Firsts and Bests


My wife Erica and I were able to confirm a few key things about our daughter and boats. You see, I got an assignment for the magazine to take a crewed charter with my family in the British Virgin Islands with a company called The Moorings. If you’ve never been to the BVI, trust me when I tell you it is truly a beautiful place and a cruisers’ paradise. I don’t think I could really lay out the islands in a more pleasing array, were I given the chance to reach down from Olympus like some color-obsessed deity and place the landmasses in water that ranged from cobalt to cerulean to palest azure. The distances we ran each day gave us just enough boat time to cleanse our palates to appreciate the next spectacular stop. The coves our skipper David Blacklock and first mate/cook Deb Mahan put us in were a terrific combination of views (both above and below the water) and protection (we needed to find the lee of the islands since a couple of tropical storms were playing cat and mouse with each other—and us).

Taking a crewed charter makes it easy on parents too, since we found we can focus on time together and leave the details to the experts. Turns out our daughter Zuzu is great on a boat, and managed to fashion a distilled version of her lubberly life (a few toys, a few new books to read) that worked very well on board. She’s shown a tendency toward motion sickness in the past but she got acclimated well and quickly on our cruise, with a bit of help in the form of carefully considered doses of Dramamine for long or rough passages.

As we ran about an hour to Anegada, an open-water run that we expected would have a bit of a roll thanks to a storm-pushed swell, Erica sat with Zuzu in a shady spot with a fresh breeze and talked as Anegada rose from the haze of the horizon—asking imaginative questions that provided the distraction that did the trick. It’s not easy to explain but watching them talk, the wind drowning out the words, I was as proud of my family as I could be: Watching them because I was concerned about how Zuzu was feeling (Erica’s sea legs put us all to shame), and when our daughter’s face broke into a smiling giggle I knew she felt fine.

We all swam off the boat, Zuzu always in her life jacket as she’s a very new swimmer, and of course we saw a bunch of marine life around. At one point I felt a tingle in the middle of my back, and as it heated up a bit I moved Zuzu toward the ladder. Too late. Some sort of jellyfish fry or an errant cnidocyte got her on the leg. She said she thought she too had been stung, and climbed the ladder, with me right behind her. Deb got her a white vinegar compress as we watched tiny welts rise on her leg. But no tears, and, most importantly, no fear the next time we had an opportunity to jump in.

In fact Zuzu may have indicated some marine-biologist tendencies as she sketched fish from a snorkeling guidebook the crew had on board. Good times and more to share soon.

Firsts and Bests

Five Reasons I Won’t Give Up

I know, it’s a weird title for a blog with just three items. Maybe I’ll add a couple more later.

Ideas Surrendered Don’t Exist

Frankly I’ve realized the ideas don’t come to me as often as they used to. Once it was a constant stream, steady and fast. But now, while the volume rises occasionally, often the flow slows to a trickle. Sometimes it’s redirected elsewhere.

The point is I don’t have many good ideas anymore and this is the best one I have had in a long time. It’s got all the elements: It’s brash (pushing through many facets of the seemingly shrinking box that is my comfort zone) and creative (on many levels).

Problem is, when you shelve an idea or stop doing anything about it, it goes away. It’s not like you can bottle them. Think about the waste. Something must be done.

Casey Neistat

Strangely enough, I had a T magazine dated March 2014 that I kept holding onto (I’ve always been a bit of a pack rat in many ways but I couldn’t seem to get past this one. I’ve tossed it now, as periodicals have a beauty in their ephemeral nature, like flowers, that fades over time). Anyway I kept grabbing it and flipping it open and reading one of the pieces that I was sure was the reason I had held onto it. I read them one by one. Flipping through to find things that interested me until I could chuck it (I know this is outdated since it all exists online, but hey I love print as a medium). I kept thinking I was done, until I got to the last one, a “Wanderlust” feature about Casey Neistat, the filmmaker whom I have come to respect in ensuing research, though I had never heard of him before. This guy pushes it. You can tell he always has. But he’s a little inspiring depending on my mood.

It’s not just this guy. It’s a lot of people. But just now he comes to mind.

It’s the Most Important Thing

In our lives, our daughter is very important. My wife and I are working toward something great here (at least I hope we are, and feel we must be, because sometimes it can feel like a bit of slog), and our daughter is a very large part of the point. We want her to live a rich, full life, and this project is my way of contributing to that as best I can. So, we keep on going.

Five Reasons I Won’t Give Up

Invitations and Showing Up

I think I’m on the right track.

