Brighter Days Ahead

Spring commissioning is in full swing aboard the Karen Marie these days. The boom cover is getting stitched up, spare parts are on order and cluttered cabinets are starting to see some semblance of organization. On the list of chores to tackle this year is to refinish the topside brightwork, a project that has been underway since we first bought the boat 2 and a half years ago.

The toe rail—the wood trim around the perimeter of the boat—was first on the list, as was the companionway hatch and handrails. Constantly exposed to the sun and salt water, these sections need varnish for protection from the elements, but they’re also some of the first things people see when coming aboard. I typically don’t mind doing brightwork; the sanding and varnishing are mindless tasks that require only time to do correctly. Pop in your headphones and off you go.

This year Clark Boat Yard packed the boats in like sardines, requiring me to sand the rail while straddling both mine and my neighbor’s boat. I’d like to say I channeled my inner Michelle Kwan and nimbly sanded the toe rail down to bare wood. I’d like to say that after years of practice I applied the varnish with the brush control of the great Michaelangelo. I’d like to tell a lot of lies, but since my grandma reads this blog, I’ll confess: I haven’t been able to touch my toes since 2010, and as far as being nimble; I might as well have been wearing cinder blocks for shoes. And brush work like Michaelangelo, I was more like Picasso.

I’d be reaching down with my left hand to wipe up spilled varnish from the hull while my right hand was spilling more into the cockpit. It was a mess. It really is no wonder why sailors get such a bad rap for their foul language. Part of the reason for this mess was trying to finish too much in one day. Rush and cut corners when it comes to woodwork and the results will show clear as day.

Karen and I would go down to the boat again on Sunday to finish the job. With the extra help, I’m happy to report things went much smoother. After I would sand a section down, Karen would follow up with a rag and paint thinner, cleaning up the dust. While I varnished the outside of the toe rail she tackled the inside. Funny thing, I didn’t hear her curse once. With a tag-team effort we finished up at a respectable 2:00, with enough time to get back to Connecticut and enjoy some of the day.

The good news after all this is that I learned to not be a hero and recruit an extra pair of hands when possible. The bad news? Karen has a whole lot of varnishing in her future.

Back to Boating

An orbital sander whirled, a pile of shrink wrap sat neatly beside the dumpster, and extension cords crisscrossed the yard. After a painfully long winter, these are welcome signs of spring, and the telltale signs that another boating season is bearing down upon us.

Bring on the boating season.

Unlike the previous two winters, because of my move to Connecticut, I wasn’t able to check in on the boat as often as I would have liked, so you could say I was anxious to get back to Jamestown and reevaluate my spring work list. At first glance, everything appeared to be where it should be; the mast was vertical and the boom was horizontal.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I slid down into the companionway, where legion of bacteria lie waiting. Armed with lemon-scented Pledge and lemon-scented Clorox wipes, I attacked my fuzzy enemy for what felt like hours.

The next tasks I took to are what most would consider low-hanging fruit: waxing the hull and painting the bottom. As boring as they are essential, these tasks bring with them a sense of nostalgia.

I’ve been waxing my parent’s boat since…well, before child-labor laws say I should have been, and bottom painting was my first job in high school. I worked for $9 an hour and silent pizza lunches with immigrants that didn’t speak a word of English. I’ve come a long way since then I thought to myself, right before spilling Petit Neptune 5 all over my Sperrys. And yet, so far yet to go.

Karen would come down from Boston to join the spring commissioning effort. Together we sanded, varnished, painted, ran the engine (which went much smoother than last year) and cleaned some more. By the time the weekend came to an end, the ol’ Karen Marie was cleaned up nicely.

We left the boat feeling hungry, tired, dirty and forever detesting the smell of lemons. We were also content. We came a long way in just a couple days but, as my once-favorite shoes aptly reminded me, there is still a lot left to do.

A Difficult Good-bye

When one journey ends, it’s natural to take a look back at how it began. And that can now be said about my time in Newport, RI and with Yachting magazine.

My Newport story began on a warm April morning, nearly two and a half years ago. It was zero dark thirty as I drove from Long Island to Newport for an interview with Yachting, an opportunity that seemed to materialize overnight. My mind raced faster than the headlights of my old Honda.

Do I really want to move to Newport? Is this job right for me? What if I bomb this interview? I thought to myself.

These questions snaked through my mind as my car weaved through the wooded single-lane roads of Rhode Island. Then the woods seemed to open up and I crossed the Jamestown Verrazano Bridge and saw Narragansett Bay for the first time. And an impressive sight it was. I followed the GPS a few miles further and came to the Pell Bridge, the same one I have talked about countless times in this blog, but for good reason. The view was unlike anything I have ever seen before. Sailboats (a foreign wind-powered craft) and sunlight danced a top the expansive blue water. The Newport skyline rose in front of my dashboard.

