A Boating Bedtime Story

Overnighting for the first time on a new boat brings trials and tribulations. 

After a washout Memorial Day weekend, our goal for the following weekend was to stay overnight on the boat for the first time. I was antsy and Karen was apprehensive.

In the past we moved like cheetahs. A six-pack, a pair of pillows and some peanut butter pretzels was all we needed for a successful evening afloat. Today, we move more like three-legged buffalo. There are bottles, clothes, diapers, toys, snacks (how come the baby gets to eat avocado?!). Then there are our provisions and wait, where’s the dog? 

It took an entire morning just to pack and sort our gear for a single overnight—and we weren’t even leaving the mooring! Karen mentioned numerous times that she didn’t know how we were going to fit everything—and all of us—in the dinghy. As self-appointed travel coordinator I promised to take care of, well, not everything, but more than usual. 

So while Connor nursed a bottle in the air-conditioned sanctuary of our Honda, I took our gear and the dog out to the boat via dinghy; they would follow behind in the marina launch when they were ready. Of all days to force an overnight, I of course had to pick one where the temperature touched 90 degrees. 

I was a sweaty mess by the time they came pulling up on the launch. If I wanted more overnights on the boat in my future, I knew I needed Karen to have a good day, so after she climbed aboard I handed her a sandwich along with a cold can of Sam Adams Summer Ale that she could enjoy in the sun while I held Connor. I could practically see her blood pressure drop. I threw on some country music, and we all enjoyed a fresh breeze while watching boats pass by.

“It’s a lot of work to get out here, but it’s so worth it,” said Karen. “Look at this view.” 

So far, so good, I thought to myself, knowing full well we had a long way to go before declaring the trip a success. 

“It could be nice to go for a dinghy ride,” Karen mentioned. This was big, because for one reason or another, the idea of dinghy rides with Connor had previously made her anxious. I quickly got everyone situated and we began a nice slow cruise around Essex. I felt sorry for Connor; he was covered in layers of sunscreen like a tiramisu cake, in addition to wearing wrap-around sunglasses and a hat that covered his head, ears and neck. It was certainly a look that emphasized safety over style. Still, with a fresh breeze and the hum of the engine, he actually grew quite content. 

The long ride filled up the soul but didn’t do much for the stomach. I was in charge of the provisions on the overnight adventure, so the meal was a simple one: hot dogs and store-made macaroni salad along with a couple cold IPAs to be served at one of the many grilling areas on Safe Harbor Essex Island. What it lacked in style (and some might say, taste) it made up for in function. My boss Bill Sisson even came out to join us. Together we sat under the shade of a tree, enjoyed slightly undercooked hotdogs and toasted to the summer ahead. I felt thankful to be able to work with someone I consider a close friend. By the meal’s end, I felt my own blood pressure start to drop, yet I knew the real test was yet to come. 

While he’s made great strides the last few months, Connor is not what I would call a great sleeper. He’s a creature of habit, and during the workweek Karen keeps him on a military-strict schedule of naps and bedtime. A single deviation from that program has been known to cause a tailspin. Would the warm V-berth force us to retreat back home? 

After much brainstorming about the best sleeping arrangements, Karen purchased a nice portable crib device that fit well in the forward berth. Karen and Connor settled into the berth, Salty laid near them and I posted up on the convertible salon berth. It would be like sleeping on the couch, I told myself. I honestly kind of looked forward to having a space to myself. 

Karen struggled mightily in the beginning to get Connor to rest his head and go to sleep. Lying atop my sleeping bag and watching light fade from the sky, I tapped on my phone while Karen sang her 12th song in a row. It happened slowly—so slowly—and then, all at once. The beast had begun to slumber. I very slowly allowed myself to relax, knowing that every boat wake or outside sound could end our night in an instant. 

Connor blissfully and miraculously stayed asleep through the night. I wish I could say the same for myself. Until midnight, we were rocked by the occasional wake from people blowing through the no-wake zone. Then there was a drunken party on a nearby sailboat that hit its crescendo at 1:30. My blood pressure spiked with every “whoooo hooo!” that echoed across the water and into the warm cabin. A couple years ago I would have shared choice expletives with my new neighbors. Maybe I’m maturing, or maybe I just didn’t want to wake Connor. 

At 4:45 the first rays of light poured into the cabin (I really need better curtains, I mumbled to myself) and extinguished any hope I had for more sleep. I laid inside my sweaty sleeping bag and checked social media while feeling especially grouchy. I finally decided to get up and grab a bottle of water. What I saw next changed my mood completely (though not indefinitely). Karen was sound asleep on the port side of the berth, Connor was peacefully passed out on the side of his crib and Salty The Protector was enjoying doggy dreams beneath them. I stood there for more than a minute trying to stay in this moment and commit it to memory. We did it. We not only survived our first night aboard, we managed to enjoy ourselves. 

