This might sound like a brag, but it’s not. I could hand, reef, and steer a boat for a long time before learning how to drive a car.
Well, I was a real New York City boy. For any place I needed to go, I went by public transportation. Within the Five Boroughs, It was easier to hop on a subway, bus, or walk than drive there. Yes, my family had a car, but that was mostly for weekend use if my father wanted to go somewhere. So the family car was just that. It wasn’t something that my father would have lent me. For my generation of city boys, I was not an outlier.
What was unusual was that I still did not learn to drive after leaving the city. I did not fall to my knees and adore the auto, review my transportation needs anew, or anything like that. Instead, I went by thumb, bike, foot, or other means of transport.
By thumb, I found my merry way across the continent, up and down the coasts. I visited every nook and cranny I wanted in the sixties and seventies by the same method. But, it was not until 1981 that I got a driving license and bought a car.
Now I know that some of you are saying, ” that’s just weird!” But It was the situation that existed.
So how was it that I hand, reefed, and steered before driving? Marriage. My first wife was from a very tiny coastal community, actually an island, in the mid-coast. We met and wooed in Portland, Maine. And while we dated, it was easy to fall into her driving us around in her zippy little sports car. After we married, her father, a retired Merchant Marine captain, saw the advantage of having a new hand on board his thirty-four-foot ketch, Psyche.
In the ensuing years, I learned to handle and reef sails, steer a course, and generally care for a boat. If I needed to “go over town” to shop, I took the skiff, motored across the bay, tied up at the town wharf, and shopped. If I was working at a boatyard, I biked over.
When not on the coast, I attended university in Boston, using public transportation from the university to the public sailing program on the Charles River.
After my divorce, I lived inland “on the hard” in Philadelphia but got around very well on public transportation. When I moved back to the Boston area, I reluctantly took up driving due to my job and career.
There were a few problems; the steering wheel was unlike a tiller, and there was no main sheet, halyards, or other lines. I could not head up or bear off the wind; someone had hidden the compass. I was also constrained to a travel lane, and no one seemed to know the “rules of the road.” It took some adjustment.
These days I’d be hard-pressed to remember the “rules of the road” for sailors, coastal navigation, or how to keep a course. I’m much more familiar with my automobile than a boat. But I still have the odd and pleasing dream of sailing heeled over in a moderate breeze, one hand on the tiller and the other on the main sheet. I am somewhere off Sequin Light with a long day of sailing ahead – and be dammed to the traffic on the bloody highway!