I had a few opportunities with our daughter, to see her and her classmates in action. For one, there was a school field trip. They needed chaperones, and I remembered well that my parents used to pitch in. My father ended up being run through numerous times (make believe, of course) as a volunteer in a sword-fighting demonstration at the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts. My mom, on the other hand, made a name for herself among my classmates by following the wrong car as we made our way somewhere in a caravan. That was back when parents just brought their cars to drive kids places and the liability issues that we have today weren’t exactly as hard on school districts… or at least it would seem. Sometimes I’m amazed they still do field trips—so risky!

But it gave me an opportunity to see how our daughter interacts with her fellow students. Maybe it’s a bad example this year because she’s in a class with some really rambunctious kids (both boys and girls), but you can see, even on a field trip, how behavior of a few can influence the interaction of the group. A teacher isn’t teaching much in the way of the subject matter if she can’t get more than three sentences out without having to switch gears completely to mete out discipline. I know they’re young. But I see the results somewhat in her lessons. She’s rushing. And I know she is because I remember feeling the same way at her age: Done is just as good as done right.

That doesn’t work on a boat. It’s focus, but it’s a different kind of focus, one that allows inward as well as outward observation. It’s good for everyone to get that change in scenery and just be there.

The same week of the field trip, our daughter had a birthday party on Saturday. The party was to be at an indoor water park at a fitness facility nearby. Plenty of the same kids were going to be there and when I heard about the party I knew I would be there too. Maybe you think me overprotective but the risk of leaving her there, merely for an hour and a half of free time is not a good tradeoff. I saw another dad from our party clue in a lifeguard to a boy who may have been drowning. I missed it but in the aftermath it was pretty obvious he was in trouble and literally out of his depth. I was glad to stick around.

But it was on the way to the party after picking up a gift at the local toy shop (shop small everyone!) we got stuck in a little traffic jam as a funeral procession stopped traffic as it made a left turn in front of us to pull into the cemetery. As car after car made its way across our lanes and I glanced at my watch, our daughter piped up, “How many people did they invite to this thing?”

It made me laugh. And think. And I said, “People don’t really get invited. They just come. There’s a notice in the paper and the people who knew the person tell other people that the person died. And they just come.”

Invitations and Showing Up

Putting It All Together

Funny thing how opportunities arise unexpectedly, especially when children are involved. Let’s face it, kids can be mercurial, and I think a part of that springs from their innate sensitivity to the world around them.

The opportunity that came to mind was that recently, while visiting relatives, I was offered a second-hand propane Weber grill. Now if you know me and my proclivity for cooking, grilling year-round is a big part of that. I couldn’t say no to the offer, even though the thing had been well used, and was old when my brother-in-law acquired it, and so on (reason after reason not to take it). It worked perfectly, and is even painted dark green to match the shutters on my house (or so I mentioned to my wife). Ah, my wife. Of course she has a role here. After all we had taken her new, pristine car on the weekend away, light-tan interior and all. The thought of shoehorning a sooty, dismembered grill into it made me cringe. As usual she was completely onboard, with a slow shake of the head betraying her good-humored disbelief.

Of course the grill fit. And though some of the loose parts jangled a bit on the way, we had an uneventful and traffic-free journey home.

My daughter, over the course of the three hours in the car seemed to grow very interested in the grill jutting into the back seat. And so when I arrayed the various parts on the patio at dusk after that long drive, she insisted on throwing on her cowboy boots (easy to slip on) and finding a baseball cap (I was wearing one) to help me. And suddenly what I thought was going to be the next day’s project began to come together in the fading light.

The supporting frame and legs of this grill are easy to assemble and have bolts that fit into threaded holes, and my daughter wanted to put a couple of them in herself. I showed her how the bolts go in easily when you have them lined up properly, and of course, by hand, that they won’t go in at all when they’re cross-threaded. I showed her how to try turning it (she has a natural understanding of right-hand thread and which way to turn bolts, faucet valves, and everything else that I wholly lacked at her age), and when it didn’t go in easily and immediately, to back it off and adjust the angle slightly then try again.

It’s just easier to show someone than to explain it (or, it turns out, to write about it). And it’s gratifying to see how she got it, and picked it up so quickly.

This is a very, very small version of what I hope to do with my daughter and the boat: To get her excited about the prospect of doing something together, and learning along the way.

Putting It All Together

Five Factors Relevant to the Project

Here’s a bit more about whys and wherefores of the idea I have, which, if you’re just joining, is to get our daughter on a boat beginning at a young age and, by spending time together on the water, to help give her the tools to succeed throughout her life. I always like a good list to get information out there quickly, don’t you?

