shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

Dovè  Duff

November 29, 2010

Sailing is one of the most enjoyable, contagious addictions known to man, or this particular woman. Unlike a lot of couples, we were afflicted almost simultaneously, and our love of sailing grew equally, though occasionally in separate directions. While I was reading about families who left the rat race and sailed off over the horizon, Dave had decided to build a boat.

Mid-winter on the Chesapeake Bay seemed like an odd time to be thinking about boat building until I realized all the pre-building thinking and planning that would be required. When the plans finally arrived I felt like a cryptologist confronted with a previously unknown set of hieroglyphics.

"Do you have any idea how to do this?"
"Not really, but a boat is just a roof turned upside down. How hard could it be?"

From the number and variety of books he had been reading all winter, I was sure he was underestimating both the difficulty of his latest project and his skills. He had been building roofs (and everything under them) for years, yet he still had dozens of books from the local library lying around: lofting, wooden boat construction, small boat building. I assumed the plans would sit with the books as reference material for the rest of the winter, until I came home from work one day to discover that our bedroom had been turned into a workshop until friendlier weather arrived. Over the years it would be a sail loft, canvas shop and general storage area for all the boat parts until we gave up and just moved it all onto the boat and sold the house. This was my first taste of putting the house to good use for the boat. Luckily this boat was only going to be a 7'9" dinghy.

Building Dovè

The boat that would become, and still is, our home was still years down the road. At the time, we had a 25' South Coast who needed a tender. When we bought her we had a rubber raft that the boys played around with, and for the first few years it seemed to be perfect. It was inflatable so it stored well and was light. The boys could row it, swim with it or, in the case of the little one, swim in it. As our sailing adventures grew and changed, so did the requirements of our dinghy, and our inflatable K-Mart raft was no longer sufficient. We had already put several patches on it as the boys started to row more. I was just waiting for the day that a crab escaped from the bucket and pinched a hole in the raft and the boys would have to swim back "home". A wooden dinghy is what we needed and apparently we were about to get one in the form of a Bolger Nymph.

My birthday is in June, and by the beginning of the new year the household joke was that Dave may be finished with the boat in time to make it my birthday present. The joke evolved into the dinghy really being for my birthday and from then on she was known as my boat. While Dave was devising ways to keep the shed warm enough to work in since the project had out-grown our bedroom, I was working on a name. Dave wanted her named after me. My grandmother, father and I all share the same middle name. My grandfather, who had recently passed away, was the only person who used the name regularly; it was what he always called my grandmother. Dave said he wanted to name it after me, but we both knew it was a way of remembering my grandfather. With that decided, it was up to me to figure out how I wanted "Duff" in the name.

I had been teaching French for ten years, so that the name was going to be foreign was no mystery. I knew I wanted something that started with a D to go with Duff, so I started searching dictionaries and pestering my colleagues. A Spanish teacher who had lived in Italy for years told me that Dovè (pronounced doe-vay) is a contraction in Italian that means "where is". Since it was to be my dink that would take me away from the mother ship, I thought "Where is Duff?" would be perfect. Dovè Duff it was. Like most boat names, she got shortened over the years to Dovè, but the Duff was still on the transom and always in our hearts.

David trying to earn his license to sail Dovè alone

Dave has a tendency to over-build. If he builds a set of stairs, you can drive a pick-up over them. The jungle gym in the back yard would have supported an entire football team, and the dog house took four grown men to move. It was comforting to know Dovè; would be extremely strong, until we started talking about having to pick her up. With the extra fiberglass, resin and oak seat, Dovè was a heavyweight at 80 pounds. Over the years we would appreciate how well-built she was, but it would be a long time before I quit complaining about her weight problems.

Dave's perfectionism left with the arrival of my parents. He quit saying, "Just one more coat" about the varnish and paint. As a matter of fact, he didn't even paint the leeboard at all; but part of that was nerves. Talk about the dinghy went from "I can't wait to sail her" to "I wonder if she'll float." The fact that he had never built a boat before started to play on all our minds. A part of me thought that was silly, he had always been able to build whatever he wanted, but I admit that launch day was nerve wrecking.

Dovè Duff was many firsts for us. She was the first boat Dave ever built, and she was the first of many boats we launched. We were determined to do it right. We loaded her in the back of Dave's truck and stopped at the liquor store for a bottle of champagne. I had a short christening speech prepared, but even practicing it I couldn't get through it with out crying. This hopefully floating little piece of wood and fiberglass represented so much to me. We knew she would be our tender when we set off cruising in a few years. Launching her was our first tangible step toward a goal we had dreamed about for years. My father being there, the boat having our name on it, the months of work and love that had gone into her was too much for me. No one understood except Dave. He gave me his "you silly girl" smile when I started crying before she was even in the water.

We had kept our South Coast at a marina in Crab Alley for years, so several other slip holders joined us for the christening. This only added to the potential for embarrassment. Dave was still worried she wouldn't float. We put Dovè in the water at the dinghy dock and stood staring at her, waiting for water to come shooting through the bottom. When that didn't happen, Dave got in her. He rowed her to a dock where it would be easier to step her mast. We rigged her, and Dave and I sailed away. She sailed beautifully, did not leak, did not fall apart when we heeled, nothing even creaked or groaned. It was like a doctor saying you have a healthy baby. Cheers, smiles, champagne and more tears as we all took turns sailing her until the sun set, and we loaded her up to take her home. And paint the leeboard.

