by Aiona Hartley

How does a sailboat lover become a powerboat lover?

I always assumed the progression from sailboat to powerboat to ferryboat over the River Styx was because as people age, they become unable to manage the athletic requirements of sailing. Now, I’m beginning to see, the change in mindset is more practical.

As kids or even elderly parents enter one’s lifestyle, the requirements of land transportation often change – from sport coupe or compact car to minivan to something that can carry a wheelchair or scooter. In the same way, the family’s water-faring vessel may need to morph also.

When I was single, happiness was single-handing a thirteen-foot Banshee on my days off. However, when my six-foot-two, two-hundred-pound boyfriend stepped in my dinghy, the stern sank so low, the only way we could sail was for me to remain on the bow the whole time. There was also the problem of the boom constantly trying to brain him.

So I got a bigger sailboat, one that didn’t require my boyfriend kiss the deck every time we tacked. Plus, my home-built fourteen-foot wooden Rhodes Bantam had enough displacement for a cooler on the bow. Important stuff, those refreshments. Right?

Then we got married and had kids. Kids tend to come with lots of stuff — diapers, extra clothes, and towels. Lots of towels. More stuff. Bigger boat. Life became easier with a minivan version of a sailboat to accommodate us all, including my elderly parents for whom sprinting over a centerboard during a tack is never going to happen.

However, I remained religious about keeping a sailboat.

My epiphany started when we sailed our 1973 Cal 29 to Sucia. Upon entering Fossil Bay, we spied plenty of spots to dock. However, I was not pleased when the depth sounder alarmed at four feet, and we were nowhere near the dock yet. Not wanting to go aground, we picked up a mooring ball instead, rowed the dinghy ashore, and spent a lovely afternoon hiking. Mother Nature’s stone sculptures adorn Fossil Bay’s cliffs, and a short hike up the path rewarded us with beautiful views of Saturna across the water.

Before we headed home, I chatted with the Ranger Tug that was tied up to the dock. Their draft was two-and-a-half feet – like Cinderella and her glass slipper, a perfect fit for that shallow bay. I envied the tug’s ability to pull right up to the dock and disembark, with no struggle to get all their equipment in the dinghy and row ashore. I’m sure they didn’t envy the multiple trips we took to ferry people and belongings back to our sailboat.

It was a lifestyle choice. The possibility of choosing a powerboat was cemented even more in the Broughton Islands, where we sailed in an Islander 37. Limited by our draft, we struggled to find good anchoring spots close to shore, particularly in Matilpi Islands, where a shallower draft would have allowed us to anchor close enough to the ancient midden to easily stern tie.

There are advantages and disadvantages of both sailboats and powerboats, but choosing one or the other is not always based the limitations of one’s aging body. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of deciding where you want to go and who you want to bring along. Accommodating the people I love is crucial, and my belief is that our shared times on the water should be easy. So, I too have begun that progression that comes with age – seeing the advantages of powerboats over sailboats for this next leg of life’s journey.

Bio: Aiona Hartley started sailboat racing in a nuclear power plant reservoir. Now, she lives and sails in Anacortes with her husband and three smaller crew members. She works at Anacortes Yacht Charters where she takes care of both sailboats and tugboats such as the Ranger Tug named “Toki” who is pictured in this article.