Smootch is the meticulously kept, luxuriously appointed white motor yacht moored to the face of the nearby marina’s dock. She must be close to 100 feet long. One of the guests speaks on her cell phone while treading her elliptical trainer on the exalted deck — the gym deck, I guess — overlooking the next, lower deck — maybe the lounge-around-indolently-but-decorously deck — which in turn overlooks the broad deck just above the opening where the jet skis and rigid inflatables make their home when Smootch is underway — call it the garage deck. Two crew members are scrubbing the spotlessly clean garage deck to a transcendent spotlessness, unimagined even in my house, nevermind on the family boat.
Hailing from Georgetown in the Bahamas, she sprouts antennas of all sorts, including the dome-like sort that make satellite communication and television reception possible from the most inhospitable reaches of the vasty deep, although I’m sure Smootch’s owners do not travel to or through such places. Such places are on the way to the better places where Smootch’s owners prefer to do their exercising and lounging.
She has a crew to manage, operate, and maintain her, and another to coddle Smootch’s guests. They dine alfresco at the stern, on the first or second deck levels. They survey the passing scene from the top deck, 60 feet about the surface of the sea. I am certain that yachting aboard Smootch is unlike the yachting with which I am familiar. It may be more like Four Seasons-ing than yachting, I don’t know.
When I was a kid, yachting meant sailing small catboats around the harbor, landing at a sandy beach on an island not far from shore and camping there for the night, generally in the rain. We traveled in a ragtag flotilla and pretended we were pirates.
Later, there were trips across Buzzards Bay in a slow-sailing cutter about 28 feet long, including the bowsprit. My dog, a big, hairy, panting German shepherd, sailed with me. Late one night at anchor in Quisset Harbor, friends came alongside in a tiny ketch. One of them stepped across from their boat to mine to secure the two boats together, and as he did, he stepped into the dog’s food in a bowl on the deck at the bow. There was no uniformed crew available to clean up the mess.
On those trips, we dined on bully beef, a tinned descendant and poor relation of corned beef, easy to store and prepare. Cooking time was nil, because we served it right out of the tin, between two slices of bread with a generous slice of raw onion as a garnish. Of course, there was beer.
Some cooking was possible aboard these tiny wooden cruisers. Each had an alcohol-fired stove or a Sterno stove that would, given time, boil water for coffee or heat up a can of soup. But, who had time? Or patience? Besides, there was beer.
On our first summer sailing trip to Maine, we rode the tide engine-less and mostly windless through the Annisquam River Canal back of Cape Ann and slipped into the rolling, rock-rimmed anchorage at the Isles of Shoals, southeast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire late at night. The antique gasoline auxiliary engines in all of the small boats I ever owned or sailed in never worked reliably. Eventually, we took them out, tossed them overboard to serve as moorings. So, when we arrived at night on target at a destination such as the Isles of Shoals, really no more than a few rocky specks, it was a miracle. Star Island featured a hotel that accommodated flocks of gentle, moderate mainlanders come for religious retreat and inspiration. Religious renewal was not a prime objective on this trip, but feeling our way safely to the Shoals’ restless anchorage had for us all the earmarks of a holy experience.
A few years ago, continuing my traditional approach to yachting — tragically unlike the approach taken by the sojourners aboard Smootch — while sailing in Maine, we were eight souls aboard a wooden sloop that comfortably accommodated four, if all four were smallish. One long night at anchor in Somesville, Mt. Desert, at the northern end of Somes Sound, the only fjord-like inlet on the eastern coast of the U.S., the three in the crew who could not find bunks below — or who could not abide the tight, sweltering, fusty quarters — slept on deck. They would have been devoured by the host of biting insects had it not been for the relentless downpour that soaked them in their sleeping bags.
Aboard Smootch, the guests sleep well. There is air conditioning. No one worries about the navigation. The diesel engines run reliably. Electricity is abundant; one merely flips a switch. Breakfast is served. Drinks are at 5. Nantucket is the next stop, and who cares whether the current runs fair? The dogs live in the onboard kennel. Guests can watch Jeopardy if they like, or FOX news, or Court TV, or the Bloomberg ticker. They can get the New York Times every morning on their iPad. It may not be the way you and I yacht, but you’ll have to admit, it has a definite appeal.