Webster's defines "yachts" as "relatively small vessels, characteristically with sharp prow and graceful lines, and ordinarily used for pleasure."
Which means, to his astonished delight, that Allen Cady now has a yacht. "A simple yacht," he conceded, "a small yacht. But a yacht!"
No matter that it's barely big enough to hold two of us, our lunch and a jug of water. Cady's home-made, 16-foot, electric-powered fiberglass canoe took us in style and comfort to remote and beautiful places last week. What more could you ask of your yacht?
So say hello to Electra-Ghost, Cady's whisper-silent answer to the crash and clatter of urban life, his floating escape route to untamed places.
"The idea was to make a small, simple, efficient boat to get on the water and experience the elements without a lot of complications and expense," said Cady, a craftsman who restores wooden boats in his backyard shop in Annapolis for a living.
"Isn't that the whole movement now -- treading on the Earth more softly, getting in harmony with nature? This fits right in. It's a ghost. You don't hear it. It doesn't spew noxious petrochemical fumes or consume precious nonrenewable resources. It leaves no wake."
Cady got the idea for the Electra-Ghost during explorative canoe forays up the headwaters of sleepy rivers on the Eastern Shore. At first he paddled, but that was hard work for one man and limited his range. One day he hooked an electric trolling motor to a side mount on the canoe, which freed a hand and eased the workload.
But Cady, a bit of a perfectionist, was annoyed at having to twist his body for hours to operate the motor, and by the babbling of the propeller, which he couldn't get deep enough in the water to silence. The noise let wary wildlife know he was coming.
He conceived a plan -- to separate the powerhead of the trolling motor from the shaft so he could mount the motor's control head amidships at deck level, but run the propeller and shaft through the hull back to the stern, deep in the water.
That way, he could sit in comfort in the cockpit and drive facing forward, controls in hand and eyes trained for whatever lay around the bend, while the prop ran silent and deep astern.
First, however, a proper yacht needed the right finishing touches. Cady designed and built a lightweight, pastel-colored deck and cut out twin, Victorian-style oval cockpits for skipper and passenger to sit in.
He surrounded the cockpits with thin, mahogany coamings to keep out any spray, made wooden rubrails and seats and varnished all the woodwork to a bright sheen. He fitted brass cleats fore and aft for a salty, nautical look.
Cady spent summer nights completing the handsome little vessel, then designed and built a trailer to bear it along. The first time he took the Electra-Ghost out on a creek near his home this fall, he knew he had a winner. "I got about 14 inches from a duck before he even knew I was there," he said.
On a blustery, cold day last week, Cady and I towed his new yacht to the headwaters of the Choptank River at Greensboro, Md., to try our luck there.
An old man at the put-in told us we were embarking on a trip into "fishing paradise." He said the tea-colored water harbored largemouth bass and pickerel all year, and perch and rockfish in the spring.
But he agreed that four days of hard northwest wind had made a mess of things, blowing most of the water out of the river and leaving broad banks of mud to contend with. He said in all his years, he'd never seen the Upper Choptank so low.
No problem for the Electra-Ghost, however, which weighs 100 pounds or so and needs just a foot of water to float. (Cady says the next model will have a shallow, concave well for the propeller and will float in less than half as much water.)
We hauled the green vessel down to the water and tossed our gear in. I took the forward cockpit, Cady got in back. Soon we were rocketing downstream at 5 knots, with only the hum of the battery to betray our source of locomotion.
The wind rattled the last, dry leaves of poplars and sycamores on the banks. The big trees bowed to the pressure, but on the water, the wind was gentler.
"Where to?" asked Cady. "Onward!" said I, and he pointed her toward one of the most pleasant, most effortless river journeys I can remember. We fished here and there, watched hawks and buzzards soaring, listened to the wind in the trees and went ashore to explore the woods where they looked interesting.
River bottoms are among the last real wildernesses left in these parts. Most are largely undeveloped out of respect for the danger of floods. The smaller the river and the further up it you go, the less likely it is to be ruined by development.
Cady has explored the Blackwater, the Transquaking and World's End Creek off the Honga River, among others, and is looking next at a cypress swamp in Delaware. I've had my eye on Marshy Hope Creek off the Nanticoke and the upper parts of Mattowam Creek and Zekiah Swamp in Southern Maryland.
Because these places are mostly inaccessible to bigger, outboard-powered craft and rarely attract a crowd, they often harbor populations of people-shy creatures like ducks, hawks, eagles and deer, ospreys, kingfishers, herons, turtles, even wild turkeys.
With Electra-Ghost to spirit us silently along, Cady and I are plotting more trips to untried waters. We figure we'll lead the way to a whole new boating phenomenon.
Backwoods yachting, we call it.