s all over.
So for the shakedown cruise last week it was a bit gusty and I was nervous the whole time, just waiting for the boat to flip on its side and turtle within seconds. Of course it didn’t happen, and afterward, I started thinking about the fact that Al and I are good sailors – heck, we’ve gone something like 10,000 miles, and some of that was really rough – I’ll tell about those at some later date. Our first cruiser Offbeat had a Universal 4-Cylinder gas engine that was barely reliable. Sometimes it would run, and sometimes, it wouldn’t. Sometimes it would just die for no reason. Not a desirable situation, but boy, you sure learn how to sail a boat under those conditions.
After that first shakedown, I went to the Net and read the real stuff about the Precision 18. Turns out it was designed by a naval architect, Jim Taylor, who lives in Marblehead, right around the corner! What a perception changer that was. I was all set for yesterday’s sail, minus the scary reviews, more confident in my own skills and the boat’s potential.
And we had a great sail. When she started to heel (that is sailing jargon for tipping over), I just held my own and let the boat do her stuff. We learned a lot yesterday.
What’s the lesson?
An old lesson, for sure. DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU READ.
Reviews are only opinions, and we know everyone has at least one of those. Who knows who was sailing that boat that turtled? It might’ve been a novice sailor. He also had his 84 year-old father-in-law in the boat. Probably just a series of bad choices all around, and so the boat flipped over.
I’m not implying that our boat will never go over. I’m going to try to prevent that, but it could happen, and then, I’ll know what to do, because I’ve done this before.
A review is only marginally useful, because it is simply the opinion of one person, who might’ve just had a bad episode with their spouse which included slamming doors and very loud “conversation.” This counts for all types of reviews, too, not just sailboats.
Here’s part of the first review I got for my novel The Frenchman: “From the beginning of this fantastic novel through to the end, it holds you on the edge of your seat, not letting go…. for anything.”
I was sooooooooo excited. Oh, it’s going to be good, it’s going to be good, as my eyes flew down the page through all the words, then screeched to a halt on this sentence:
It’s too bad Ms. Boudreau couldn’t come up with a better story . . .
What??????? Old Man and the Sea was about an old guy catching a fish, dag nab it! My mind was in a flurry. What does he mean? Isn’t that story good enough? Maybe I should consider changing something, because if he said this in my very first review, what’s coming? Are subsequent reviews going to question my writing abilities and expose my weaknesses? Maybe I should stop while I’m ahead, and all that other drivel that we subject ourselves to because we are human beings.
And guess what? So is the guy who wrote the review. He shall remain anonymous, because I’m still annoyed about that one sentence. It is a good story. So there.
Stay on top of the water, rely on your own confidence. Work hard and keep your eye on the wind and the ball. Life is too short to worry about others’ opinions.