I don’t completely understand this two foot-itis issue people complain of. Don’t get me wrong, I get the concept of always wanting a different ride in your stable, since no matter how perfect your boat is, there’s always some other launch better than yours that day. But two feet? Really? That’s barely worth the trouble, except maybe when adding two feet of beam.
We owned a little bowrider before and after my kid was born, so he basically grew up around boats. This trailerable boat spent half its life in a slip and the other half (or more) in our driveway, depending on mechanical issues. All my efforts were spent working and worrying about getting this boat out of the driveway, as her whole time spent on wheels just felt wrong to me, like something was unaccomplished. Boats are made to enjoy in the water, but most of all, a small boat feels really small on the hard.
I remember buying that boat new, particularly h
ow huge she looked in the sales sheet. I also remember the first time driving and backing the fully loaded trailer at the launch, thinking how unwieldy such a large trailer was to manage in front of dozens of onlookers. But after decades of launches and continuous use, I was able to wheel that seemingly tiny combination around through crowded parking lots and even city streets of D.C. as if they were a Radio Flyer wagon behind my bicycle. Near her end, I almost felt embarrassed to display such a small toy in my driveway.
Then I gained wisdom through someone else’s perspective.
What I saw as a confining cockpit (and my neighbors saw as an eye sore) was a castle to a three-year old. Something that looked to me like canvas elevated by poles was instead a pavilion under circus tents to my son, who would invite other friends over to play under the big top. The bow cover, meant to keep water and debris out, was the pup tent’s roof; the bow’s seats were cots inside his army barracks. I’d pull the main canvas on nice days to air out, then turn around to find ten kids onboard making motor noises as they cranked the wheel side to side, flipping every switch there was, blowing the horn and waving through the windows to cars passing by. From their perspective, all were captains of this pirated ship, navigating past cars and people along the shore.
Eventually a growing family and a desire to boat on less than perfect days forced replacement of the old ketch. Jumping 50 percent larger in LOA and in beam; multiple engines this, camper top that, bench seats here, fancy head there, yadda yadda. Initially I felt as if piloting a tanker, but she soon became old hat and claustrophobic once again, especially with how quickly children expand in size and number of friends. A few adults, a bunch of kids, coolers, swim gear, water toys, arrrgh!
I sat there in the captain’s chair, looking around as I dropped anchor. Had I made a mistake? Did I not jump far enough in size? All these people aboard, do they have enough room? They must be bored, constrained? Claustrophobic? All must feel like sardines in my fiberglass can?
Flashing back to my early days on the water, I remember three or four of my friends and me paddling in a canoe; so heavily laden we’d often spend more time under the canoe than in it, pretending we were Jacques Cousteau breathing the air trapped in our (now) submersible. I remember my grandparents’ 16-foot boat with three of us sitting on throwable cushions while waiting our turn as the fourth made cuts on skis behind that 40-hp outboard. Somehow we’d manage an entire day on the water like that, burning tank after tank after tank while eating soggy sandwiches from a paper bag …
Gleeful romps followed by loud splashes snapped me from introspection as my son, his cousins, and his friends used this boat for its intended purpose: a platform for enjoyment. And that’s when it hit me … two foot itis isn’t about increasing boat size at all; it’s about decreasing the size of people. I eased back into my chair, imagining my now pre-teen and all these kids two feet shorter, like they were back in my driveway’s three-ring circus days. I realized that it’s all about perspective.