Later the next day, Karen and I were talking about how unusual boating is in that for a leisure activity it takes so much work. Indeed, it took more hours to prep for—and recover from—our first night than we actually spent on the boat. But when I think of that memory, the first morning waking up to my family sleeping together on our new boat, I have to say it was the kind of first that could never be replicated. Therein lies the beauty of any first. 

Little Moments Like This

Karen sits back in a blue West Marine chair making faces at Connor. Scrunched in a bulky, red life jacket he’s uncomfortable but musters a smile back at her. Beneath the chair, tethered by her pink leash, is our pup Salty. Tongue dangling from her mouth, she too is enjoying the ride.

            It’s at this moment, looking down from the flybridge of my new Bertram 28 that I release my breath and wonder, does it get any better than this?

            I’ve long felt extremely lucky to be born into a boating family. It allowed me to travel and form my own opinions of this country. I learned at a young age how to talk to adults on the dock. I learned to fish. I was given an ocean for my imagination to run wild on. I learned the value of taking time to relax and be present with your friends and family aboard.

            Karen and I owned a sailboat for seven years before selling it in the spring of 2020. Watching her grow to love boating and learn the sense of pride that comes from boat projects has been special, no doubt about it. But this trip, the first with my eight-month-old aboard, this one feels extra special. Part of it could be that we were going substantially faster than our previous boat’s 5-knot top end, or because I was driving it atop Cloud 9. But really, it was because I’d dreamed of this moment for so long that when it happened it was akin to an out-of-body experience. 

            It was a short ride–I’m doing my best to ease my growing family into the powerboat world. We cruise up and down the river and in short order we’re tied back up to our mooring in Essex. With bottled up energy to burn, I convert the salon table into a berth for Connor to crawl and play atop. It can be amazing how little a child needs to entertain themselves sometimes (key word!).

            Before long Connor had wiped himself out and he–and his dad–were itching for a nap. Driving home he fell asleep immediately. Peeking back at the little boy in his bathing suit, orange sun shirt and red, white and blue sun hat just about covering his eyes, smelling of sunscreen and tuckered out from his first day on the boat, it was a heart-warming moment.

            He obviously won’t remember his first day on the water, but it’s one I’ll never forget.

NEW BOAT DREAMIN’

I live a double life. On one side, I’m a marine journalist who can go through a multi-million-dollar yacht and find it riddled with flaws. With so many boats to cover and only so many pages to do so, my job not only encourages, but requires, me to be a boat snob of the highest order. 

The truth is, I’m an entirely different person after putting the pen down and clocking out. The same guy who criticized every nook and cranny of an Italian motoryacht earlier that morning can be found puttering to the cove in an old sailboat that very same day. 

While Dan the Editor would analyze every boat—its design mission, current market value and competitive set—Dan the ­Boater never met a boat he didn’t fall in love with. You may recall the Grady-White I wrote about a few months back. It was crawling with bees and left for dead, yet I tossed and turned for months, ­dreaming about restoring her. I imagined early morning fishing and afternoons nosed up to our favorite beach. 

Then there was a Northcoast 24 that almost came into our lives. With only a V-berth and a porta-potty, she lacked the kind of accommodations we are looking for, yet that didn’t stop me from dreaming about towing her up to Maine and island hopping. 

If there was one person who enabled my boat searching addiction more than anyone else, it was my old man. To date, he’s sent me 26 different boat listings ranging from outboard-powered weekenders to project boats as ambitious as Noah’s Ark itself. 

Like an old flame, I kept finding myself searching for one boat that I’ve long had feelings for. She’s a Bertram 28. As per usual, there’s nothing about this boat that I don’t like. As a Bertram, she possesses the kind of sea cred an editor requires with lines any vain boat snob can appreciate. Twin engines, sleeping accommodations for four and enough cockpit space to fish or entertain with ease—I was smitten. 

I learned about this boat years ago when I introduced myself to the owner of an immaculately restored 28. I started asking him about his restoration and even if I could climb aboard to have a  look around. I then dragged Karen aboard. The owner told us of memories cruising with his family. The hook set just a bit deeper.   

Bzzz, bzzz. I snapped my phone open—or at least I would’ve for effect if flip phones were still around. “She’s on the hard and winterized, but you’re welcome to come down and look at her.” 

Last summer, I built up the courage to take the next step. I visited a 28 for sale in Rhode Island. My pulse quickened and palms started to sweat as I approached a truly beautiful boat. I met the owner, who happened to be my age; we hit it off immediately. We bonded over the fact that we both grew up boating. Unfortunately for the both of us, the walkthrough fell apart faster than you can say “take my money.” Everything I touched raised an issue. “Oh, that you just have to jiggle a bit.” “Yeah, I’ve been meaning to fix that.” “I have the parts for that somewhere if you want.” “If you do the hokey-pokey a few times water will eventually flow from that sink.” 

