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.

The Journey.

Boating is, in many ways, a suitable metaphor for life. In both, there are times when the sun’s shinning and you’re cruising in calm conditions that you think’ll never end. Then there are times when—out of nowhere—the wind picks up and you’re braced, white-knuckled at the helm, fighting mightily in vain to get your bearings. In the end you hope the good days out number the bad, or at least break even. And along the way you’ll come across characters of all types and sorts. If you’re blessed, like I’ve been, the people that mean the most, your family, will stay aboard with you for as long as they can. Friends and colleagues, well, they’ll come and go.

You’ll spend some time in stunning destinations, making connections that’ll shape you in ways you never expected, and you’ll also find yourself in spots so miserable you’ll find yourself praying for the tide to change so you can leave it in your wake.

There will be times where the boat purrs like a kitten and the brightwork glistens into the eye of all those who pass it. Beautiful! Some will proclaim at the sight of her. There is always a lot of praise when you’re up on top. Then there are times where things are breaking left and right; leaks spring up from everywhere, the floorboards get rotted. You pull up the carpet and put away the fluffy pillows. Tools and drops of sweat are scatted everywhere. Frustration is high, and there’s not a soul around to help.

But you stay focused, work hard, and with a little luck smooth sailing finds you once again.

In life, as in boating, it’s important to find a partner, a first-mate of sorts that will stand by you not just in the good times, but in the bad. After all, what’s the point of embarking on an epic adventure if you have no one there to share it with?

Over the last four years, Karen has proven to be such a partner. From convincing me to buy the boat, to spending hundreds of hours sanding, packing, painting, priming and pumping out endless moral support, without her, none of this sailing adventure would be possible. I’m excited to announce that last weekend, on a picturesque afternoon in Hamburg Cove, Karen agreed to marry me and stay on this adventure for the long haul.

I feel like the luckiest guy alive and I’m extremely grateful to be on this adventure with her.

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.

Finding Solitude in an Empty Metal Shed

The gravel road rumbles beneath my tires as my headlights illuminate the deserted boatyard. I shift into park, pull one last long swig from my coffee cup and walk into the empty metal shed. Rain begins to dance atop the large roof; the light pinging is a soothing soundtrack.

The gravel road rumbles beneath my tires as my headlights illuminate the deserted boatyard. I shift into park, pull one last long swig from my coffee cup and walk into the empty metal shed. Rain begins to dance atop the large roof; the light pinging is a soothing soundtrack.

IMG_8967           The task du jour is varnishing my 35-foot wooden mast, which is stretched out before me. We un-stepped the mast this year to apply six layers of varnish armor to it, ensuring that—after three seasons since it was built—it remains impervious to the elements. It would also give me, and some poor unsuspecting accomplice (read: Karen), the year off from trying to varnish it from a swinging bosuns chair.

I lightly scuff the spruce with 220-grit paper and wipe off the dust with a tack cloth. I then break out a closed-cell roller and a brush to apply Epifanes varnish to two sides of the mast at a time. After work I’d return, flip the mast and varnish the remaining two sides.IMG_8916

As far as boat projects go, this isn’t what you would call a difficult task, in fact it’s rather mindless. That said I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve been enjoying the uninterrupted solitude that this chore provides. My personal and professional schedule as of late has resembled that of a Nascar pit crew, Go-Go-Go.

Allowing my mind to wander and reflect while preparing for the boating season is a welcome win-win.

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Savoring Summer in Shelter Island

Leaves along Connecticut’s Route 9 had begun to trade their deep green for hints of orange and yellow; nature was showing its hand. Fall is here. With a long holiday weekend on tap the Karen Marie would be chasing the horizon at full throttle trying mightily to catch back up to summer.

That’s how it came to be that we motored from Essex early Saturday morning, hitching a ride down the river with an outgoing tide. The early, yet strong rays of sun burned off the morning dew providing a smoky hue to our cruise. Short chop in the Sound and the confused waters of Plum Gut made for a less-than-leisurely ride over to our destination of Shelter Island’s Dering Harbor. Covered in a weird combo of salt spray and sweat, we eventually tied up to our mooring in the southeast corner of the harbor and took in the view of sailboats and blue-hulled powerboats bobbing up and down in the clear water surrounded by beautiful homes and lush green tress.exposure 1

After a bit of settling in, we hopped in the dinghy to explore town. It would be a short trip. The main street in town, and the hub of activity, is a short block comprised of a True Value, a gas station, toy store, a rustic looking bar/restaurant called Dory and a café/deli/grocery store called Marie Eiffel Market where we stood on a line nearly out the door for a pair of excellent sandwiches. It was clear that we would be back.

