It Wasn’t a Boat. It Was a Childhood.

Submitted by Greg Potter from Exeter, RI

I had spent the bulk of my life in the Hartford area, building a career, raising a family. But when I retired, there was only thing I wanted to do: return to the place where my dad had given me perhaps the greatest gift of my life–my love of the sea and sailing. When I was young, he owned a Herreshoff S Boat. Its name was Obsession, and I spent many a summer’s day pretending I actually had the skills to be my dad’s first mate. I pulled on the mainsheet. I helped bring the jib across the bow as he tacked. But mostly, I sat back and wallowed in the thrill of Obsession healing gracefully through the water as Narragansett Bay’s waters hissed across the length of our family boat’s hull. I never forgot the feeling. And as my sailing skills grew, as I skippered my own boat later (a Beetle Cat) and won a race or two here and there, what had started in a Herreshoff took hold in my heart. So I moved back to the shores of Narragansett Bay. I bought my own catboat. And often, I closed my eyes as I sailed, and envisioned the graceful arch of Obsession’s mast and lines of its classic hull, wishing the boat was still mine to enjoy.

Eventually, I visited the Herreshoff museum and asked for a history of Obsession from the museum’s database. I was shocked. Apparently, after my dad sold the boat, there were two other owners–and one let Obsession’s beautiful hull go unmaintained. Another individual bought it, tried to restore it, but too much damage had been done. The hull collapsed under the pressure of someone trying to restore it, and the wood was sold for scrap.

I wondered if that owner who’d ignored this beautiful treasure of a boat ever considered it was more than a boat. It was someone’s childhood. It was the catalyst for a lifelong love of sailing and boat craftsmanship. To know that Obsession met such a sad end was a jolt to me. But then, I suppose no matter how grand a boat may be, none last forever. Only the memories–and the love for the ocean they’ve generated within the hearts of those who’ve sailed them–truly live on. Thank you, dad. Thank you, Obsession.

Obsession sails a Labor Day race on Narragansett Bay.

In my Beetle Cat, 1968, I reach out an arm to my dad as Obsession prepares to inch up to the stern of our family’s powerboat at the end of a regatta.

Obsession, with skipper Ralph Potter at the helm, heads our for another regatta. Circa 1968.

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