BEAUFORT — Gunkholers are rather common birds found all along the coast. They are most often observed perched in the sterns of anchored boats swinging in some quiet backwater, and they are easily identified by how they prop up their feet and wear dreamy smiles on their sunburned faces. Though seldom heard, their most common call is usually a loud bellowing of "Watch your wake!"
A couple of weeks ago, while Sylvia and I were participating in the wooden boat show sponsored by Beaufort's N.C. Maritime Museum, a grizzled waterman requested permission to come aboard. Soon joined by others, our conversation began with discussion of the attributes of various boats, old and new, among those entered in the boat show. But talk soon turned to a favorite subject - the ancient and honorable art of gunkholing.
"Gunkholing" is a term used by watermen describing the practice of dropping the hook and exploring backwaters. Basically, it is small-boat adventuring, most often exercised while cruising to some distant destination. It's the locating and taking advantage of those places of refuge found in bays, backwaters and creeks - where few but local fishermen ever venture.
Gunkholing does not necessarily consist of a lot of traveling. It's more an escape from the hectic fuss and rush of racing between destinations. Gunkholers prefer to be alone or with others of similar mind.
Gunkholing is an elevated mental attitude not limited to boats. It includes the individuals who prefer to dance to their own tune, possibly comparable to those of us who like to pack a horse up some mountain trail in order to spend the night sleeping beneath the stars. It is sort of like migrant workers or cowhands who find a need to be footloose and fancy free. The background, be it water, mountain, or prairie, is the sense of freedom and self-reliance that is fed by such activities.
A lot of us see boats, like our cars, as escape capsules, representing our view of life. Some of us are forever feeling the need to satisfy our egos, to prove we are of some significance by having a bigger house, a faster boat or fancier car; we are forever attempting to catch the biggest fish or shoot the biggest deer or turkey.
Those are not gunkholers.
Gunkholers are those who use their vehicles in seeking freedom. They want to feel as if they are standing on their own feet, paddling their own canoes and exploring in unfamiliar waters.
They want to be lulled to sleep by the gentle squeak of an anchor line, the gimbaled lantern swaying in tune with restless waters.
Gunkholing is true boat camping - exploring the world, not to challenge, but to accept. It's discovering how to find peace while swinging at anchor, your feet propped on the rail and wearing a contented smile on your sunburned face.