Lynn’s Spin: Wooden Vessel of Love Offers No Problems

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lynn photoWe recently joined hundreds of boat enthusiasts for the inaugural Wooden Boat Festival at the Balboa Yacht Club.

Nearly 50 beautiful, lovingly cared for wooden vessels were displayed on land and in slips – some dating back as far as 1916.

The event also featured a variety of nautical related displays, vendors and artists.

Framed by a sparkling harbor backdrop and the delicious aromas of barbeque wafting through the air, it was the perfect afternoon to stroll the docks with a cool drink and learn the rich histories behind the vessels on display.

Wooden boats are a particular specialty and true labor of love among boat owners. I should know. In 2000, I purchased my father’s 54 foot authentic Chinese junk he had custom built in China in 1993.

The 44-ton, twin-screw motorsailer is built entirely from Camphor, Douglas Fir and Teak wood, modeled after a 500-year-old fishing boat but fitted with modern day power, plumbing, amenities and engines.

Upon its completion at a remote and ancient shipyard far up the Yangtze River, my Dad named the junk Mei Wen Ti, which translates loosely to “no problems.” The name for his beloved boat turned out to be somewhat of an oxymoron, outweighed only by our passion for and delight in owning such a unique character boat.

There is a beautiful gold Chinese character on her stern that I love. I’ll never forget the day I met my dad in San Pedro when the Mei Wen Tiarrived after more than a month traveling to the U.S. aboard a container ship.

As we sat drinking a celebratory glass of champagne in her galley, marveling that his dream had actually made it to the states, I asked dad what the character meant.

“It’s a character for happiness,” he told me. “The kind of happiness that comes from contentment within.”

From that moment forward, the Mei Wen Ti was – even on sleepless nights of worry, and days of backbreaking maintenance – a most happy experience I will always glance back at with great fondness. Even today, my dad and I have the funniest conversations about the highs and lows of the time she spent in our lives. I don’t think either of us will ever regret owning her, despite the truth behind the saying that the greatest moments in a boat owner’s life is the day you buy and the day you sell.

Back at BYC, as we strolled through the festival, I marveled at the detail and dedication each wooden boat possessed. Talking with the owners was fascinating, with each boat having long, unique histories and stories behind them that reminded me much of our story of the Mei Wen Ti. Wooden boats aren’t just vessels made of wood, they are vessels made of love. And if I had a dollar for every time someone would stop by our dock and ask about the junk’s origin, I would have made a fortune.

In the case of the Mei Wen Ti, I finally gave her up in 2008 (much to the relief of my future, ever-loving husband), but I will forever cherish the hundreds of hours spent with my dad learning about the Mei Wen Ti’s custom intricacies only he knew, and the care of her strong wooden hull. I learned invaluable life lessons and we shared many lovely, long conversations over caulking decks and cleaning bilges, followed by a glass of wine to finish the day and take in the sunset. I can still smell the delicious wood scents, unique to most wooden vessels and particularly fragrant aboard the Mei Wen Ti.

My Dad has written a book about the many adventures and challenges he experienced during the building of the Mei Wen Ti. As soon as it is available, those interested in travel memoirs will enjoy the tale and I will be sure to write about it again in the near future, so stay tuned.

I noticed recently in The Log that the Mei Wen Tiis for sale. The owner, who keeps her berthed in San Pedro, has owned her for five years, motoring to Catalina and up and down the coast, keeping her in grand shape. I suppose not unlike me, he decided it was time to move on to a new chapter but I am guessing it wasn’t an easy decision since the Mei Wen Ti is truly one of a kind.

I keep telling myself I should pay a visit to the Mei Wen Ti, but I’m not ready. Maybe at next year’s Wooden Boat Show, or perhaps even far in the future of the event, I will see the Mei Wen Tiproudly on display by a new owner.

I imagine it would be like reuniting with an old and dear friend. I know the smell of her wooden hull will take me back to the many wonderful memories and happy times I spent with her.

Until then, I’ll just keep her in my heart.

Columnist Lynn Selich resides in Newport Beach. You can listen as she co-hosts “Sunday Brunch with Tom and Lynn” each week live on KOCI 101.5FM from 11AM to 1PM.

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