Like an old flame, I kept finding myself searching for one boat that I’ve long had feelings for. She’s a Bertram 28.

Not one to give up, I joined the owner on a sea trial. I made it clear that I wasn’t sold on the boat, but he took me out anyway. Getting to handle the boat in confused seas reaffirmed that this is my type of vessel—I just didn’t love this particular one. We quickly broke it off but promised to stay friends. 

Fast forward to a cool fall afternoon. I found another 28 nearby. Like a single teenager on a dating app who just swiped starboard, I checked my phone feverishly hoping to hear back from the owner. 

I dragged Karen and our 3-week-old into the car bound for the boatyard. If this deal was going to happen, I’d need Karen’s buy-in; young Connor was my ace in the hole. The owner must have thought I was out of my mind—no judgment here—when I climbed onto the boat with a baby in his car seat. 

“See Connor, this is where you’ll catch your first fish,” I said as Karen came within earshot. “And here’s where you can take in an afternoon nap and some cartoons.” I needn’t twist Karen’s arm too hard. She saw what I saw, what you see in all good boats: potential. A sea trial can’t come soon enough.

Quality Time

Richard at Bimini_2012-from-Aimee.jpgTime. There never seems to be enough of it. Despite enjoying one of the most memorable summers of my adult life, what with my girlfriend Karen agreeing to marry me, the seesaw that is the work-life balance was tilting heavily in the hectic direction. An escape on the boat to unplug and recharge was calling my name. With the remnants of Hurricane Hermine kicking up seas to the east, we decided to spend the week after Labor Day cruising west and exploring the Connecticut coast.

During our first days cruising to Clinton and then on to Branford, I frequently felt the urge to pick up my iPhone, swipe left and check my work emails. Advice from my colleagues—John Wooldridge told me to “take it slow and enjoy every second,” and Jason Wood said, “Take a real break, chuck your phone in the drink on Day One and share your new number with us when you get back”—reverberated in my mind and allowed me to put the phone away.

And our week away from the real world provided everything we could hope for in a boating adventure. We enjoyed smooth sailing and squalls alike. There were nights when we slept peacefully beneath the stars and others when we cursed the boat while simmering in puddles of our own sweat. There was also a sleepless night in New Haven, where 2- to 3-foot seas on our mooring made for a night we’ll never forget. The seconds felt like hours waiting for the sun to come up. We enjoyed some great meals and a couple of terrible ones. We discovered destinations we want to return to and others we don’t.

With the end of our trip nearing, we had really found a groove. We were working well together and just enjoyed hanging out and being on the water.IMG_5254.JPG

That’s when I got news: My colleague at Power & Motoryacht, Richard Thiel, had suffered a major stroke. He wasn’t going to recover.

He spent a couple days in hospice, and early this morning he passed away.

It was a punch to the stomach. Richard was as active as they come; a cyclist and serious boater. My colleagues and I shared our shock and sadness, and Jason again provided sage advice: “If anything, this should be a lesson on how important enjoying your life outside of work is. Enjoy your boat and fiancée.”

Cruising home toward Essex this morning, the sun glinting off the ocean, my thoughts drifted to Richard. He was a legend in the marine industry whose time testing boats left a permanent—visible to all those who test boats for a living—wake on the ocean. Richard, always gracious with his time, followed my blog; it pangs my heart knowing this post will land in his inbox, never to be read.

Richard and I spoke frequently of sharing a meal at the Blue Oar, just up the Connecticut River. Alas, busy schedules and lifestyles prevented such a meal. In my last email to Richard, I suggested we get together for that long-anticipated breaking of bread (and beers). It would go unanswered.

After what I’m sure will be a long winter, I plan on visiting the Blue Oar when it (and the boating season) reopens. I will pour a pint for Richard. Instead of hearing tales from the “glory days” of marine publishing or soaking up knowledge from the longest-serving Editor-in-Chief in Power & Motoryacht history, I’ll sip a cold beer and be thankful to be a member of the brotherhood that is Power & Motoryacht. I’ll be thankful that I’m able to run in Richard’s wake. I’ll forever be thankful that, on every boat test from now until I hang up my notepad and decibel reader, Capt. Thiel is watching over me.

I’ll forever be thankful that I’m running in the wake of a giant.

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The Truth About Fishers Island

The local residents of Fishers Island, New York have an online reputation for keeping to themselves and treating tourists like flesh-eating vultures. So it came as a surprise when, just moments after tying our dinghy up to Pirates Cove Marina, a woman walking by turned to Karen and I and asked, “Do you two need a ride anywhere? I’m heading across town.” I guess, just maybe, not everything you read on the Internet is true [gasp!].

