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Where do old boats go when they die?

29 Aug

Last week my brothers and spouse went down to San Carlos (Sonora, Mexico) to scatter the rest of Dad’s ashes and decide what to do with his boat, the Birinci Mevki. After a few days of cleaning and maintenance they were ready to sail from the marina to one of Mother and Dad’s favorite anchorages. Now, the San Carlos Marina is situated in a way that almost requires a motor to navigate, especially if the afternoon wind is howling through the slot at the entrance. Gerry Cunningham was notorious, however, for only having a tiny outboard with barely enough power to maneuver the boat in an emergency–and it didn’t usually work in an emergency anyway. He was also known for being able to maneuver the boat under sail in impossible situations. Though we all have memories of sitting on the bow with our feet fending us off docks and moored boats, Dad had an incredible sense of exactly what his boat would do and how to use that to accomplish his goals. He made many successful entrances and exits without a problem. None of the rest of us have spent enough time on the Birinci Mevki to achieve that sense, and Peter and David eventually had to abandon their attempt to sail out to the cove. Instead they put their efforts into fixing the motor and went out again the next morning.

We had planned to offer it to the San Carlos Marina in gratitude for all they had done for Dad through the years.  However, the desperate economy has left the marina with a backlog of abandoned boats that they are trying to sell, so they declined the offer. Peter, David, and David’s wife Jeanne, after seeing the condition of the boat and attempting to sail it, came to the conclusion that it is no longer truly seaworthy. The fact that Dad was still sailing it is more a testament to his understanding of and love of its idiosyncrasies than the quality of the boat itself. They decided to offer it to the local diving community. The marina will salvage anything of value, after which the divers will take it and sink it to make an artificial reef and dive location.

When my brothers told me what they had decided, I was at first heartbroken, because I had imagined one of Dad’s many fans buying it, excited to be sailing the Sea of Cortez in the boat built by Gerry Cunningham, that body of water’s most dedicated chart maker and promoter. I understood why they had decided not to sell it. Dad had bought the Birinci Mevki as an empty Rawson 30 hull. He designed and built the cabin himself, including foam-filled compartments that were designed to make it unsinkable. In 1992, the same year that Hurricane Andrew decimated Florida, Hurricane Lester passed through San Carlos and left behind a huge pile of beached boats with the Birinci Mevki on the bottom.  Only the sturdy interior construction made it salvageable, but it was never quite the same after that. Truth be told, sailing it had always been a bit like driving a big old cumbersome Cadillac with squishy springs. (Thus Peter and David’s unsuccessful attempt to exit the marina under sail.)

The Birinci Mevki’s predecessor, the Gioconda, was a different story. It was a O’Day Dolphin 24, also bought as an empty hull and finished by Gerry. Though the interior wasn’t nearly as nice or roomy as the Birinci Mevki, I loved sailing it. It leaped across the waves rather than wallowing through them, immediately responsive to the tiller and easy to stop when anchoring. The Gioconda had its own fitting end. It is now a piece of playground equipment in a Mexican orphanage.

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