Like after a first kiss, sparks flew, I laughed and said aloud, “yeah, this is going to do just fine. New York, it’s been fun.”

As you can guess, I got the job and moved to the City by the Sea a week later and the rest, as they say, is history. Since then I’ve worked with some of the best people you could hope to meet, I’ve traveled the world, met people so interesting that they’d put the Dos Equis guy to shame. I ate at some great restaurants and drank at a few awful bars. I bought a boat. And broke a boat. And forged an unlikely friendship with an old carpenter who helped me fix it up.

Karen and I have raced around the bay enjoying incredible sailing and at times, sailed in circles, becoming frustrated nearly to the point of tears. We’ve watched mega yachts, schooners, America’s Cup yachts and cruise ships come and go while sitting on the back of our boat. Yes. Life in Newport for a 25-year-old dreamer has been damn good.

But I will be moving to another good home in Essex, Connecticut to become the senior managing editor of Power & Motoryacht magazine, one of the most respected marine magazines in the world. I feel that same type of excitement that I did two and a half years ago, the kind that you only get when you don’t know what the future has in store.

As I drive west over the Pell Bridge to Connecticut, I’ll look back in my rear-view mirror and see a town where I left nothing but good friends and great memories. I’ll hope that one day, years from now, I’ll drive back over that bridge and my future children will look up from their iPhone 20’s and become as mesmerized as I was when I first crossed it.

The story continues…

Sailing back to the simple life

Light brown, red and yellow leaves cartwheeled down the sides of the roads. Signs for pumpkin-spiced this and pumpkin-spiced that invaded the supermarket and there was a crisp bite to the air.

Neither a fan of pumpkin-spiced products or autumn, which signifies the end of boating season in New England; I yearned for one last short boat trip, to cap off a successful season in style. Both mine and Karen’ schedules aligned just right for us to escape for a three-day weekend. We pulled up and discussed all the places we could go before ultimately decided we would return to where our season started: Bristol, RI.

While headed north something strange happened. The leaves that once caused me anxiety had transformed in a pleasant backdrop and the crisp autumn air didn’t seem to have as much of a bite as it filled our sails. The daily noise of printers, coffee makers and conference calls were suddenly gone, replaced instead by the sound of water rushing passed our hull.

We grabbed a mooring off the Herreshoff Marine Museum and settled into a comfortable pace of rest and relaxation. And unlike many trips aboard the Karen Marie, there were no large hurdles to overcome. Nothing broke and there were no rough seas to push through. Our normally busy schedules were, temporarily, put on pause. A long hike in the park replaced the treadmill at the gym, and the top item on our to-do list was to find an open ice cream store (not an easy feat during October in a tourist town). There was no television to watch, allowing us to turn our attention towards long sunsets.

It was a simple yet sweet weekend that reminded Karen and I the importance of putting the stress and chaos of everyday life on the shelf for a while. It will always be there when you get back.

Photo(s) of the week: J-24 racing

No matter what day of the week it is, whether its a warm and sunny day or if it’s bitter cold and raining, in the summer and fall, there will be boats out racing on Narragansett Bay. On this night, it was a fleet of J-24s that whipped up the water. Competition was fierce, it always is, and at the end of it there were no trophies to be had, no sponsorships waiting for them at the finishing mark; the only reward was wind burn on their faces and salt spray in their hair. After a race like that, there is a winner but there are no losers.

Stories That Stay With You

As an editor of Yachting magazine, I write about an unbelievably wide array of topics. I’ve penned stories ranging from boat shows and megayachts to bilge pumps and batteries. Just last week, I interviewed a megayacht helicopter pilot and wrote about a $14,000 Rolex, all while eating a ham sandwich on potato bread. Such stories are often fun to write but after that issue goes to press, they are soon forgotten.

Every once in a while however, I get to write a story that stays with me indefinitely. Case and point: Last fall, Karen and I joined a group of cancer survivors and patients on a ride around Newport aboard the schooner, Madeline. The plan was to do a ride along, snap some pictures, get a few quotes and give some publicity to the group who organized the trip called Sailing Heals. We’d be in and out in a couple hours and the story would be finished later that day.

So, on a dreary and drizzly Sunday afternoon we boarded the schooner and set sail for the bay. Sitting on the starboard rail, I couldn’t help but notice a middle-aged woman wearing a blue raincoat and sporting a huge grin. With her head on a swivel, she was snapping cellphone pictures at an impressive rate, seemingly impervious to the fact that the rain and lack of wind made for awful sailing conditions. She was having a blast.

Wanda (right) and her daughter, Lorna enjoyed every minute of their sail aboard Madeline.

I introduced myself and asked a few icebreaker-type questions, and learned that happy woman’s name was Wanda Howard, a 59-year-old veteran of newspaper advertising who enjoyed volunteering and spending time with her family. The next thing I know, Karen (who I’m convinced would make a good reporter) and Wanda were deep in conversation, talking as though they’d been friends for years. They discussed sailing, living in Massachusetts and family.