We declined the kind offer and set out to explore the island on foot. How’d she even know we were visitors? You have to let everyone know you’re a tourist, I told Karen as I adjusted my large Canon camera around my neck and the backpack on my back.

“Mhmm, yeah, I’m the tourist,” she replied. 

As we wandered the quiet, wooded streets we came across a number of locals who all greeted us not just with the obligatory mumble and head nod, but with actual smiles and articulate greetings.IMG_9360_1

Another misconception about Fishers Island is that the population is made up of blue-blazer and bow tie wearing seniors. And while that demographic is represented, the island offers much more diversity. We found this to be especially true when we stumbled onto a beach on the west side of the island where (at least) a hundred young people threw back red solo cups and tossed frisbees.

“Well, that’s different,” Karen suggested.

The rest of our day would be filled with requisite cocktails and an alfresco cookout. Afterwards we’d take the dinghy into the Fishers Island Yacht Club and set out in search of ice cream. One rule we’d made up that challenged this time-honored tradition was that we couldn’t use our phones to look at a map. We’d have to actually explore the town the old fashioned way.IMG_4599.JPG

The summer sun was setting, casting long shadows onto the quiet streets. The well-manicured landscapes and colorful homes with wrap-around porches gave you the feeling that you travelled back in time. Furthering that illusion was a gang of boys and girls tearing through town on their bikes. When was the last time you actually saw kids enjoying a bike ride with other kids? It was a welcome sight.

On a hunch, we followed their general direction until we were all reunited at Toppers ice cream shop, a pet-friendly hot spot in town where all the local kids hung out. If you were to take the phones from their hands, the scene would look like something from a 60’s movie.

We’d spend the rest of the weekend kicking back on the beach, exploring the island’s other harbors and generally enjoying some R&R.

A swift, Sunday sail later and we were back in Essex and preparing for the week ahead back in the real world. It’s funny,  I’ve probably passed Fishers Island from the water dozens of times, and because it didn’t have one of those popular destination names like Cuttyhunk, Shelter Island, or Block Island, I—and I suspect many boaters—never paid it much attention. It really is a gem hiding in plain sight.

So, if you’re looking to escape the world for a little while and slow things down on an island with small town charm to spare, a weekend on Fisher’s Island can be as refreshing as a cone of mint chip ice cream on a hot summer evening.

Just don’t tell the Internet.

Let There Be Light

I watched through envy-filled eyes as boaters who had done hardly an hour’s work were lowered from the travelift to the resting river below.

How!? I mean, gahhhh, another one,” I’d stammer, pointing wildly at the carefree looking family sailing off into summer.

Karen rolled her eyes and went back to varnishing. We had accomplished a fair amount in early spring; the brightwork had been tended to, the mast received six coats of varnish and was really starting to shine again. The hull was waxed and painted and still … there was much left to do. It was time to call in the troops; we asked my parents to come up for the weekend to help blitz through the remaining projects.

On our to-do list was two tasks that had eluded us since we bought the boat four seasons ago: Fixing the wiring and adding running water. Yes, water and electric, a reminder of how involved this restoration project has truly been.

IMG_91200700 on an unseasonably warm Saturday morning would come, they would arrive and it was game on. Now something of an annual tradition, we quickly settled into the tasks at hand. Karen and my mom fell into a rhythm of chatting and working, first painting the hull of the dinghy with an inflatable bottom paint before adding a layer of varnish to the toe rail.

My old man and I opened the slide-open draw that housed the boat’s electrical and exhaled deeply while taking in the sight. To explain the current electrical situation, well, let’s just say I’ve seen tumbleweeds with more order and organization. Thankfully, my dad has an above-average handle on marine electrical and we had a new DC panel in place within a couple hours. We’d go on to swap out some tarnished old cabin lights with some glistening new LED lamps.IMG_4242

With a couple flips of the breaker we had light. It was a little victory but certainly one worth celebrating.

Next up was the water tank. Because of a design flaw and many years of neglect, the water tank beneath the sole of the salon is susceptible to contamination from bilge water. After working through a half dozen possible options, I decided the best solution would be to place a 26-gallon Plastimo water tank under the forward V-berth. The most demanding aspect of this project was acquiring all the fittings, hoses and pumps we’d need; the actual installation was completed within an hour. Besides adding running water to the head and salon sinks, we also ran a hose to the stern of the cockpit where it will serve as an outdoor shower.IMG_9137

We worked hard that day and were proud of what we accomplished. We had a few laughs and spent time unplugged talking about our hopes for the coming summer. Looking back on that weekend, I realize you don’t really need to be on the water to enjoy the positive affects of boating. The season has begun.