Dearest EXPLORE Reader,
There’s just something about an old boat.
It can’t be a new boat, nor even a restored boat. It must be an OLD boat. It needs weathered upholstery, and faded controls. The interior carpet should be ripped and jagged, and there simply must be random tools in random locations, and there better be an old squished beer can somewhere on board.
The rope lying around must be old and frayed, it can have no stereo, and there should be old oil-stained shop towels stuffed under a seat somewhere. It should have some water stains along the hull, and a motor that frustrates you to no end with its intermittent performance. If you have a CB on this boat, that’s a bonus. At least 2 of the gauges on the dash should be inoperative. And if you’re super lucky, there should be a really slow leak somewhere on the boat that you just can’t seem to find, but that the bilge pump keeps up with just fine.
If you have all these things, then you, my friend, have a proper OLD BOAT.
Old boats fascinate me. Old cars hold no glimmer in my eye, but there is something about an old boat that just transfixes me and I can stare at them for hours. Yes, I’m strange.
During my last trip to the coast (pre-hurricane), I was in Rockport by that enormous boat storage facility that was destroyed in the storm. Beside it is a large junkyard (we’ll call it) of old boats. Tired, ragged old shrimping boats and fishing skiffs and even a few sailboats. Larger houseboats, deep-sea fishing boats, and even the cruiser boats for the bays. Some were sitting properly on platforms awaiting work, and some were tossed into the corners like yesterday’s garbage. They sit out there as I’m sure someone promised their wife that they were going to get it “cleaned up” but all of them appear to have sat out there for decades under a blistering coastal sun and done what old boats do – get older.
They’re relics and I absolutely bathe in the history that they want to tell you about. Old cars fall apart and stop working and get rust and their tires go flat, but boats will tell you their stories forever. They tend to hold onto their history and give you glimpses into the lives that they have lived and the men and women that have captained them.
I stare at them and can see notches in the wood along the edges and wonder what great beast they were fighting from the stern that would have caused that. The random bails of rope strewn this way and that was surely involved in countless adventures. The beer by the Captain’s chair. I wonder what he was like? The name of the boat – what inspired it? When was it applied to the boat? How many great people looked out from behind these windshields as they turned these vessels into the wind and stared out across the water, breathed deeply, and allowed even the slightest smirk of a smile to creep across their faces?
Man, these old boats are like time machines, and the stories they tell are magnificent and adventurous and broad. If you listen close enough.
I have absolutely no clue where my appreciation for old boats comes from. I did not grow up in a marine city (save for my earliest years around Corpus), I have never worked on the ocean, and my maritime experience is limited to the casual weekend fishing trip around Rockport. But sure enough, when I’m out on the water and see some old hunk of a boat steaming by, I am transfixed by it, and conjure up some amazing tales in my head for the captain aboard that boat and imagine that some great mysterious adventure awaits.
Because I’m strange, I’ve actually spent more time than I should admit thinking about this obsession with old boats. I was recently watching a movie that had an old boat in it, and I caught myself noticing EVERYTHING about it, down to the initials on the oar that was stowed. I hit pause and exclaimed in my head, “Hold on a second! Whose initials are RFJ??? Those aren’t the actor’s initials in this movie! Woah!” and then I chuckled to myself because, well, I’m strange.
The closest that I’ve gotten to an answer is also part of why I love architecture, homes, ancient ruins, and the like. I find it overwhelming fascinating to touch the limestone on an old house around here (an old house means pre-1900) and think to myself “Whose hands carved this rock? Who was he? How long did it take him?” and then I repeat this though when looking at the front door knob. The walls. The rooflines. The ancient windows. Somebody, somewhere way back in time, worked themselves ragged to build this house, and now I’m touching the very rock that they slaved away to carve. Then I get chillbumps. I love it.
And the more that I unpack this sentiment, I have come to think that somewhere in me is a growing appreciation for a different kind of relic: PEOPLE.
I’m no “off the showroom floor” boat anymore. I have weathered vinyl and jagged carpeting. My gauges don’t work all of the time, and my motor sure as hell is intermittent. I have scars and bumps and bruises, but if you give me just enough gas, and turn the key at the right time, I can still chug along and function as advertised. The scars on me tell a story that only I know, and it’s my secret to share with only those important enough to know. And I suppose that’s kind of like an old boat – those old scars and chinks in the wood have some amazing stories behind them, and maybe some day you’ll learn about them. Or maybe not.
My grandfather just turned 93 and is as spry as a youthful 80-something-year-old. I caught him the other day interjecting a conversation with some story from the ‘40s and it seemed very out of sorts for the conversation that we were all having. As if the conversation stopped and story-time began. I thought about it later and realized that he was deeming us important enough to explain his story, and to tell of an adventure that we had not previously known. When his story was over the conversation resumed, but again, it reminded me of an old boat that was simply dispensing bits of its story on those lucky enough to be with him. We all chuckle about old people that do this – interject stories at random times – and while it is kind of funny, it’s also quite purposeful because if you don’t hear this story now, will you have time to hear it later? Maybe. Maybe not.
Our personal journeys from birth to death are our own, and along the way we gather so much experience. In the case of the old boat, it’s frayed rope and squished beer cans and oily old shop towels. They are trinkets that tell of days gone by and adventures that were had. Some were good, some were bad, and some were awful. But those old boats had a purpose and they performed and they saw way more than you and I have seen…and even though they might end up in an old junkyard, they still stand majestically and make you wonder.
People are very similar. We experience things, and we collect trinkets of our adventures, both the good and the bad. The scars are there for reasons, and for some, you might never learn why they are scarred. But no matter because it’s simply part of the story. They still arise each day and do simply the best that they can, intermittent motor and all. So long as they still arise, then the adventure awaits. No matter your age.
I’m a lover of people, and I hope that I always will be. I am endlessly fascinated by what makes us tick and the baggage that we all carry. The next time you are out and about, look around. Know that every single person that you see has a story, and scars, and frayed rope. They arose today, and are navigating the ship channels of life along with you, and while some might be a little more beaten up than others, we’re all just old boats, accumulating our trinkets, waiting on the next adventure, and avoiding our impending stay in the junkyard.
Welcome to February. No matter your condition, we are all boats upon this sea. Strike out, EXPLORE, stare through that windshield and stare down your fate. This is your one trip around the world…may we all make it count.
Benjamin D. Schooley