Gazing out onto the water, Wanda leaned in towards Karen and softly said, “You know, four years ago I didn’t live life to the fullest. Now that I have stage-four cancer, I appreciate things like this so much more.” Wanda seemed so full of life; it was hard to even believe she was sick, let alone dying of cancer. It was hard news to digest. Karen’s eyes filled with tears and Wanda got up, walked over to her and gave her a big hug saying, “don’t be sad.”

A short while later Madeline returned to the dock, but to our surprise, we found ourselves not wanting the ride to end.


Since the time the story ran, Karen and I have crossed paths with the schooner, Madeline dozens of times. And every time we do, without exception, our thoughts go back to Wanda and her incredible spirit and joy for life. Sometimes we talk about her aloud, and other times we reflect on that day to ourselves in silence. We both wondered how Wanda was doing but were too afraid to find out, that is until the other day.

Lorna Brunelle, Wanda’s daughter emailed me asking for copies of the article that ran a year before. She told me she wanted to use the images and quotes in a book she’s writing about lessons she learned from her mom, now that she has passed away. We both spoke about the rainy afternoon we shared together and Lorna said:

“Until the final week of my mother’s life she referred to her day on Madeline as one of the best days of her life. I remember being nervous because she was on a very high dose of steroids (to help her breathe) and I was afraid her excitement would lead to an unwanted dip in the ocean. Thanks goodness we have only happy memories of our day on the water!”

I know that from now on whenever we see Madeline out sailing in the bay, Karen and I will feel sad that someone as nice as Wanda passed away too soon. But we’ll also be reminded of her advice to be happy and live life to the fullest, and a reminder like that is nothing short of a blessing.

YTG1213_CUR (1)

To learn more about Sailing Heals, please visit

An (Almost) Perfect Day on the Water

September is a special time here in New England. Fleets of tourists return to their homeports but there is still boating left to do. Last Sunday was a particularly picturesque day; a cool breeze lingered over the bay, sunshine reflected off the water as if it were a mirror.

It had been too long since Karen and I went sailing simply for the sake of sailing. With no destination in mind and no ETA to provide, we literally decided to go wherever the wind took us. We were healing over, skimming atop the water like a stone, making course corrections only to check out mansions on the coast or to take a closer look at a container ship anchored just outside the channel.

In the world of sailing, there are days that really require you to work. Shifty winds might require regular trimming and every turn of the bow feels labored; you have to earn every tenth of a knot. This was not one of those days. The varnished wheel felt like an extension of my arm and the boat responded with every gentle turn.

We decided to sail passed the Naval War College, an area with thin water and a narrow channel. It was a body of water that I normally would have opted to motor around. It was beyond scenic.

A grumbling stomach was the only reason we turned back towards Jamestown. The highlight of the day was still to come, and it sat in the cooler: A bacon-wrapped pork loin I bought that morning for a barbecue. That piece of meat, corn on the cob and a few cold beers were to be the pinnacle of an already perfect day.

For 40 minutes, I grilled the meat and the smell of bacon and pork wafted across the anchorage. We were the envy of the entire harbor.

Before digging into dinner, I gave the meat one last –over zealous– flip and the pork slipped through the tongs, off the side of the grill, falling, seemingly in slow motion, into the water below. The envy was over in an instant.

Karen, holding an empty plate, looked on in horror, knowing how much I was looking forward to that dinner. We sat in silence for some time; the loss of our dinner was hard to swallow.

It didn’t take long until we were able to laugh at the ridiculous turn of events. After all, it was a great day on the water, one that I’m sure we’ll laugh about on a cold winter day months from now.

Photo of the Week

Devilish Little Details: Two winters ago, Karen and I spent several days sanding old layers of sun-damaged vanish from our wheel. I thought seriously about throwing it out to buy a new one. Today that wheel, which has been held by many different owners in its 53 years is one of my favorite details and the focal point of the boat.

What I’m Thankful For

The anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks evoke different emotions in people. Some get angry, justifiably so. Others mourn and ache for the lives taken too soon. Patriotism and pride for what our country stood, and still stands for, seems to soar, if only for the day. Myself, I can’t help but feel a bit thankful.

IMG_6184I’m thankful to live in a country where heroes still walk among us. I’m thankful for the police who removed miles of rubble from ground zero and are still a phone call away in case of emergency. I’m thankful for the firefighters who ran into burning towers in 2001 and those who continue to run into burning homes today. I’m thankful to live in a place where my biggest fear is breaking a wooden mast, and not a suicide bomber. A place where I can spend my weekends on the water surrounded by family and friends because our troops, many of who are younger than me, have sacrificed time with their friends and family to go fight overseas.

In closing, I would like to say thank you to those who put themselves in harms way to keep the rest of us safe. (In particular to my friends, John and John … thanks, gentlemen.)