Sometimes I draw inspiration from unusual sources. This month, I am being inspired by the February issue of an obscure journal called “Messing About in Boats.” The traditional print magazine, generally more than 50 pages per issue, is almost single-handedly produced by editor Bob Hicks, who has been publishing the journal from his home office since 1959. It wasn’t his first job, either. On occasion, I wonder how much longer the journal can be sustained. In a world of computers where many magazines have gone to online distribution, I look forward to reading type on paper once a month. I, like many other subscribers, put a little note in the last subscription renewal, inquiring about the health and well-being of the aging editor. In his editorial in this issue, Hicks assures his readers that he and his family are well and, so far, free of covid. Specifically he says, “About our health . . . just being elderly does not necessarily mean we are ‘at risk’ for we are healthy and not afflicted with any underlying conditions that render our auto immune systems unable to do their duty.”

He, his wife and his daughter continue to produce an issue of the magazine every month with no talk of retirement. One of the quirks about the magazine I love is the line they put in the publication statement. After listing the subscription information and the address of the magazine they put in the phone number, followed by the line, “There is no machine.” If you want to talk to them, you have to catch them when they are available to speak on the phone.

I don’t think it is a very big magazine in terms of circulation. It makes me feel a bit unique and perhaps a bit quirky to receive an issue every month.

The inspiration doesn’t stop with the editor. In this month’s issue there is an article by Larry Bracken about his progress towards achieving his goal of earning his Master level license. Such a license enables the bearer to charter in open ocean settings, where the boat is taken beyond sight of land. He is not intending to become a charter operator, but rather seeking the license as a way of pursuing his love of sailing in a safe and responsible way. He wants to gain more skills and become more safe in his pursuit of his hobby. He wrote, “About a year and a half ago I ticked over from the 70s into the 80s and hurtle toward the start of the ninth decade doing the sailing thing.” Not only does the article speak of the challenges and joys of pursuing his love of boating as he grow older, in it he also wrote about the challenges of operating aging boats: “Does old age present insurmountable barriers? Do the inadequacies of old boats cause insurmountable barriers to point-to-point, open water sailing? Only if left unresolved.”

I really hope I can maintain a small amount of his attitude when I make the journey into my eighties.

Flipping a few pages farther in the magazine, Sid Whelan writes, “My 91st birthday present for me and my family is a new 16’ Adirondack guideboat.”

Reading the magazine makes my own boating ambitions seem a bit less ridiculous. I spent several hours sanding the varnish off of a beloved canoe yesterday. I’m down to 150-grit paper and will go to 220-grit the next day I work on the boat. Then I’ll start to apply fresh varnish, somewhere between 4 and 6 coats, depending on how the boat looks. I built the boat over 20 years ago and when I finish this round of freshening up it will look brand new and be much better than a brand new boat because I know exactly how it will perform in the water. I haven’t babied this boat. It has received its share of scratches from rocks and it has traveled thousands of miles on racks and trailers. It’s been in a lot of different waters over the years.

It isn’t my only boat. On the rack in the shop, waiting for the space when I finish my canoe is a 20’ ocean kayak that I started building six years ago. It has been slow progress as I wound down my career and made the move out here. I’m eager to get going on the project once again. The hull and deck are both nearly finished. All that remains is to mate the two halves and seal the connection. Then the boat needs to be outfitted: a seat and coaming for the cockpit, foot braces, hatches, bulkheads, deck lines and a hundred other details. In other words, it looks like a boat, but it is only about half finished. I’ll be lucky to get it in the water this year.

Meanwhile, I’ve been dreaming of making myself a rowing shell. There is a picture of Dana Henning’s new shell in the magazine. She made it over the last few months with assistance from her father. It was a quarantine project for the high school student. Her high school rowing program has been suspended due to the pandemic. She invested a lot of time building a boat that she can row all by herself while she waits for conditions to improve enough to allow team rowing once again. I know I could make a boat like hers, though it probably would take me a bit longer. I’m pretty sure that I have more patience for sanding than most high school students.

And it sure would be fun to have a double or triple kayak while my grandchildren are young enough to enjoy paddling with their grandpa.

And I’ve wanted a small sail boat ever since we sold our old Sunfish before moving from Idaho a quarter of a century ago.

It is pretty obvious that if I am able to keep building boats, I have projects lined up to last me well into my nineties. Fortunately, I subscribe to a magazine that is filled with stories of others who have kept that passion and the energy to pursue it alive. Inspiration comes from many different sources.

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