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My auburn-haired sweetheart had a bad week. She had reached a milestone birthday—I won’t say which one, but she was making numerous calls to activate her Medicare health insurance benefits. At every turn, it seemed, some cheery young clerk, entering “no” in blanks about existing health problems, offered some variation of, “My, you’re doing well for a woman your age.” While “doing well” sounded good, “a woman your age” was not what she wanted to hear.

Not too many weeks later, we were enjoying a meal, watching the swells roll through the inlet as three large yachts headed to sea. Two were modern white look-alikes, but the third was a knockout, a vintage cruiser with a plumb stem, fantail stern, gilt trailboards and tons of varnished brightwork.

My reverie was torn asunder when my sweetheart, apparently with her wounds still tender, eyeballed the cruiser and asked, “Why is it that old boats are considered classics, but old women are not? It doesn’t seem fair.”

I don’t recall my exact reply, but I do know that I rivaled any politician you can name in not answering the question itself. (Forty years together have taught me that, along with the fact that I can’t use the word “fine” in any situation whatsoever.)

She did have a point, though. Each year on the first weekend in December, Florida’s prestigious Ocean Reef Club offers its guests an early Christmas gift: Vintage Weekend. The club opens its docks, grounds and airstrip to a dazzling array of older yachts, automobiles and airplanes. These “classic conveyances,” as the club calls them, are pristine examples, having been lovingly restored and maintained at great personal cost in time and effort. When I asked one gentleman in the midst of a restoration, “What can you tell me about her?” his immediate response was, “Five and a half years and three million bucks so far,” a summation delivered without a hint of regret.

The sad truth, though, is that while some old boats are classics, most are not. A lucky few of the latter find someone willing to restore and love them, but that doesn’t make them classics. They’re just well-maintained old boats. Many more are abandoned to the ravages of time, left to waste away in ignominy.

The difference, I believe, is the inexact attribute of class. If a yacht is distinguished by a measure of class when it’s new, it will retain that quality over the years, slowly but surely transitioning from classy to classic.

It takes more than retouched gold and refreshed varnish to create a classic, though. A fair hull with a sweeping sheerline is good start, and a gentle bit of tumblehome aft is even better, but physical appearance is not everything. She must be strong and soundly fabricated, have a plan compatible with your lifestyle, offer comfort and respite when needed, and be able to accommodate the unexpected. Seakindly performance under stressful conditions is essential, for if you can’t depend on her in a Force 5, you’ll never fully trust her, and neither of you may survive the storm. Perhaps most important, you must be able to look back over your time together with a smile on your face and a glow in your heart, and have no regrets or reservations as you look to the future.

I’ve come to believe that the same distinguishing attributes apply to all classics, of wood or of flesh. If you’re blessed, as I am, to have one of your own, then you understand. I wouldn’t trade my auburn-haired sweetheart for a newer model, no matter what, but if I had the means, there is one redhead I might add to the family: I’ve always wanted a Ferrari Testarossa.