Category Archives: Boats

Merry Mac: "Size Matters"

Merry MacNote: This essay was published as an On The Waterfront column in the Portsmouth Herald.

Also note: See Boats For Sale on this site!

I have a confession to make: I bought another old wooden boat.

I wasn’t looking for one, mind you, but I like to think mine eyes are open to opportunity. I’ve actually hurt my neck from the involuntary motion of my head snapping around abruptly while driving as the corner of one eye glimpsed the stem of a boat – always a comely boat, of course – overgrown with puckerbrush and barely protruding from behind a sagging barn. And I’m addicted to Uncle Henry’s, the weekly Maine classified rag that is like a downeast Ebay. No matter what I’m supposedly searching for – tools, trucks, enlightenment –  I always breeze through the boat sections. You never know when the ideal boat might come along, and I’d hate to have us pass one another like ships in the night.

But, as someone in the trade, I know that “bargain boat” is an oxymoron, like the “military intelligence” so much in the news right now. Even a free boat requires berthing, routine maintenance, engine and systems repairs, and, for the faint of heart and the irresponsible, insurance. If she’s wind driven there’s the rig and sails themselves – you can spend $75 on one stainless steel snap-shackle right here in Portsmouth. If I was freely given a substantial boat in bristol condition, I’d be broke in a month.

But size matters. I have cleverly steered clear of the expense of boat ownership this time by continuing a simple trend begun a decade ago: It’s called downsizing.

Ten years ago, I was leasing a 40 foot wooden tugboat working San Francisco Bay. I was also living on a dilapidated 28 foot wooden sailboat with a twelve foot tender. It all seemed like a great idea at the time, and it truly was for a couple of years. But 80 total feet of old wooden boat and two engine rooms was way too many snap-shackles in the end. It has been downhill ever since, thank goodness.

I was lucky enough to sell those boats before moving East in ’95 but was soon the proud new owner of an little old 23 foot cedar-strip built lobster boat out of York Harbor. It took me a couple of years to get her just the way I thought she should be – what a nice boat she was, too – and then I sold her because even that was a bit more bottom than we, as a family, really needed.

The next was just 19 feet, a Lowell-designed, Eliot built, sailing surf dory with a motor-well. That was a good family boat: easy to maintain and light on the trailer and wallet. But she was big to row and dog slow under power. We discovered she was nimble sailor right before I sold her.

That lead to a quest for speed – cheap speed, naturally. I dropped another foot in length with a robust18 foot flat-bottomed skiff with a 30 horsepower outboard. When I say robust, I mean robust like a 200 pound Norse masseuse named Helga. Built to commercial work and from run-of-the-mill lumberyard stock – plywood and two-by-sixes – she lacks the seductive lines of the previous boats but makes up for it in pure utility. I like her so well, in fact, I intended to build more and sell ‘em. Helga’s a keeper.

But she’s not light on her feet. For that, one needs a small sailboat and I’m tickled to have found a Merry Mac within my budget and in good shape and original condition.

A Merry Mac is a sailboat designed and built by local Piscataqua boatbuilder, Ned McIntosh. They are a big 14 feet long and carry a simple cat-rigged mainsail.  He built 190 of them, he said, between 1953 and ’59 to get locals sailing again after WWII. They have pedigree, therefore, at least in these waters. A bevy of Merry Macs are moored at Adams Point, said Ned, and are still sailing Little Bay, including hull #1. “I just finished painting mine yesterday,” he said.

Ours is #153, built in‘57. While that is practically brand new for a well built wooden boat, I can’t wait to spend way too much time on preserving and not nearly enough time with a preserver on. She needs a vigorous sanding, some fairing, primer, and paint, but no snap-shackles.

Nicholas brown is freelance journalist, boat carpenter, and navy veteran.