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I'm glad that when I was a full-time windjammer I never called powerboat people stinkpotters, because now I'm one of them myself. A trifle surreptitiously, of course. I keep Pied-�-Terre, my 25-foot Bertram express cruiser, cached in the lesser ports of the Mediterranean, but I might as well confess that I'm a happy pariah. Me, I like being afloat. I like boats and the life thereof, and I'm delighted with my seagoing station wagon, a single-hander in the true sense of the word. No aching back as the price of independence. Press a button to port and another to starboard; drop your lines, and off you go; come into a port, park instead of moor, and you're sunbathing on the cushions before your neighbor has finished furling the mizzen. I enjoy being able to decide in the morning where to drop the hook for lunch, with perhaps a bit of water skiing on the way. No glut on the highway, a house on your back if the hotels are full, and bread and cheese and wine in the galley in case a cove happens to look inviting and there are no restaurants ashore.
Part of my content comes from having matched the boat to the job, or perhaps I should say environment. There are windy parts of the world with long stretches of rough sea between harbors where I would settle for no less than masts above and a lead keel below. But for the Mediterranean, or any other body of generally calm water and short distances, a fast power vessel is hard to beat. Not the joys of sail—the silent glide, the lift and surge of the crests, the elation of beating to windward or the excitement of a hard spinnaker run—but other kinds of fun: maneuverability, zip and an occasional hairy ride where seamanship and helmsmanship are very real challenges.
My conversion began back in '56. After winning the Bermuda race in Finisterre, five of us had cruised on across the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean, enjoying a fine, fast passage—largely under spinnaker—until we got to Gibraltar, where the breeze ceased as though a portcullis had dropped. Thenceforth we crept along the coasts of Spain, France and Italy, with either no wind or far too much. For a sea with a reputation of full-time calm, the Mediterranean can show the writers of pilot books a thing or two, as every voyager since Ulysses has discovered. Playing fickle slants across the Gulf of Lion while watching lightning herald the approach of a mistral, I thought how nice it would be to have a boat fast enough to get to the next port ahead of the wind. But then, riding out the gale, I shivered to think what might happen if that fast boat was not quite able to make it and got caught out.
The next step in my education came four years afterward, when I navigated the prototype Moppie in a Miami-Nassau race. Dick Bertram and the late Sam Griffith were co-helmsmen, and we didn't get caught out in bad weather, we went out in it deliberately. Small-craft warnings had come down at midnight before a 7-o'clock-in-the-morning start, and seas generated by a three-day nor'easter were running undiminished in the Gulf Stream. In that blow, Moppie became airborne at the end of the Miami breakwater to land somewhere short of Cat Cay with a crash that not only collapsed my chair but drove my spine into my skull, and I emerged from the eight-hour ordeal—in which we set a record—feeling like a survivor of the Battle of the Atlantic. But bruised and battered though I was, especially as the wind piped up harder than ever in the Tongue of the Ocean, I had learned that some modern power vessels don't scare a crew to death in a bit of a blow. They can take it if you can, with comfort or lack of it in direct ratio to speed, and they get you to port safely. Also, such is the perversity of human nature, with a hindsight of enjoyment.
This sort of thinking, coupled with my passion for the Mediterranean, had brought me to Pied-�-Terre, which means, in literal translation, "a foot on the ground," or, if you prefer the dictionary definition, "a temporary lodging," both equally appropriate. This in quite visible contrast to Finisterre, which means "land's end"—one for crossing an ocean, the other for dragging a toe around the rim of a landlocked sea. And, if I may say it, each equally ideal for its particular assignment. I had seen to the addition of small living-aboard comforts during Pied-�-Terre's building in Miami, tucked her aboard a steamer in Jacksonville and swung her overboard in Marseille to swim away like a newly hatched duckling.
Aboard Pied-�-Terre I found myself, for the first time in my boating career, faced with no problems from crew or weather, thinking of a body of water as an extension of the land in the background, made for swimming and skiing and skin diving and sheltered-cove picnics. Suddenly the Mediterranean became part of the d�cor, too warm and too blue to be taken seriously. Obviously it had been created as a magic carpet to carry carefree mariners from St. Tropez to Portofino, from Cadaqu�s to Capri, just as its finned denizens were intended by divine providence to fall into the hands of cooks with the imagination to fashion paella and bouillabaisse and zuppa di pesce.
More than ever before, I found under these new circumstances that cruising is a way of life, and that each part of the world has a boating flavor and point of view all its own. On the Mediterranean the most fascinating aspect, apart from the changing beauty of the shore beyond every headland, is the port waiting at the end of the passage. Each village, each town, each city has its own personality within a pattern that has developed through the centuries. There are the rambles through medieval streets too narrow and too steep to have been intended for wheeled vehicles. There is the pattern of boats lying alongside the quay, chrome-plated yachts cheek by jowl with fishing boats little changed from the days of the Phoenicians. There is the kaleidoscope of costumes, and the babble of languages and the adventure of the next meal.
But there is also a catch. Too many other people have discovered the same joys. In some Riviera ports, as in ideal cruising areas everywhere, tout est plein: everything is full up, overflowing, complet—the restaurants, the hotels, the roads, the beaches and especially the harbors. Sometimes you have to move on. At such times, speed in your craft is desirable. Sometimes there is a space if you can wedge in. Maneuverability and tough topsides help. And sometimes you get fed up with people and want to escape to a lonely island anchorage—and such places do exist, even here when the C�te d'Azur is awash with humanity—but then equally you want to get back for a repast of loup de mer au fenouil and a fling at the frug in a quayside discoth�que. Score points for a powerboat on every count.
I offer in evidence this memory of entering St. Tropez after several days in the practically deserted anchorages of the Iles d'Hy�res, three small islands lying off the coast of France where the Mediterranean swings up into the Gulf of Lion. By day pines reflected in the clear water, by moonlight the songs of nightingales. My craving for solitude assuaged, the bright lights beckoned, so there I was, running at 22 knots along the magnificent bold shore of Provence past Cape Camarat. Perhaps I have neglected to say it earlier, but if you plan to cruise along the southern coast of Europe you shouldn't simply take the wheel and commence yachting. You should lead up to it by stopping off in Paris. Rent a small automobile and begin navigating remote boulevards and side streets during meal hours, when traffic is light. Gradually you venture farther, eventually tackling the Champs-�lys�es in late afternoon. If you succeed in accomplishing the full circle at the Place de la Concorde during the evening rush, you are ready for the next step, parking. Anyone capable of getting to the curb in Paris can enter a harbor on the Riviera with full confidence.
On this day I yanked the engines to full astern as soon as I entered the breakwater of St. Tropez. Pied-�-Terre gave a fine imitation of a horse reined back on its haunches, for confronting us around the perimeter of the quay was an unbroken phalanx of hulls like the locked shields of a Roman legion. Nowhere did there seem to be space for one more boat, not even a dinghy.