Dave and Connie

Three years later we sold the house, the cars and everything we owned that wouldn't fit on our 34' Creekmore and set off to see what we could see. Dovè Duff held the place of honor on the bow of our cruising boat for over a year as we explored the Chesapeake, but we would soon be going offshore and needed a life boat. Dovè was getting old and with no positive floatation she could not be expected to fit the bill. As much as we hated to even think about it, she was going to have to be replaced.

Her successor was an 8' Fatty Knees that we rigged as a life boat. From Solomon's Island, MD to Beaufort, NC, little Dovè; was demoted to towing status, the Fatty Knees on the bow. We compared it to putting the Cadillac in the garage and parking the Chevy in the street. It doesn't mean you love the Chevy any less. As we traveled down the ICW to Beaufort, we knew we were going to have to sell Dovè. We swore we would never tow a dinghy in the ocean. It is too dangerous; having a dinghy back there may make you do things you wouldn't otherwise do that may jeopardize your own safety. As much as it hurt, we were not going to put ourselves in that position. She had to go.

We towed, rowed and sailed Dovè Duff with a for sale sign on her for three months and 400 miles. Since we were going outside from Beaufort, we knew it was our last chance to sell her. The night before we were to go offshore we still had Dovè; floating behind us. Our choices were limited: leave her on the beach and hope someone took her before she rotted or go against logic and tow her. We could not leave her on someone's doorstep to die, so we decided to tow her with the understanding that we would cut her loose the first time she put us in any danger. We were not thrilled with the decision, but we were happy she was still with us.

Dovè tagged along behind us all the way to the Florida Keys where we stopped for six months to work. There the boys fished out of her, sailed her, used her to haul water and garbage and as a general means of transportation. As hurricane season neared and we knew we would soon be going offshore again, Dave took her to shore for a face lift and reinforcement. Against our better judgment, we would be towing her again.

We spent a month in the Bahamas before we headed back North to hide from hurricanes, towing Dovè; the whole way. She did not always tow well. She yawed a lot and was susceptible to following seas. More than once whoever was at the helm would turn around to find Dovè at the top of a wave, eye level and only inches from ramming us, but at least we still had her. Losing her hardly ever crossed our minds any more, and the deal we had made about never letting her put us in danger was long forgotten. She was my dinghy and she would always be there. We had no reason to doubt that.

Connie and friend Kelly beating to windward in Dovè

The trip from the Bahamas to North Carolina was a serious test of our endurance. Not a day went by without gale force winds, always from different directions and rarely with any warning. Through it all we knew we were pushing our luck. We had stayed south too long and there was the remains of a tropical storm coming up the coast. NOAA was saying it would hit NC within two days with high winds, tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. We did not want to still be offshore when it hit, but we were 100 miles out, just on the edge of the Gulf Stream. The night before we were running under double reefed main alone, but by morning the wind had died, leaving only confused seas to remind us of the night's fun. The seas were on the beam, what little wind we had was behind us.

No one saw it happen, but it must have been caused by the combination of confused seas and our not moving quickly enough to keep the painter tight. Dovè Duff was upside down.

"Connie, do not let the boat head up. Nicholas, get the winch handle. We're going to get this painter around a winch and bring her up close. David, get a bucket."

Dave sounded like an emergency room doctor. For over an hour they worked on Dovè, trying to keep her alive. As soon as they got her upright and started bailing a wave would fill her up and over she would go. At 16 our oldest, Nicholas, had no fear. He was leaning over the rail trying to keep her upright with the boat hook when he slipped and I caught him by his belt loop. That was when we realized we were going against our promise. We were letting her put us in danger. Dave took the painter off the winch and let Dovè fall back while we regrouped.

"OK, Connie. Let's think. What are our options?"
"Couldn't we just tow her upside down? What's the worst that could happen?"
"The worst? We don't beat this storm. What's your speed?"
"One point eight, but that's not fair. We haven't been moving all morning." I was trying anything not to lose my girl.
"We are dragging an upside down bathtub through the water. She is slowing us down. We will still be offshore, maybe even still in the Stream, when that thing hits if we keep doing 1.8. You know that."
"I know but, what else can we do?" I was scared I already knew the answer.
"We have to cut her loose."

Dovè Duff

The tears that had been there since she first flipped turned to sobs. Dave looked at me with one of the most loving faces I have ever seen and said, "I'm so sorry, Sweetie. I really am."

"I know; it's not your fault. It's just that...I never thought it would come to this." "Wait, Dad. Let me get my camera. I want one more picture of her."

All the boys were on deck. The littlest one had had Dovè for half his live. He and I were trying unsuccessfully to at least cry quietly. The other two were holding it together better, but even their eyes were red.

"Good-bye old girl."

We all stood and watched as she drifted away with her rudder, leeboard, flotation bag, water shoes, bait bucket and lures. She had been our floating shed, our ride to town, our evening entertainment when Dave would take me row-about after dinner, my name sake, our faithful friend and companion who had followed us for 3,000 miles. Now she was riding the Gulf Stream to England. My first thought was, "We killed her." But we didn't. We set her free. Maybe some little boy will find her washed up on the shore, and she'll teach him to love sailing, too. And maybe he'll love her like we do and never let her go.
Portions previously published in Chesapeake Bay Magazine.

THURSDAY we'll dispel the myth that bigger is safer when it comes to a cruising boat.

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