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Growing up, my grandfather lived in the small coastal town of Mattapoisett. Mattapoisett is an old town in Buzzards Bay with a long history of boat manufacturing, and it once served as a suburb to the outdated fishing cities of Fall River and New Bedford. Currently, at the age of 93, my grandmother continues to reside in Mattapoisett, and our sailboat, the Ginger, which she has not set foot on in nearly fifteen years, is moored in Mattapoisett harbor.
My grandfather owned several boats before the one that currently lives with our family, including the famous Allegra, which sailed across the world. He owned boats of all shapes and sizes, but the simple, 30 foot Islander 30 that he named after my father’s family dog growing up, remains the most meaningful.
The Ginger has been on plenty of its own adventures. My brothers, my father, and I have taken the boat on many trips throughout the Cape and Islands of Massachusetts. We have grounded the boat in Lagoon Pond of Martha’s Vineyard, we have putted through Nantucket Harbor in the middle of the night, holding up flashlights to find our rented mooring, and we have sailed through the currents of the Cape Cod Canal on our way to Provincetown, but the most memorable trip of them all was the time that my father and I were navigating our way into Quissett Harbor of Falmouth, Massachusetts.
It was a simple day trip. We planned to sail into the harbor, anchor for a few hours, then sail back to Mattapoisett and drive home. On the way into the harbor, we had to navigate through a zig-zagging channel during a low tide. One poor maneuver would have crashed the boat into a field of rocks, and that is exactly what happened. My father accidentally steered us out of the channel, and all of a sudden, we were wedged between two gigantic boulders. A loud boom followed by a ripple of waves made us flinch, and the boats started to shake, making it clear that we were not going to sail back home that day. The rudder was destroyed, which is the part that steers the boat, so we needed assistance to help us to shore.
The boat was out of commission for the rest of that summer. Weeks later, my father and I were in Mattapoisett to visit my grandparents. We stopped at the harbor yard, and there was the Ginger, stilted up on the side of the parking lot, being repaired by employees of the harbor.
Before seeing the Ginger in its stilts, I had never before conceptualized its massive size. Its keel swung down under railing, nearly hitting the ground, and the mast rose above the trees. The large hull, which serves as the underbelly of the boat, is covered in chipped paint and barnacles that live under the water.
At the harbor yard, my grandfather examined the broken rudder while he talked to the repair men, angry that his property had been damaged. He had not sailed the boat in years, and he would sail it only once more before passing away at the age of 89. Still, the boat was important to him. It was his most valuable possession, and we had nearly destroyed it. Without the Ginger, my grandfather’s decades of sailing would have no legacy.
My father parked in the dirt parking lot adjacent to the Ginger and walked towards it, while my brothers and I sat in the car and watched. My grandfather was visibly angry, despite it being weeks since the incident occurred. I saw my grandfather speak to my father in the way that my father spoke to me as a young kid. I had to sit in the car and watch my father be lectured, and scolded.
Once they finished talking, my father looked down, walked to the car, started the engine, and drove us home.
This trip to Mattapoisett seemed empty. Without going for a sail, like we normally would have on a windy August day, the town had no purpose anymore. I cannot imagine what my experience would have been if sailing had not been a family tradition of ours. I wonder what Mattapoisett would have meant to me.
Mattapoisett always meant sailing to me. A lot of kids in my hometown growing up had beach houses, or ski houses. My family, on the other hand, had the sailboat, which allowed us to go on many more adventures. We were able to explore the south shore of Massachusetts, rather than being confined to one beach, and one town.
The following summer, when the Ginger was finally repaired, my grandfather sailed her for the final time after not setting foot on the boat for many years. We picked up my grandfather from his house, and drove to the boatyard on the opposite side of town. My father, my brothers, and I walked to the end of the launch dock in the center of the harbor yard. We stepped on the launch boat, and told the launch driver to bring us to the Ginger, which was the 30-foot white boat, with a blue sail cover, and a golden title on the stern that reads “Ginger - Mattapoisett.” The launch driver knew exactly where our boat was, as he had driven us to it before on many other occasions. Once we got to the ginger, the driver brought us to the starboard side of the boat. He cut the motor, allowed us to step off onto the Ginger, then he motored back to the distant boat yard dock. Once we were settled in, my father started our motor, and we went back to the service dock, which is also a part of the harbor yard. We helped my grandfather as he limped down the ramp, and my father placed a stepping stool on the dock in front of the boat’s starboard side. The stool was normally used when my brothers and I were young so we could see over the cabin when steering, but this time, the stool was used for my grandfather, so he could set foot on his last boat, for the last time in his life. This simple stepping stool allowed my brothers and I to begin our many great experiences sailing on the Ginger, but it also served as a way to close out a lifetime of sailing for my grandfather.
Once he had settled down in the cockpit, we casted off from the dock, and went for a quick sail around the harbor. My grandfather, a former business owner who picked up sailing as a hobby, knew that this day in August would likely be the last time that he would ever sail. It was not emotional, however, as we did the normal routine for an afternoon sail. We took a straight course towards the bell buoy, tacked, and allowed the wind to carry us home to the boatyard.
I was always amazed by my grandfather’s knowledge when it came to sailing. He had been boating in Mattapoisett harbor since he was a young kid, so the characteristics of the harbor were second nature to him. He could predict wind directions, chart courses from memory, and spot every rock that laid beneath the harbor.
Seven years have passed since his final sail, but the family tradition lives on, and the Ginger continues to take us on adventures every summer. This tradition of sailing will likely be passed down through generations, and there will likely be many more boats to serve this tradition. My grandfather started this family custom from scratch, and though he is no longer with us, the remaining members of the family have every intention to continue to sail in Mattapoisett harbor.
When my grandfather passed away, my father and his siblings went for an evening sail shortly after the funeral. With them were my grandfather’s ashes. As he had previously requested, they spread the ashes throughout the murky waters of Mattapoisett harbor. From now on, my grandfather, Edward, will live with the harbor in which he created a long tradition of sailing that will live with the family for the rest of eternity.