If you’ve been following any of the other blog posts I’ve done about my boat restoration saga, you know that I’ve explained in perhaps excruciating detail my efforts so far to get my wonderful old sailboat, Passage, ready for the water. If you’re still with me, bless you. 

By wonderful old boat, I mean old boat with great bones on which a lot of work has been done, but which still needs considerable assembly before being ready for the water. I am working on that. But today was a big day.

Today I re-registered Passage in the state of Oregon. She is now active in the state’s database of vessels and officially registered as MY boat. Mine, mine, mine. I know that sounds childish but I don’t care. Happy Happy Happy Dance.

This lovely turn of events was hard won, like everything with this boat so far – a challenge and an adventure. One step forward and at least two, if not more, steps back. And this effort to get her registered again was no exception.

The last time this boat was legal in the eyes of the state was about 15 years ago, when I bought her and made her legal so that I could move her from Warrenton to Astoria and get her out of the water and on land for much needed renovation.

Sometimes over the years in my life, people have poked fun at me for being a girl scout and always trying to do things right whether anyone is looking or not. So, no lying or cheating. No short cuts.

To be honest, as I was contemplating getting the boat from Warrenton to Astoria on the river, to put her on a trailer and take her home, I thought briefly about just making a run for it and not spending the money to register her before I took her out on the water that one time. Just that one time. Because I wasn’t really using the boat…

But then I remembered the Murphy’s Law rule that seems to govern people in my family: other people may get away with lying or stealing, but if one of us so much as went five miles over the speed limit, a cop who was having a bad day would suddenly appear out of nowhere and give us a whopping ticket.

Plus, internally I’m a girl scout and a golden retriever, so cutting corners felt wrong. And, what if the boat sank on the way? Think of the humiliation. How would I explain to the Coast Guard that not only did they have to rescue me, but my boat was illegal? The fact that I have a local radio show about All Things Maritime and I’m always telling people to toe the line when it comes to the river did not help. For me to get caught traveling in my unregistered boat felt like the nautical equivalent of Mr. Rogers getting arrested for drunk driving.

As it turns out, in this case my Hayley Mills moral conviction approach (or fear of getting caught?) was all for the best, especially when (fast forward 15 years) I could not find any of the old registration or title paperwork. There were no stickers on the boat showing she had ever been registered. And the old registration numbers had long ago fallen off. The man I bought her from had passed away years ago. In essence, I had nothing to prove the boat was ever legally mine. Oh my god.

If you’ve ever registered a boat in Oregon, you know there is a boat owner database, where in theory I could type in my name and find the boat. I did this and found nothing. Next, of course, I panicked. It seemed like the only reasonable thing to do. This involved taking deep breaths and mentally screaming in my head, “No no no no no no!”

This seemed reasonable and somehow appropriate under the circumstances. And I do admit to being a bit overwrought at times. So I did this for a while until it started to feel tiresome, and then I decided to email the Oregon Marine Board and see if they could help me.

I ended up corresponding by phone and email with a very nice human there who kindly suggested that we could probably figure it out, and that I was not the only person with an old boat and no paper trail. I resumed breathing.

He sent me forms so that I could complete boat history and all sorts of other information including photos and measurements of the boat, to flesh out the boat’s origin story. As Arlo Guthrie once said, “in four part harmony,” and all that. Not quite a massacree, but certainly a protracted saga.

This was pretty time consuming, but in the process I learned a great deal about Passage from the man who originally built her (a different person from the man I bought her from), about how she was made, and how sturdy and amazing she really is. With every step, I began to appreciate what I have even more.

Then a small miracle happened. I found the faded registration numbers on the bow as I was trying to buff out the gelcoat. Just barely visible but I could read them. And underneath the boat in the dirt floor of the barn, I found an old registration sticker from 1994. I gratefully gathered up these artifacts and sent the info to the nice man at the marine board. Then the 4th of July weekend loomed and I heard nothing.

He did send me a message saying the 4th is a really busy time for them and he would get to it when he could, so I waited. When I heard nothing I despaired once again that all was lost. Surely he would have let me know if there was good news. I had other things to do, so I pushed it to the back corner of my brain. If nothing came of it, I’d assemble the manila envelope full of rambling boat narrative, photos and measurements, and throw myself on the mercy of the state.

But then this week, in my inbox appeared a one sentence email from him that would change everything.

He wrote simply: “The boat is already registered in your name.”

Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. OK. OK.

Apparently in some archive Oregon boater database of inactive registrations not available to the public, was my boat’s name and my name – still blessedly linked together in an official, if expired record.

Thank heavens I was girlscouty enough to register her back then. And that Oregon still remembered.

So to make a long story a little shorter, I was able to go online today and register my boat for reals, and I will soon get the updated paperwork for her registration in the mail.

In exchange for some credit card numbers, she’s really mine. Whoa.

That’s what I mean by, “This sh– just got real.”

By some miracle, I’ve actually got a live boat on my hands. “We’re legal, girl,” I said, standing in the barn. I could see her bow perk up a little when I told her.

So I guess that’s it then. We’re goin’ in. Guess I better get out the new buffing compound and finish what I started on that gelcoat.

Next stop, insurance. Can’t wait to see what that brings.