Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Grace notes: A wise caution

"We should caution ourselves against becoming too particular."
- my friend Chandler, 2005, while having a drink at Castle Hill, Newport, Rhode Island (above)

It seems ironic coming from a girl who had earlier stepped from the deck of a six million dollar catamaran yacht wearing some stylish mix of Paige, Theory, Helly Hansen, and Sperry with eyes shielded from the waning summer sun and wind by a "and that's how it's done," looking pair of Oliver Peoples. She wasn't looking the part, that is her. But not in the way you might think to gaze upon her. Looks and brands are misleading. The life you lead is the thing that speaks, not the lifestyle. One is the genuine article, the latter is a cheap and easily scraped away conversational veneer, whether the pretender ever knows it or not.

She is a well-educated and mannered girl from a small but cultured city in Georgia. Her accent gives her away: Soft, gentle, Southern, and without the dramatic highs and lows of some showy metro girls who spring to mind as her polar opposites. Chandler comes from a well-heeled family, the sort that live a genteel comfortable life. She learned to sail over summers as a child in Georgia. One day, she graduated in pearls from Emory and became a teacher.

But she loved to sail and follow a course ruled by breezes over water to other places. One day, when she was in her mid-twenties, she decided to give up her teaching work and return to sailing. Her conservative parents were anxious. But they knew Chandler had to go, would be better if she went, and surely that the sailing life was not an easy one but, one that she had to attempt to settle her spirit. Through various websites which match crews to boats, Chandler was hired on to a crew headed for Antigua (where insurance companies like costly yachts to spend the winter season), and her place was one way only. Once in Antigua, she would have to find another boat on which to crew.

She worked for a while as first mate, also a cook and cleaning person, aboard a large charter vessel which ran out of Antigua. She loved and hated it equally at every moment: Some of the charter guests were nightmares, the work was backbreaking, and the days long. But she was sailing, learning more skills, waking up to the ocean; reading it, living it. She made a decent tax free living this way and since she lived aboard, she saved a lot of money. She was happy though it was a harder life than that from whence she had sprung.

Then, she was hired to another boat, or, more accurately the famous and now infamous (by association) J class America's Cup 1934 sloop, Endeavour:

"Endeavour - 1934, Camper & Nicholsons, J Class Sloop, 130’ x 22’ x 15’8”
Commissioned by British airplane magnate Sir T.O.M. Sopwith for his 1934 America's Cup challenge, Endeavour is regarded as the most beautiful J ever built. Time and circumstances took their toll on Endeavour and by the early 1980's she was a complete wreck with no keel, rudder, ballast or interior. J Class Management acquired Endeavour in 1984 and undertook a five-year restoration. Since the hull was too fragile to be moved, restoration of the hull, deck, keel, ballast and rudder were completed at Calshot Spit, a World War II seaplane base in Southampton, England. Once she was seaworthy, the boat was launched and towed to Holland where her mast, boom and rigging were built, the engine, generators and mechanical systems installed and the interior joinery completed. The restored Endeavour was launched in 1989. Today she is still considered by many to be the finest sailing yacht in the world."

-J Class Management
She is a refurbished 20 million dollar yacht memorialized in every print shop in the world for her 1934 America's cup showdown with the yacht Rainbow:
Print by Tim Thompson available literally everywhere.

It was pretty nice digs, even for the crew of six:
One day she decided to leave all that: She took a management position in a Newport yacht-building company and moved to a beautiful Victorian home in town. By the time we sat together at Castle Hill she had managed to find the contented best of all her worlds.

I tell you all this so that you will understand that Chandler was well-born, worked in education, worked cleaning the head on a boat, and worked as a project manager for large-sail yacht building. She can speak of fine things and difficult, less than glamorous things with equal fluency. She can afford to get comfortable, to become used to very good things, and not be willing to accept any less than what she came from or lived among. But that is not Chandler's way. She knows who she is and does not have to impress everyone, it is probably that single fact that makes her so impressive.

She always buys the best thing she can, invests in quality not quantity, competes with no one, and is content with less than she can afford. "Things," she told me, "and the inability to do for yourself can make you a prisoner in your own life." We both knew people to whom this remark could apply, they run a gamut of circumstances and nonsense meaningless preferences and demands.

Chandler's thought that day at Castle Hill has stayed close in my mind and I apply this caution to every preference in my life. As our economy takes one frightening turn after another, it might serve all of us well to prepare ourselves to live with less or do more for ourselves: Even in lush, money-soaked worlds, the smart play is not to be a pampered diva or prince but to school oneself in discipline and compromise. The toughest road may still be ahead; the more flexible we are, the more willing we are to change, adapt, and endure, then the more we can survive, and like Chandler - experience...


Tammy said...

Bravo. One of your best posts yet. One to post to my wall.

teaorwine said...

Well stated. In recent days, I have heard lots of the neccessary return to core values, those proposed by our founding fathers. Personal responsibilty, frugality, strong work ethic, honesty, respect, integrity...just to name a few. Gobs of money do not always make a person happy.