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The Rachel Finds Its Lost Soul

This piece was written before the pandemic started and copy-edited and published in the March-April 2022 issue of Maine Homes, Boats & Harbors. Many thanks to my mother for the piece’s improved opening lines.


"Little prepares you for the experience of boarding your own boat on dry land. Normally, climbing onto a sailboat can be unsteady, but you compensate by feeling the tip and the sway of the boat and the water in your legs and bending your knees. On a drydocked boat, that doesn’t help.

I sat down in the cockpit opposite Bruce Campbell with a thud, and the boat didn’t give an inch. Next to him sat Dave Clarke, a woodworker who comes from generations of boatbuilders and one Navy Commander. Campbell has tended our Dark Harbor 20, The Rachel, for years. She is named for the whaling ship that appears in Moby Dick, searching for the captain’s lost son (my father did his thesis on Moby Dick), and for my sister Rachel.

Campbell looked crestfallen. Together he and Clarke had painstakingly taken our boat apart. The Rachel, born nearly 100 years ago, had begun to show her age. Up near the bow, they had found damage to the hull where we keep our anchor. New ribs had been built and added. Clarke showed me places where other ribs under the deck needed repair and explained how they would have to remove the top of the cabin to get at them. Campbell, an experienced sailor who tends to multiple boats in the southwestern corner of New Brunswick, Canada, looked physically pained to have to tell me how much work and expense lay ahead."

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