It happened when I was learning sea kayaking in and around the Gulf Coast. My experience on the water aroused memories of prior saltwater boating experiences from long before, back when I was 11 or 12. These experiences involved being out in a dinghy in Yokohama harbor, as well as sailing in open boats with the sailing club of the Japanese high school where my father was among the faculty. Accompanying those members, I went by train down to Enoshima to sail in Sagami Bay, southwest of Yokohama.
Then, one day as I was driving to a clergy conference in south Louisiana, I stopped at a bookstore for some extra reading material. There, I found a sailing magazine with the snappy title of Small Craft Advisor. What caught my attention on the cover was the mention of an article, “Lake Powell Potters.” After buying the issue, I was intrigued by reading about Anne Westlund’s journey from northern Michigan to Utah, towing her 15′ West Wight Potter boat, “Peapod.” She took that trip with a friend who had a similar Potter, and they sailed and camped on those quite small boats. After reading her account of the journey and voyage, and seeing photos of the boat, I was hooked.
Not too long after that, I was able to get a West Wight Potter P-15 of my own, “Zoe,” hull #2634. The photo above shows her afloat on DeGray Lake in west central Arkansas in September of 2006.
Describing this boat as having a length of 15′ is perhaps generous given that Stanley Smith, the designer and builder of the original hull, listed her at 14.’ Smith built the first boats on the Isle of Wight, and sailed an early model from there to Sweden in a voyage recorded in his book, October Potter. A later model is credited with a voyage from Mexico to Hawaii. Usually, the contemplation of such voyages with a small craft like the Potter would be regarded as ridiculous and foolhardy. Yet, West Wight Potter sailors love their boats precisely because they defy common expectations, and bring such joy.
When I read about the P-15, and then saw and inspected the first nearby example I could find, I was captivated by this boat’s design and sailing capabilities. I have since acquired a larger boat, a choice which was very much influenced by the design qualities of my P-15. Yet, I still have “Zoe.” And, as I get older, and eventually will be less able to grapple with a bigger boat on my own, I will continue to love this little boat that has brought me so much pleasure and so many memories. Not least of them was a two-week long cruise on Lake Charlevoix in northern Michigan years ago, before we moved from Louisiana.
Towing a dinghy, with water-proof gear bags filled with food supplies and extra clothing on the forward deck along with a cooler, and a camping porta-potty stowed discretely aft, made such a journey and voyage possible. It also helped to have an easily rigged awning over the cockpit for an approximation of a covered ‘back-porch,’ especially under a hot sun or cool rain. Despite the physical limitations involved, I learned much and had a great time.
I have made similar but shorter such trips on both DeGray Lake and Lake Ouachita (also in Arkansas) towing my sea kayak. (below)
In this present time of the coronavirus stay-at-home orders, I try to remind myself that great adventures are still possible within the circumstances of relative confinement. I take boats seriously, and am at the same time aware that owning one can be seen as a folly, and as extravagant. I respect that view. Yet, having experienced five two-week-long voyages across the Pacific Ocean in ships, and a month-long 1969 voyage in the South China Sea, my life has been immeasurably enriched by boating and seagoing opportunities, both while alone and also with significant others. The many times I have chosen to interact with unpredictable air and sea conditions have helped me to be better prepared to deal with equally unpredictable circumstances in our current public health crisis.
Most of all, it is a time when I remind myself of one of my favorite quotes from within the tradition of Christian spiritual writing, a quote attributed to blessed Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
Notes: If you are not yet a sailor, start ‘small.’ When it comes to boats, we all dream big at first. And my favorite first resource to recommend is Small Craft Advisor magazine. I have been consistently pleased with their fine and informative work. Sadly, I have just learned that the West Wight Potter 15 is no longer being manufactured in the US, which may limit its future availability here. For more on the West Wight Potter P-15, see Dave Bacon’s book, The Gentle Art of Pottering, which provides a great introduction to all aspects of the boat..