The summer of '99

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

The Summer of ’99 will go down in our personal history as one of the best we’ve had together.

We didn’t travel to speak of. Didn’t do much boating. The weather was not especially pleasant.

But this was the Summer of the Boat. This was the summer we refurbished, added to and made a 25-foot Nimble Nomad our own.

Two previous owners had loaded her with toys that would have taken us years to add. Life jackets for more people than the boat would comfortably carry. Electronics Dave had only dreamed of. Pots and pans, plates and tableware – even a tinkly little set of wind chimes.

The second owner, who was admittedly seamanship-challenged, transferred to Europe and left the boat so abruptly that when we bought it, there was a coffee mug in the sink with a spoon stuck to the bottom.

His log entries read like this:

“Port of departure: Edgwater MD”

“Weather: Very clear Bay had about 2 foot waves....temurture was about 90 degrees but nice out on the bay....”

“Could not get Boat away from Dock we for got to untie Line on Starboard Side, we felt like a couple of folls... fog comming off water... had the river to oursleves really was nice.”

He sounds like a genial fellow. Two days later he took his wife for another cruise:

“Clear Day lot’s of Sun”

“There where some butiful Boats. The night before helped Boater next to us. There where four people in his company. They decided they would sing me and Ardie a song. So from the front of our boat these guys sang us a wonderful song....”

Over the course of the Summer of ’99, his “Beachcomber” became our “Alice III.” The best part was for Dave, who used to spend his time at home wishing he was “down on the boat” wherever it was berthed, or, if he was there, wishing he was back home, in easy reach of tools.

We first thought of buying a little trawler for river-cruising in the States, remembering our pleasure barging the canals and rivers of France, England and Wales, we considered looking for a secondhand boat in Europe. The kind we wanted is certainly more readily available there, and would be in place to do what we both crave doing: living aboard our own craft in the European waterways for months at a time.

The main deterrent, (besides money!), however, was that we could not picture ourselves looking for parts in an unknown town and possibly in a language other than English. And where would we stay while this renovation was taking place?

Here, with Ace and Gil-Roy moments away, and Home Depot not much farther, where virtually anything we need is available through the Internet or catalogs, where we can pick up the phone and get advice in a flash, the whole project was eminently doable.

We bounced ideas off each other. I can sketch and Dave can execute. Our dreams took shape.

And so began the sanding and scraping, the designing and improvising, the building and glassing, the varnishing and painting.

When the afternoons were mild, I knew by the sudden silence falling over shop and driveway that Dave had stretched out on his own bunk for his onboard siesta. And when the weather became torrid, he worked in the mornings and used the heat of the day to locate the odds and ends no boatman can live without.

We added a propane system, another water tank, a nifty drop-in set of burners. Wanting more refrigeration, we researched generators and found a small-enough, quiet-enough affordable machine right here in Riverdale. The past couple of weeks we have been constructing a compartment for it that would protect it and keep it out of our way, yet look like an original part of the little craft.

That project took a lot of head-scratching, but turned out well. If you’d never seen the boat before, I doubt you’d even notice that what appears to be a small rear companionway is actually a box with a generator in it.

Inside, in what I consider my domain, sawdust, used sandpaper, and bits and pieces of materials cluttered the cabin so much it was hard to show off to friends. The day came, however, when I climbed the ladder leaning on the gunwale and gasped when I saw what Dave had done.

The teak and holly sole had been sanded and refinished with a high-gloss varnish. It’s more beautiful than any floor in our house. A new spice rack appeared above the galley sink. The space between outer and inner hull was made accessible through a framed cut-out, and a knife block Dave made for me tucked into a tiny space next to the cutlery drawer.

Soon I can make up the bunks again, with their forest green covers matching the hull paint and their rope-trimmed cushions inviting curling up in a corner. Hoist a few boxes of food aboard, make sure the Sun Shower is stowed, throw some sweatshirts in the storage hammocks, and we’re outta here.

Rivers are calling, and the Chesapeake Bay with all its historic bayside towns, and in a couple of years, destinations across the Atlantic.

But whatever we do after this, wherever we go, I can’t imagine we’ll ever enjoy Alice III as much as we did in the Summer of ’99, when she lay in dry dock in her own home port.

Reach me by email: SallieS@Juno.com