Cape Dory Dreaming

by David Sr.


It was the summer of 1980, I think. I know that we were living in the San Francisco Bay area, sailing a Ranger 26 in some of the best sailing waters in the world, and learning a lot about sailing and sail boats. There was a boat show in Alameda - an in-the-water-show - and we went, my wife and my six year old son and I. By this stage of my sailing life, I had had about 15 years of sailing experience on several inland lakes, the Florida Keys and San Francisco Bay. I had owned two boats and sailed two others as though they were my own, and I had begun to form some definite opinions about what I wanted in "The Boat" - the ultimate boat - from which there would never be a need to trade up. She would be between 35 and 40 feet, full-keeled with a cutaway forefoot for improved maneuverability, cutter rigged, traditional, sea-kindly, heavy or moderately-heavy displacement, and beautiful - she had to be beautiful. I knew I would know her when I saw her. I just had to find her.


We traversed the show, up and down the docks, looking, looking, asking questions, looking some more. This one was too ugly. That one was too beamy. Another was flat-bottomed and fin-keeled. Too many were built to beat racing rules and not fit to go to sea in. Most were floating "motor homes," designed for packing the maximum number of people aboard for the cocktail hour, not for real sailing. We had toured whole boat shows before, never finding what we were looking for; maybe we would again.


Then I saw her. Even at a casual glance, she was beautiful. Traditional spoon bow with a short bowsprit. Cutter rigged. Low aspect. Beautiful counter stern. Overhangs just right. Graceful sheer. We moved closer. Did she have a halo around her, or was that just my brain fuzzing out all the other boats? We stepped aboard. Beautiful. Perfect. Everything was as it should be. There was nothing missing and there was nothing unnecessary. She was exactly what I wanted, exactly what I would have designed myself if I had been capable of it. We asked questions. "A Cape Dory 36." "Designed by Carl Alberg." "Built by Cape Dory Yachts in East Taunton, Massachusetts." "16,000 pounds." And then the big one: "$63,000."


There was no way we could afford $63,000 in those days. But we could dream. I could imagine coming into a lot of money and I could imagine going to East Taunton, Massachusetts and buying a Cape Dory 36 and outfitting her there and sailing her home through the Panama Canal. Oh, I could definitely imagine that! I started imagining, sitting right there in the cabin of that CD36. I think I remember the wife and son getting impatient, wanting to move on, but for me there was no need to move on. I had found my boat. I just sat and imagined.


Eventually, of course, we had to leave, but I kept the picture of her in my imagination. I did better than that: I had a sales brochure and I kept it in my desk. Frequently, I would pull it out and dream.


The years rolled by. A friend let us adopt his Westsail 32 and we sailed her and loved her, but I never stopped dreaming about the Cape Dory 36. We moved to Southern California and sailed the coast in a Coronado 35. She was ugly and I felt no affection for her at all. She was simply a boat - better than no boat - but she had no soul. I tried to love her but couldn't and felt no remorse when she was gone.


We moved to Ohio. No proper sailing water here. We found a couple of small lakes that would float the O'Day DaySailor II we trailered out here from California. That kept me sane but not by much. In February of 2000, a devastating house fire took everything we owned, including the O'Day which was on a trailer in the back yard - too close to the house to survive. We were totally boatless - and totally broke. The good news is: insurance! No, it wouldn't replace the boat (watercraft are not covered - check your policy), but it would pay us a lot of money for household furnishings that we didn't have to replace, and it left us owning a piece of property we could turn into a boat.


No sooner had our thoughts turned toward boat ownership than my thoughts returned to that Cape Dory 36 I had seen almost 20 years before. Could we find one? Could we afford one? The answer to both questions turned out to be "yes!" and before long the deed was done.


What could be sweeter than long-delayed dreams fulfilled? Ariel is now a part of the family and she is here to stay. She will almost certainly be here when I am gone and will help to raise a new generation - or two or three. Many of our best times as a family center around her and the best is yet to come. Dream fulfilled - and it's sweet.