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 activecaptain.com 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.

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.

IMG_9540
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.

IMG_9550

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 sailingheals.org.

Photo of the Week

IMG_6943_2
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.

Rediscovering Newport [Gallery]

It’s known as the Sailing Capital of the World, America’s First Resort and the City by the Sea; for the last two years I have simply called it: home. Since moving here from Long Island to begin my journey with Yachting magazine I have walked the cobblestone streets with flocks of tourists, slurped clam chowder at it’s many seafood spots, and frequented its many salty pubs. What I hadn’t done, at least until the other weekend, was visit by boat.

It’s known as the Sailing Capital of the World, America’s First Resort and the City by the Sea; for the last two years I have simply called it: home. Since moving here from Long Island to begin my journey with Yachting magazine, I have walked the cobblestone streets with flocks of tourists, slurped clam chowder at its many seafood spots and frequented the many salty pubs. I thought I knew Newport pretty well but the one thing I haven’t done, at least until the other weekend, was visit by boat. 

Just a ten minute trip from Jamestown, we cruised past Fort Adams, a garrison originally built in 1799 and revamped in 1841, and were met by perhaps the most eclectic fleet of yachts found in the United States. Schooners under a full wardrobe of sails silently swept by monstrous megayachts, and families in rubber dinghies dodged rust-laden fishing vessels. Simply put, it was a boat nut’s dream. 

The Karen Marie anchored in one of the more quiet (a relative term) corners of the harbor, in the shadow of the New York Yacht Club’s summer location, Harbour Court. Long hours of yacht watching ensued, as did multiple dinghy rides around the harbor, which yielded some of the amazing sights I hope you enjoy below.

Photo of the Week:

Red wine at night, sailor's delight: A class of vino tilts ever so slightly to port as the sun sets behind Newport Harbor. If there is a better way to end a day, I haven't discovered it yet.
Red wine at night, sailor’s delight: A class of vino tilts ever-so-slightly to port as the sun sets behind Newport Harbor. If there is a better way to end a day, I haven’t discovered it yet.

Photo of the Week:

IMG_6271
Newport, RI is one of the few places in the world where superyachts and schooners trade wakes with liveaboard sailors and fishermen. You just never know what you’re going to see here.

Lessons Learned: Stand Up Paddling Edition

I have to admit, after a week-long vacation aboard the Karen Marie, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Sporting a fresh tan, my shoulders were relaxed and my arms swung easily at my side; there was a strut in my step as I walked the docks. I was proud of my boat and the fact that we made it to three new destinations together, returning no worse for wear.

There would be no sailing the weekend after our trip, as Karen’s family was in town for their annual visit to Newport. Shoulder tension returned, just a bit, as we prepared an itinerary for their visit. An active family, we planned to spend Saturday afternoon exploring Jamestown’s tranquil Dutch Harbor via Stand-Up Paddleboards and kayaks. (This is in spite of the fact that I often scoff at the local “hippies” who practice yoga on the elongated surfboards near our marina.)

2014-07-19 12.40.47 HDR

I played through the afternoon multiple times in my head. We would enjoy a leisurely paddle out to Dutch Island then take a short walk to the lighthouse on the southern end. We’d get just enough exercise to burn off breakfast and not feel guilty about fresh fish tacos from The Shack afterwards.

2014-07-19 12.10.18 HDR

And it started off just like I had hoped. I snapped pictures from my WaterShot submersible cell-phone case of happy smiles and shared laughter. I even let myself smile as we reached the lighthouse. Everything was going according to plan and I could practically taste the celebratory tacos. I walked along the shoreline, perfecting my rock skipping technique as Karen and her older sister embarked on a “short race.”

Busy counting skips, I lost track of them until a passing boater and his son mentioned that the sisters were fighting against a strong current and might need help. He was right; they were paddling and paddling but being pushed farther north away from their intended destination. Like the tough guy I fancy myself, I took off after them to help guide them out of the channel and away from the incoming current.

Tough guy decision, yes. Smart, not so much.

After reaching them and trying to coach them out of the channel, I found myself being swept up in the current at the same speed I could paddle.

“Some lifeguard I’d make,” I thought to myself.

After much labored paddling, we eventually did get out of the channel and away from danger but not before ending up nearly a mile away from the rental shop.”What was the full day rental fee,” I wondered, as we crawled desperately towards home. Resorting to paddling from a seated position to rest our legs, we were not a pretty sight.

2014-07-19 11.57.27

I waved down a passing boat and asked for a lift. The “captain” informed me that he didn’t want to bring the boards on his boat, pushed his throttles to the pins and left me spitting mad and struggling to stand in his wake. I was furious.

“He’s lucky he wasn’t within an oars reach,” I grumbled.

Later (much later) I realize I wasn’t mad at him, I was mad at myself (OK, and him too a little) for not paying attention to what Sailing for Dummies tells you on page one: be aware of the wind direction and current. I ignored both of those things.

The boater who warned me of the current earlier, watched the whole episode unfold and he, along with his young son, came to our aid, towing us on our boards almost the whole way back to the rental shop, saving us from having to dish out the overtime rental fee. I never did catch our new friend’s name but he epitomized the character that most boaters possess. They’re the kind of people that jump to help someone in need without a moment’s thought of reward. The young boy in the boat was learning from one heck of a role model while the not-so-young boy being dragged behind him on a paddle board ate a big slice of humble pie.

Returning to shore with tired shoulders and wobbly legs, we were a tired bunch. Too tired even for fish tacos; all we wanted was water. It took some time, but we we eventually found ourselves rehydrated and able to laugh about the events of the day. It may not have gone according to plan, but it was a day on the water that I know we’ll all remember for a long time.