Photo 1
Have you ever stopped and added it all up:  the pleasures of owning and operating a classic wooden boat, minus the costs and problems that come with it?  It must be “worth it,” right?  Otherwise, you wouldn’t be doing this and coming back for more.

The more I thought about the benefits, not the costs, the more amazed I became by the wealth of things wooden boats and wooden boating have done for my family and for me individually.  What I thought would be marginal affirmation, turned into overwhelming gratitude.  I wanted to share this with other WoodyBoaters.


Our classic wooden boats.

They are challenges to buy right, expensive to restore, pricey to maintain, and never profitable.  And we all know their problems, gremlins, shortcomings, and idiosyncrasies can baffle, frustrate, humble, disappoint, and even enrage, leading to bloody knuckles, bruises, breaks, cuts, scratches, burns, disappointments, and damaged pride.

Yet we love them.

We love them because they are primitive and simple.  Naturally imperfect and free from efficiency.

We love them because they are made of the real.  Real wood, leather, iron, bronze, brass, glass, chrome, varnish, paint.  And what is not real in them, is real cool, like Bakelite, Tenite, or Marmoleum.  Their realness makes them honest.  What looks heavy, is heavy.

They are gloriously mechanical to run, aren’t they?  Their switches, knobs, hinges, buttons, springs, and levers click, turn, pull, push, swing, and glide — sometimes authoritatively, sometimes gracefully, sometimes reluctantly.  (And sometimes not at all.)

They operate without instructions but with “ways” — figured out over time and passed along generationally.

Our boats are time capsules and living history — styles and tastes of bygone times, built on centuries of trial, adventure, experience, tragedy, and discovery.  They are harmony with, and victory over, water.

Designed and sculpted by the minds, eyes, and hands of artists and craftsmen, our boats don’t just shine for us, they glow.

They give us freedom from rules and freedom from good intentions.  There are no lines, limits, ratings, stickers, governors, restraints, cut-offs, buzzers, chimes, or warnings.  We get in and go, wherever we want.

Our boats have soul, and they are medicine for our souls.  They are sensory kaleidoscopes, sounding, smelling, looking, and feeling wonderful.  And they take us to special places — coves, beaches, bays, channels, and open water — with those same qualities.

Photo 2

Our boats make music on command — whispering to us, burbling with us, barking at us, and thundering for us.

They fit us loosely, but embrace us completely.  Our boats are escape pods for solos, carriage rides for couples, party barges for friends, shuttles for cottagers, and floating family funships.

They catch fish, pull skiers, thrill kids, delight guests, and amaze spectators.  They cradle us when we float, calm us when when cruise, and thrill us when we jump, bank, spin, and speed.

They are excuses to dream, research, buy, restore, repair, putter, tinker, detail, and collect.  They are weekend and wintertime escapes, diversions, and salvations.

Out boats give us reasons to explore, travel, show, compete, win, write, photograph, network, make friends, share advice, trade parts, help others, be generous, and give freely.  They bring out our best.

We anticipate time with our boats, just as we do best friends.  They bring instinctive smiles on sighting.  We part company wistfully.

They are habits and rituals. They mark the true start and the true end of our summers.

They are family heirlooms that beg to be used, maintained, rebuilt, used again, and deeply treasured.

They trumpet a new day and precede silence at day’s end.  They tee-up sunsets, and ensure we linger to soak them in.

They serve up adventures and tales of conquest.  In our boats, we race lightening, best squalls, defy downpours, brave darkness, and thread rocks.  And we survive.

All said and done, our boats are somewhat like children.  Despite all, through it all, because of all, and above all, they are just worth it.

Photo 3[1]

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24 Responses to “What Are Our Boats? By Alex Watson.”
  1. Chris B

    ahh so thats why we do this. Great poem for the wooden soul. thanks Alex

  2. m-fine

    This makes me want to go out and buy a couple more. Luckily, I am very busy today.

  3. Greg Lewandowski

    Alex, nice piece. I fell very fortunate to be able to relate to everything you said.

  4. WoodyGal

    Thanks Alex! You summed it all up beautifully. Is that Marion? What a change from last year. Just thankful our boats don’t grow up the same way our children do.

    • Alex

      I am thankful. I can’t imagine a teenage girl boat. (Shudder!)

      Though our boats do grow up like we parents do. They go grey.

  5. Jack Schneiberg

    Must be something in the air – promise of summer – something. Great piece, Alex. Funny thing just last night I was paging through some past “Brass Bells” and I read your piece on the 1968 Chris Craft 20′ Grand Prix – I believe the last wood runabout Chris Craft produced. One has to wonder (One being I) if in 1968 the wise souls who were making all the decisions to convert to fiberglass (sorry, CC called it something different and it escapes me at the moment) at Chris Craft and Century had been able to see into the future; would they have planned exactly the same as they did? Of course a company profits from what it CAN sell and you CAN’ see the promise of future value and rarity.
    Alex you truly are a modern poet and your words tickle my soul and make me smile for the many rich experiences I’ve had because wood boats have become a part of my life.

    • Jack Schneiberg

      Slight correction on the above the article was your photos and Don Ayer’s story as I think a little harder on it.

    • Alex

      Jack, I appreciate your kind words.

      The 20′ Grand Prix is an amazing model. My second favorite, after the 25′ Sportsmans (or is it Sportsmen?).

  6. jekyl

    whats heavy is eaven heavier, i remeber pulling a paragon trans 2.58 reduction,lifted it to gunwale had a rope tied to it to snub speed on way down,didn’t have a chance it torpedoed and sank in ground a foot deep

  7. Wilson

    A great summation of what wooden boating is all about.

  8. Rabbit

    This was the best post since Alex’s last post. We need more of this. And I guess since I’m a writer, it’s my turn.

  9. Randy

    … hmmmm, along with the other major ‘holidays’ (Mom’s Day, Dad’s Day, etc.) sounds like we now have another one — WoodyBoat Day, celebrated the second Monday in May.

    I like it!!!!!

  10. Grant Stanfield

    Well put, Alex…

    Wooden boats of any size, shape or motive power are a simple joy for the senses.

  11. Denis D

    Great piece, just the kind of encouragement I need to keep me going on my first woody restoration. Maybe I can have it in the water next year.


  12. Al Benton

    Well said Alex!
    One is never too old for the love of old Woody Boats! Nor the sole! But this old used body sure does eventually get too old to keep up with them. The memories will always be with me but the work (labor of love) is now a thing of the past.

  13. John Baas

    Way cool, Alex. Just the inspiration I need at just the right time!

  14. Alex

    Thanks for the positive feedback everyone.

    I’m glad others can relate to these great experiences and feelings.

    I also hope this will inspire people who don’t yet have a classic boat to buy their first, and to own and use it wholly.

  15. Mo Sherrill

    What a wonderful article by Alex Watson. Having been in wooden boating most all of my 78 years his article really hit home with me. I don’t think anyone could have expressed the emotions that run both high and low as well as Alex did. Thank you Alex!

    • Doug McLaughlin

      Hey Mo Sherrill, that shot looks like it was taken somewhere in the Islands on Lake George! We used to run from Heulletts Landing.

  16. Glen Norman

    This great article by Alex brought back old memories of dreaming over the Chris Craft brochures that Dad brought home from the boat factory in Caruthersville, MO. Dad worked there for several years before the factory closed down in the early fifties. Thanks Alex.

    Glen Norman