In Love with Mabel

My husband is having an affair of heart with Mabel, but I think I’m falling in love with her, too. She’s a real dreamboat: twenty-eight-feet long and sleek, with a classical look that’s not at all old-fashioned. When I see her bobbing gently at her mooring, I think she has the most beautiful lines – delicate yet solidly built. She moves like a dancer on the water, the waves as her partner.

I used to be jealous of how much attention Mabel was getting from my husband, but now I want to be with her all the time myself. She’s an adventure in herself, without even considering other factors, such as wind and waves. She’s designed that way: no engine. She’s got traditional fishing-boat sails and lines, which necessitate much hauling and trimming, and a need for live ballast – that is to say, a crew that moves from here to there to keep her balanced.   
My feelings for Mabel were clinched one day when we sailed her from Cape Pogue Pond back to her home port of Vineyard Haven. It was sunny, with a good breeze on a sharply crisp end-of-August day; the tide and wind were in our favor. There were ten of us on board – assorted sizes, ages, and stages of acquaintance: a father and son, a couple of husbands and wives, a friend of a friend. Our ages ranged from ten to seventy. Mabel carried us all with ease because she’s a completely open boat, both in look and in spirit.

Early that morning I had asked my husband, Sidney Morris, who was the main person behind the building of Mabel, whether she was all ready to sail back to Vineyard Haven, since she had just sailed from there without incident two days earlier. He had said “Yes” – of which I should know the meaning after twenty-five years of marriage. Preparation to sail that morning took more than an hour of fiddling with lines and sails, tightening screws, and stowing gear. Finally, we pulled up the anchor. The breeze was on shore, and we began to drift anxiously toward the beach. But we managed to get just enough forward motion to avoid scraping bottom in the knee-deep water, and we angled away from the shore. We headed for open water with the sails full of wind, and the crew full of happy anticipation.

That’s the way Mabel is: She’s a lot of work, but she’s worth it 100 percent. At that early point in Mabel’s life it was almost as if the rigging needed to be reinvented each time the sails were raised. I know that’s not true, but it is true that things still go “wrong” regularly. It’s partly that the bugs are being worked out of the rigging, and partly that it’s the nature of Mabel to be a challenge to sail. The week before, the snotter – which secures the mainsail to the bottom of the sprit, an angled spar that gives the sail shape – had broken, and the sprit and mainsail had come sagging down. We folded the mainsail in half, creating a cone-shaped sail that quickly became known as the gelato sail.

The theory behind Mabel appears to be this: Here’s what we’ve got at this point – work with it, and when things happen, be creative and improvise until you find a way to solve the problem, however temporarily. That’s exactly why she is a perfect boat for her purpose, which is to take groups of young people on Outward Bound–type adventures in which they must adapt to each other and to the circumstances, go with the flow of what’s happening right there, right now, and be creative in real-life situations.

Mabel was designed and built mostly by Myles Thurlow of West Tisbury in his eighteenth year for the fledgling Vineyard Voyagers organization in its second incarnation – the first being outdoor adventures led by Malcolm Boyd of Vineyard Haven for students of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School in the early 1990s. Sidney revived the group to get young people (as well as older ones) building boats, sailing, and learning what you need to know to sail on the sea. Vineyard Voyagers is now part of Sail Martha’s Vineyard, the nonprofit group that helps Island youngsters learn to sail.

In May of 2002, the day before Mabel was scheduled to be launched, she still didn’t have a name. She needed one that would reflect her heritage as well as her present purpose as a solid working boat. Sign painter Maynard Silva of Oak Bluffs called to see what name he would be painting on the boat in the morning. When he learned there was still no name, he told Sidney about a woman named Mabel Adeline Porter, who first saw the Vineyard from the deck of her father’s tugboat when she was nine years old. She grew up and married a Vineyarder, moving here and giving birth to a boy named Maynard. This very same Maynard now claimed that the boat would have no end of good luck if she took his mother’s name. Sidney had to admit Mabel sounded like a good name for a working boat, but he still wasn’t convinced, and told Maynard he would let him know in the morning.

Early the next morning, the boat was still nameless when Tom Grew, captain of the venerable Vineyard Haven traditional charter boat Ayuthia, walked into the boat shop with a story about the dream he had had the night before. He had dreamed he was at the launching of the new Vineyard Voyagers boat, and there, painted on her bow, was the name Mabel. That clinched it; from that moment she became Mabel, prettiest boat in the harbor. That’s an unbiased opinion, too!