Early on a recent Saturday, Cherry Provost, usually a late riser, drove from her home, in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, to Remsenburg, on Long Island. She had come to watch the Dudley Trophy race. The race is the end-of-summer competition for Small Sloops, a type of sailboat built mostly by a single Center Moriches boatmaker from 1908 to 1932. Only about a hundred and fifty were ever made, and each got a number. The families of the local gentry bought them for their children: they were perfect for sailing at low tide in the shallow bays. In the forties, Cherry’s family had owned one. By the time they sold their summer house in the area, in 1986, the boat had long since changed hands. The Southampton Press had recently told the story of a family who had found theirs—No. 96—after searching for sixty-three years. That gave Cherry the idea of looking for hers.

At around eleven o’clock, she arrived at Remsenburg’s main street. “That’s where Ted Gosnell lived, on Basket Neck Lane,” she recalled, pointing. The Gosnell family had owned No. 11. “And that was a restaurant called Leisure Hour Dining Experience.” She used to bike everywhere, she said, on an Iver Johnson: “There were no cars. It was wonderful.” She admitted to an unusually sharp memory. “I’m part of a study at Wake Forest,” she said. “I go into what’s called movie mode. I can still see the scratches on the glass.” Something else occurred to her now, about Ted Gosnell: one summer he’d got a terrible case of poison ivy on his hands and been unable to sail.

Just on time, she pulled up at the Westhampton Yacht Squadron—a bigger building than she remembered—and walked out onto the long dock. It was a sunny day, with the wind from the north. Some sailors were testing the ropes on their SSs, picturesque wooden boats with jibs reminiscent of the craft Max escapes on in “Where the Wild Things Are.”

The dock brought back a flood of new memories. “I stood here in 1954 and watched the houses fall in the water during the hurricane,” Cherry said, adding, “I brought binoculars.” This reminded her of Mrs. Speir (No. 68), who surfed her house down Moriches Bay in the storied hurricane of 1938. “She clung to the roof. It made her quite famous.” Many of Cherry’s memories have a Lemony Snicket quality.

Her family had bought their summer house in 1932, in Remsenburg. Eight years later, on the nearly empty ocean dunes across the bay, they built a “cabaña.” (The middle “a” is pronounced Thurston Howell-broad.) The beams came from torpedoed shipping that had floated ashore. Seven-year-old Cherry hammered, and she shingled. “Chalk the stripe and snap the line!” she sang.

But, twenty years later, a nor’easter blew the cabaña into the bay. The family retreated to the Remsenburg property, and when Cherry drove by she recognized the grape arbors she’d planted almost eighty years ago. A grandson of the playwright Guy Bolton (no SS) pushed her off the high dive at the beach club; when she shoved him off the edge of the pool, he broke his front teeth. “You know what? He started it, and I finished it,” she said.

Back in Moriches Bay, the Small Sloops labored on like resolute wooden ducklings. The race finished. No. 120 beat out Nos. 152, 153, 137, 135, 13, and 125. At two-forty-five, the Small Sloop association convened its annual meeting under a tent. It is a small band of enthusiasts whose estimable goal is to keep the boats sailing generation after generation. (About forty craft are still in sailing condition.) Cherry, carrying a walking staff topped with a bellic carved eagle, introduced herself. The association’s secretary showed her a booklet with the lineage of every SS. She pointed happily to the Rices (No. 5), the Drivers (No. 47), and the Kiddes (No. 115). “I dated Kyle Kidde,” Cherry told the group. “I danced with him on a Saturday night, and by Monday he was in an iron lung.”

The commodore interrupted to say, “The wind has changed. The boats are in danger.” The crowd suddenly had to go.

Cherry’s husband died in 2008. He would have known their boat number, and so would her brother—he captained; she crewed—but he died last year. His wife had letters, maybe even scanned, but . . . long story. Cherry had only her memories. The number 33, imprinted on a cloth mainsail, kept flashing in her brain, but, when she looked up that sloop in the booklet, she saw that its last listed owner was eighty years ago. The boat had likely been turned into a planter or split in half to make a bar or sucked out to sea long ago. Cherry told other stories from that time: affairs, gruesome deaths, hearts sundered by grief. Some kids had robbed the local movie house with a fake gun. She’d fallen off her Iver Johnson and got a concussion. It was four o’clock. Traffic was building. She should really get going. ♦

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