After a bit of R&R I had a little “work” for the magazine to tend to. For the next issue’s gear column I was testing and photographing a uniquely shaped inflatable standup paddle board called the Sea Eagle NeedleNose 126. (I know, I know…tough job!) The paddle board ended up working great; it went from rolled up in a backpack to fully inflated in two minutes and as you can see from these outtakes, it ended up being a lot of fun.

An evening of grilling and watching the sun set capped off the rest of a pleasant night.

Day two was kicked off the Shelter Island way with breakfast from, where else but Marie Eiffels. Determined to better see what the island had to offer we rented bikes from the gas station (apparently specialty stores aren’t real popular here). The plan for our half day rental was to take a “nice easy” ride out to the northeast jetty and then double back to a marina/boat builder called CH Marine where we could shower and inspect any new builds in progress. Well, that plan lasted until the first stop sign when Karen tried to pass me. A two hour race would ensue that I’m sure did little to help tourist relations. (When the island wasn’t whizzing past, it was really a beautiful way to see Shelter.)IMG_2964_1

Stopping at CH Marine yielded both refreshing showers and the chance to see a newly built 34-foot runabout. With a really unique blue Awlgrip paint job and sweet down east lines, I was not alone in ogling the new build. Many visitors stopped to snap a few pictures.

Refreshed and feeling like humans again, we hopped a 5-minute ferry ride from Shelter to Greenport, a beautiful town that is often referred to as one of the most beautiful on Long Island. The thing about the most beautiful place on Long Island on the most popular weekend of the summer is, well, it gets pretty darn crowded. Crowds of inebriated college kids, ice cream-covered children and older couples filled the streets in what would be become a very strange scene. We would enjoy a cold beer at the Greenport Brewery before I convinced Karen that it would be in our best interest to explore a nearby down-on-its-luck boatyard. She hardly puts up a fight anymore and just rolled her eyes. After climbing around a few rotten wooden boats, I found a real gem. Something that 7-year-old-boatyard-exploring-Daniel could only have dreamed of…tucked being an abandoned rust covered building, surrounded by a small flotilla of derelict sailboats was…a 1967 Lockheed submarine. My jaw dropped as I took in the site. “You can trespass in boatyards your whole life and never find something like this,” I whispered to Karen who began to realize another plan, this time for a “5 minute yard visit” was going out the window.IMG_2411

After poking around the sub for too long, we decided to end the day with a drink at the waterfront bar called The Blue Canoe. Watching the sun set with a couple cold rum drinks, you couldn’t really write a better official end to the summer.

We’d return home the next morning and our mini vacation, much like our bike ride, and our summer, would end all too soon. But this short weekend reminded us of how much we enjoy cruising to, and exploring new destinations. There’s just a certain excitement that comes with not knowing what’s around the next corner, it might just be the submarine you’ve spent 20 years searching for.

A Terrible, Perfect Night

Tired, frustrated, and drenched in sweat, I spun the Karen Marie in a tight circle to retrieve my lost boat hook that was lodged in the chain of a mooring ball and now protruded straight up from the water like a big middle finger. No, my evening was not going according to plan.

My original vision for the night began with a nice easy wash-down of the boat, which in recent weeks had become a bombing strip for cormorant crap. Then Karen and I would enjoy a cold drink or two on our glistening boat, enjoying all that is right in the boating world.

Well, as the old saying goes, when it rains it pours. With a temperature near 90 and not even a zephyr to cool us off, we were sopping with sweat. We’d wash the boat from bow to stern and then notice some stubborn spots we missed. We scrubbed and scrubbed. My suggestion to Karen that she “try using some elbow grease” was met with a look that suggested I was in for a world or more than bird crap.

From there I spilled some content from our porta-potty on my hands while en route to empty it. Simmering at this point now, we returned to grab our mooring, which we’d done a hundred times. This time our pickup stick (a float used for easily retrieving a mooring line) broke off and our mooring line became impossible to grab. “It’s fine, we’ll grab one of the empty moorings then I’ll fix it,” I said. Good plan but then our boat hook got stuck in the before-mentioned chain of the mooring ball, ripping it out of Karen’s hands.

By the time we retrieved our boat hook, fixed our original mooring ball and tied the boat up for the night, my pride hurt more than the sweat in my eyes.

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Annoyed yet determined to salvage some of the night, I stripped down to my boxers and dove into the water. And I have to say, I surfaced feeling like a new man. I swam over and grabbed a hold of the dinghy with one hand and let the four-knot current rush passed me. Looking back towards shore, I watched as the pink and purple remnants from sunset slowly disappeared. Karen even agreed to join me in the raft and sit with her feet in the water.

The harbor was whisper quiet, such that the only sound was the rushing tide that carried away the stress from the day’s many mishaps.

Driving the dingy to shore at 5:15 this morning, my eyes still blurry and adjusting to the first rays of sunlight, Karen said, “I definitely think we should do this more often.” Thinking back to all the work it took just a few moments of peacefulness I responded, “absolutely.”