From the vantage of his mid-60s, critic, writer, and retired teacher Rubin (The Mockingbird in the Gum Tree, p. 997) offers a pleasantly rambling memoir about his lifelong romance with boats and about the building of what he suspects will be his last one, the wooden-hulled 24-footer Algonquin. As a young boy in Charleston, S.C., who lived on a river near the sea but couldn't swim a stroke, Rubin tacked together his first leaky skiff and tasted the romance of free movement on the water. Rubin never did learn to swim--a failure about which he's got some typically funny and modestly exploratory things to say--but from that time on he was never without a boat, or far from one. Entering retirement, and having gotten his children through college, he's now able to afford a boat that's an end-of-life equivalent of that childhood skiff--a craft at last that he can design and have built exactly the way he wants it. The result is the sturdy and unpretentious Algonquin, modeled after the harbor workboats that infatuated Rubin as a boy, and her construction from keel up (the boat is named for the publishing company of which Rubin is founder, and also for a coastal liner his father once took passage on) gives the author occasion to reminisce about his lifetime of boats before this one, with conversational side trips into books, places, the meaning of boats and travel, and even--by means of bits of family history that make up some of the most readable pages of this readable book--the psychology of risk-taking and the emotional roots of Rubin's constant but often impractical love of water and boats. Though maybe not casting its lines to quite the same historical breadth as Witold Rybczynski's The Most Beautiful House in the World (1989), this offers itself as a worthy and natural companion to that other andante and evocative memoir of the building of something much loved.