I wonder how many sailors secretly long for a relationship with, or owning or at least experiencing, a wooden boat. Though most sailboat owners nurture fiberglass craft, my guess is that deep down inside we dream of the smell of pine pitch, the click of wood blocks, the creak of hemp rope in the rigging. So it was for Kaci Cronkhite, who fell in love with a 28-foot Spidsgatter sloop built in Denmark in 1936. Kaci documents her love affair in her book, Finding Pax.
Twists and turns begin from the moment an unanticipated sailboat appears on Kaci’s computer screen, virtually begging to be bought and loved. The boat was mostly sound, though it did have its unique problems. Through her narrative, mystery begets mystery as Kaci searches for the boats true name, her designer and builder, and a dozen previous owners on two continents. Kaci develops a network of boatyard contacts, sailing club archives, and former owners who have spent time with Pax (which means peace in Latin).
Spidsgatters are legendary double-ended Danish racing/cruising class boats that were very popular before and after World War II, but which now are somewhat rare. They are known for their lively sailing characteristics, beautiful lines, shapely curves, spacious interiors, and impeccable craftsmanship.
The search for answers to the author’s questions about Pax span over seven years and included several trips to Denmark and down the Pacific Coast. Kaci writes “In the beginning, the search was simply to improve the restoration of Pax’s interior and to determine her country of origin. By the end, Pax and Kaci’s quest had inspired and connected generations of sailors in three countries to restore an 80-year history. After learning of a devastating fire that long-ago destroyed the cabin, Kaci located a boatwright who helped bring Pax back to life after the fire. Through Kaci’s documentary research, close personal ties are artfully described by those who knew and loved the boat over the decades.
One of my favorite parts of the book is when the design of the original ornately carved tiller was discovered. Kaci described its appearance, “Like a dragon biting the rudder.”
Finding Pax isn’t long enough, it’s over too soon. The twists and turns of boat restoration and documentation made for surprisingly fascinating reading. For any reader with a nascent love of wooden boats and transcontinental mystery stories stirring in their soul, Finding Pax is a book they will enjoy.
Cronkhite taught sailing and circumnavigated the world in a variety of boats, finally winding up in the Pacific Northwest. For many years thereafter, she was director of the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival in Washington, and she guided development of the Northwest Maritime Center. Her other book, When A Cowgirl Goes to Sea: A Memoir of Loss, Courage and Circumnavigation, is on my short reading list. She continues to write, promote her books, and is available for speaking engagements.
Finding Pax, by Kaci Cronkhite (Adlard Coles/Bloomsbury, 2020; 318 pages)