Kelly, a very dear friend of mine, asked a favor of me last week. His father died nearly two years ago, a man I respected and knew from get-togethers at Kelly’s house over the years of our friendship, and whose life as a seaman and marine game warden for the State of California was legendary in the Ventura/Santa Barbara area.

His name was Reed Smith and he spent a lifetime on and off the Channel Islands protecting bird species and promoting marine welfare, while educating others to the joys and increasingly urgent needs of the watery world.

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For much of that career, Reed lived on a boat moored in Ventura Harbor, a rather small boat to be a live-aboard, a 27-foot Santana, yet it was a sturdy sailing vessel that made a snug home for Reed and a speedy and safe companion for crossing from the mainland to the islands.

The decades-old Santana 27 was at the heart of the favor Kelly asked of me. Since his father’s death, the boat had sat tied to the docks in Ventura and become somewhat derelict. What to do with it now?

Kelly asked me if I would take a look at the boat’s general condition, specifically to investigate a tear in the fiberglass decking at the base of the mast. Was the tear repairable without hauling the boat out of the water and removing the mast? Did the damaged fiberglass hide a more significant structural problem?

I’m certainly no boat expert, but I do have some experience with sailboats since my time spent in the Caribbean where Nettie and I sailed our 38′ Ericson for years. Besides, Kelly was tapping into not my shipwright skills per se, but my organizational strengths and follow-through, and the luxury of my retirement time. I agreed to help out in any way I could.

The plan was for me to drive up, review the boat, and get a general impression of what repairs/upgrades it would need and then arrange through the marina office to find a professional to survey the boat and estimate the cost of repairs.

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I did a little online reading about Santana sailboats before I drove up. I knew they were famous on the West Coast and that their founder, Bill Schock, designed and built the first-ever production fiberglass hulls for personal sailboats. He set up shop after WWII in Newport Beach in 1946. What I read about Bill resonated with what I remember of Reed…they were both independent men at home on the sea, men with engineering minds fitted to a romantic’s appreciation of the wonder and beauty of the ocean. Both had a desire to share that wonder with others.

It was a spectacular morning as I headed North on the 101 freeway. I wondered how I’d feel opening the ship’s salon and peering into the interior where Reed had spent so much of his life. Would I be saddened to be there alone in the absence its owner? Would it stir my own feelings of loss of father, of loss of time, of the loss of the life behind us?

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I arrived at the marina and headed to C Dock. I knew the boat had a black hull; and even at a distance, I spotted it immediately amidst the forest of masts. Do you see it in the foreground?

At the heart of it all, of course, I knew that the repair of the boat was not about the boat at all, but about the memories the boat held for Kelly, the memories of his time with his father and sister aboard the boat, the days heading out into the sea with the Channel Islands beckoning.

And what would now be the future of this boat? I thought of Kelly’s family, his two children and his wife, Jessica, in Santa Barbara where they lived a very busy life with commitments and pressures from all sides, family first, business ownership, community involvement, etc. How could they possibly make time for this boat and its demands?

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As I walked along the dock and got closer, I could see the toll the years of disuse had taken on the Santana. I was trepidatious to climb aboard, careful not to slip off the worn decks, careful not to cause more damage. I went first to inspect the tear at the base of the mast. It didn’t seem too serious to me, but I needed to get inside to take a closer look.

Engine View

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I stepped down into the cockpit, saw the tiller that had guided this boat out into the sea hundreds, perhaps thousand of times under Reed’s confident grip. I told myself to stop my fantasizing, to stop embellishing the moments here with my runaway imagination.

I unlocked the padlock holding the salon boards. The top board slid off easily enough and I could see into the heart of vessel. I could see a sink and a toilet, I could see the well-used heater with its vented pipe. There was some fishing gear strewn about…hooks, weights, a lure or two. Life jackets, dishes, a hat, tools. Stuff. The stuff of a life, but just the stuff, not the life itself. Not here anymore.

It was a relief or sorts. The emotional charge of the boat was not so strong after all. Of course, it wasn’t my father’s boat. It wasn’t my life I was looking back on. But it turns out I was missing the point altogether as I found out later when I called Kelly to give him my repair assessment.

When I asked him about his plans for the boat, hinting that the time the boat needed to be used to be kept in decent shape seemed out of balance with the time he could devote to it, Kelly paused, agreed, and then told me that the restoration of the boat was not for him only, nor only for his sister’s family. It was instead for a host of people he knew, old friends who had expressed an interest in using the boat, of taking it to sea, and of new friends who wanted to learn how to sail or to simply spend some time on her in the slip in Ventura Harbor.

He, himself, might only use it four or five times a year, it’s true, but the community the boat could engender was the whole point of repairing it, of restoring it to its sailing form.

I understood then that the boat had its own life, a life that could be reborn through the lives of others. Embodied in the boat that Reed had left behind and that Kelly was now renewing, was a rekindling of the spirit that Reed held for the ocean itself, for its richness and its capacity to inspire and to challenge.

Spinaker View

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These words may seem a bit grandiose to hang on the deck of the diminutive Santana 27, but my guess is she’ll be steady under the weight of such dreams as she heads out to sea again in the near future…and I of course look forward to sharing in those dreams myself.

 

 

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