Bristol 27

A friend owned a Bristol 27. A boat that could be comfortable for two on extended cruising but wasn’t something two people could liveaboard. Yet most of the year he, and his wife did. Whisper provided compact and sublime living space. She wrote copy for cruising magazines and guides. He was a retired mariner who’d never swallow the anchor.

But ashore, they’d tumble every October. That was how I met them. 

I had been finishing an interview next door when I noticed their “garden”; a collection of plastic clothes hampers with bags of topsoil plopped into them. Out of this unlikely potting grew a profusion of tomatoes, lettuce, and other crops. Being interested in gardens, I stopped to speak to them. Soon, we were discussing tomatoes and peppers over coffee. They shipped the hampers aboard the Bristol during the summer as an onboard garden. As soon as boating came up, the conversation grew to include Coastal Maine, boatyards, builders, and favorite designs.

Next spring, I worked alongside them as their deadline for cruising season neared, and I joined them for the shakedown cruise of the season. It began with a lovely clear day and a brisk southwesterly breeze. We were just east of Sequin when things picked up, and the sailing became an exhilarating experience. Then the crashes and sounds of breaking crockery started. Being the nonessential crew member, I was sent below to deal with the crisis.

Ashore, I had noticed that they were not the best organized of housekeepers, but that didn’t bother me. Their shoreside establishment was to them more housing between cruises than a home. But when I went below on Whisper that day, I discovered that their shoreside habits came along with them while cruising. A box of dishes had fallen from the chart table and shattered. As I swept up the shards, the boat suddenly heeled in a puff of wind, and I tumbled over, landing on broken dishes. That set the standard for the cruise. Getting from my forward berth to the marine toilet at night required running an obstacle course of supplies for the cruising season. Preparing breakfast at the tiny galley was a challenge because the stove seemed buried with unpacked food boxes. That was the cruise in a nutshell.

The article that she wrote contained none of this. There was a photo of the skipper at the wheel, then one of her studying a chart. And one of me on the foredeck with the spinnaker pole. No mention made of havoc below. Reading the article a second time, I inserted commentary that I felt added realism to the experience. But that sort of thing doesn’t sell magazines.

I went on day sailing expeditions with them afterward. But no cruises. We’d plan excursions at the mooring, but I noticed that little ever was stowed below. 

There’s a saying among sailors about everything being “shipshape, and in Bristol fashion.” Whisper added a new meaning to that saying.

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