It is easy to look at the skin of a boat and forget the bones that hold her together, and sometimes you just need to strip everything back to see her as she was intended, says Charlotte Thomas
She was something of a sorry sight when I first saw her in a friend’s garden – a pocket wooden sailing dinghy of some vintage that had, over the years, been added to and modified to the point where the original boat was barely visible. It showed, not only in the poor dinghy’s misfitting appearance but also in her rather unfortunate performance on the water. My friend had picked her up for a song from her previous owner, and his intent was clear – to strip her back to the original frames and planking, re-rig her, and thereafter restore her to her originally intended, graceful sailing glory.
If you think this piece is going to be an analogy to big-boat refits, then you are, perhaps, half right. Refit is the topic, but yachts are – as may already be subtly apparent from the portrait and the recent switch from 'Tim' to 'Charlotte' – not. Yes, I too have been undergoing something of a refit – or rather, I decided after four decades of tortured deliberation to follow the example of my friend, rip away the misfitting appearance and strip myself back to the underlying frames and planking. It’s not about reinventing myself, but rather realigning some exterior periphery to the person – and gender – I have always been. In very basic terms, I have always been female, and when next we meet that is who you will find in front of you.
It turns out that I am a complicated soul with a complicated biological history. Mixed chromosomes meant that my body has always been torn two ways; my brain and parts of my physiology developed along female lines while I was still but a foetal version of the person you may know today. And really, like any good refit project, that is the key. By nearly every measure that matters, nothing has changed from yesterday to today. Like that clinker-built sailing dinghy, my frames and original planking have always been the same. My stringers and longitudinals hold the same experiences, knowledge, humour and temperament as they always have; I am the same person you have always known, worked or shared a laugh with. Different skin, same bones.
Beyond a stripping back to those core frames and a much-needed coat of varnish, it is business as usual. I will still go off on wild tangents in my columns and features, and I will still get excited by technology, oceans, images, words, life, good company and good coffee. Freed of the burden of unwanted and unnecessary bolt-ons and with the incongruous rowlocks removed, you may find I sail a little closer to the wind, appear a little more buoyant and certainly will show more classical curves in my lines. But when it comes down to it, fundamentally you have all always known Charlotte, because that is who I have always been. The only differences are the name and the paint job.
So there you have it. Skin, and bones. A long-awaited and much-needed restoration, a farewell to to the name ‘Tim’ and a relaunch as Charlotte. For those who I have met and known over the past two decades, as professional contacts, colleagues and friends, I look forward to doing what we have always done, preferably with a glass of something cold and vaguely alcoholic. For those who I have not yet met, I hope all this will be a complete irrelevance. I look forward to seeing you all in the usual haunts along the usual circuit, and I only ask one thing – while I am happy to celebrate my relaunch, please refrain from breaking a Champagne bottle over my bows. My bones, as sound as they are, might struggle with that particular tradition…
This piece originally appeared in issue 187 of The Superyacht Report magazine.
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