Meade's (Small Boat) Manifesto

Previously published in Small Craft Advisor, March/April 2011, Issue No. 68

Derelict yacht "A perfect example!" Meade Gougeon pointed with his paddle at a thirty footer ashore above the edge of an oyster bank. Her deep keel, the bottom starboard edge of which was in damp sand, gave her no choice but to lean her bilge on marsh grass, mast canted over.

Cedar Key, 14 November 2010. Nine AM Sunday was clear, dry, mid 50s. Bob Treat, in his canoe with long sculling oars and a sliding seat, led Meade in my old decked canoe Puffin and me in K's decked canoe Ibis --- K's treatments in Michigan are encouraging; I was in Florida for a two-week catch-up on chores. We paddled at a nautical stroll northeast, up the mild ebb between Dog Island and Scale Key. Compared to summer's blazing heat, this sunshine was nicely warm.

Meade is the senior brother and business guide of the Gougeon Brothers epoxy works. "I couldn't get Joel or Jan to do the paperwork, so I became a businessman." His experience in sailing craft from multihulls to iceboats is beyond recounting.

Bob was raised on Connecticut's Housatonic river with catboats and rowing skiffs. He's a retired Coast Guard and airline pilot, and designs and builds small boats. He's raced several dinghy classes and instructed at the Annapolis Sailing School.

Bob pointed at Dog Island and back to Town, and told what he'd noticed of the "Dog Island Derelict," her draggings, re-anchorings, and groundings over the year.

But Meade wasn't thinking anchoring technique; he meant boats that had been commercially viable only because buyers could easily borrow money for them, and builders could easily borrow to build them. So, the abandoned cruiser reflected the country's economic problems, too, along with wishful anchoring.

Beaching We beached on Cedar Point Island, and talked about changing times and effects on small boats. Meade was animated. "Borrowing was the problem. Credit was too easy. Too many people, including borrowers, banks, and businesses, were burned by credit. Much of the last decades of boat building and buying was based on borrowing. It weakened the boat building industry because it gave a false direction."

Beaching Meade sees a greater expansion coming of small boats than in an ordinary economic recovery. Besides pent up demand from the working poor, and people out of work, there's additional demand from those downsizing. They had been on the water and still want to be there. But it must be cash affordable and smaller, similar to the need for most to adapt to less with other parts of their lives.

Meade's encouraged. Some people refuse cookie-cutter plastic boats, he believes, because they want to personalize theirs. Do-it-yourself and kits will flourish, partly because they give choices for people to make their boat fit them, for their purposes, for their quests.

After we went under the #4 Channel bridge --- light, west bound ebb with us --- Meade and I traded boats and paddles.

Ibis, a RobRoy canoe He rejects the notion of borrowing money other than for home and car, asking "Why do people pledge future hours of employment, putting themselves in servitude to a creditor when it's easy to go smaller?" Particularly because, as Bob has restated the adage, "The amount of fun you have with a boat is inversely proportional to its size and cost."

Before the #2 Channel we traded paddles back; his carbon Werner was feather light and had several bends in the shaft. (I'm still delighted with my old, heavy Dagger's impeccable blade shape, although for twenty years I've had a shaft section re-design in mind.) East of the #2 Channel bridge --- faint current still with us --- we wandered between mud and oyster banks with feeding shorebirds, along the 'back' side of Town and its docks for fishermen, oystermen, crabbers and clammers.

On the Gulf again we turned southwest, and sauntered back along our track to the Island Place beach. It was nearly 70 degrees and past noon---a half dozen miles covered. By now there's no surprise left in me at the attraction of small, simple boats to even vastly experienced sailors with means.

Ibis, a RobRoy canoe As we'd glided through Cedar Key's salt marshes and channels, the future of small boats sang. Innovation will thrive. Ideas will come to stow ashore better, and bring to the water more easily, ever more versatile small boats for young families, retirees, fishermen --- all of us.


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