  1. A hard look at myself: To be frank I’m not one of these touchy-feely guys when it comes to kids. If you ask anyone they’ll probably tell you, I didn’t like them until I had my own. Girls especially. I didn’t get it, at all. I would meet these doting fathers and say, “Hey that’s great. She’s cute. Did you see my Land Rover?”
  1. All that changed when our daughter was born. She’s the apple of my eye, but it’s because she’s spunky and funny and smart all at once.
  1. I make no bones that this will be an easy boat to learn on—more on that later. I know what I’m up against there, and not just for her. But it’s just like when you first drove a stick shift. No one can tell you how, there’s just too much to it, all happening at once. You must experience it. Get in the driver’s seat. So much in life is like that, no? Try to cast a flyrod once and you’ll know what I mean.
  1. Girls vs. Boys. This is not about that, except where it is. I always noticed that many behavior patterns (aggressiveness is rewarded in boys and frowned upon for girls, but often so is confidence. It’s a real problem and I would say many of society’s problems spring directly from it. I noticed it mostly because my wife pointed it out: In school my daughter gets upset when another girl does better than she in class. When a boy does better, it’s not a big deal. So it would seem that she’s trying to be the best girl in class, rather than the best. Where’d that come from? Well I’ll tell you—it comes from everywhere. I just changed it, but when I started writing this part I titled it “Boys vs. Girls” because that’s the natural order of that phrase.
  1. Why boats? Well as I explained, I’ve worked as an editor for marine magazines for my entire career. And I’ve seen what the water can do for people’s outlook on things. I need that. My family needs it. And my daughter is young enough that she can benefit from it in ways on which I’ll continue to elaborate.
Five Factors Relevant to the Project

What Are Boats Good For?

I want to be sure to share some details of my motivation for wanting to get this boat. Here are some of the ways I’m thinking about it.

First of all, it’s a boat. I make no bones about that: It’s pretty much the pinnacle luxury item (That’s if you define luxury as something that is perfectly unnecessary. No one really needs to have a recreational boat. I’m not a lobsterman, or a shipping magnate, or even an island dweller needing to get off the island.) Even as an editor for a boating magazine I will not say I need to have one. Plenty of us do, and plenty don’t. But it’s okay to want one. That’s what I’m doing. I’ve wanted a boat for a long, long time. And fulfillment of such desires feels good. I like the idea of having it and having access to what it provides, which is a respite, and an escape.

The second reason I want a boat, as I’ve mentioned a bit already, is intertwined with my family. I want to fulfill a promise to my wife and daughter by improving their lives along with mine.

There’s a book by Ernest Hemingway to which I keep coming back. It’s called Islands in the Stream. You probably know it. And if you don’t you should. Here’s a gross oversimplification of one part of it. In the story the lead character is a fine artist, a painter named Thomas Hudson. He has three sons who visit him on Bimini for the summer. The middle son, Davy, hooks a huge swordfish one day. He fights the fish in the hot sun all day and his older brother is worried about him. Hudson tells the son (I paraphrase): If Davy catches this fish, he’ll have something inside him for all his life and it will make everything else easier.

I think I know what he’s talking about, and it’s what I hope to give my young daughter in a very real way with the boat. Many boaters know this secret, and they try to share it with friends, but it doesn’t always get across—the divide is too great. The secret is that the boat is the key to breaking out of the day-to-day, living and breathing—finding a life to live on your terms, in many ways. Boats take effort, but in a good way. There are other ways to do this and I expect that folks in the Rocky Mountains and elsewhere have other ways of forming these bonds and building a well of inner strength. I intend to use the boat to give my daughter a foundation of confidence and an understanding of her own abilities.

I know it won’t be easy. But has anything ever sounded so worthwhile? Not to me.

What Are Boats Good For?

Tuning In to What Matters

I try to read the papers; I watch the news. Though not as much as I used to, Since I found it was affecting my mood. Better to walk on the oblivious side of the line every now and again (and be a little surprised when a coworker says something like “That was something about that pilot, huh?”) than to read the full story and spend an hour in the car alone driving my commute on the highway imagining what the last moments on the plane were like.

The world has become a different place than I thought it ever would—whether it’s my perception or reality (and I suspect it’s a bit of both). How each of us find our place in it is down to us. What you bring to it is as important as what you’re faced with.

I’ve seen this recently as my folks have gotten older. I see the erosion at the edges, sometimes little areas wearing down like the changing shape of a beach, other times I go looking for things in distant conversation on the phone and they aren’t there anymore. I need to get home more just to keep pace with the changes.

And where do I look to see what our future holds? It’s living right there in the house where I grew up, in many ways. And it’s not far off. I must be getting into that “midlife” everyone talks about. As the Spinal Tap character David St. Hubbins (played by Michael McKean) said as he looked at the Elvis’s grave: “Too much, too much f**king perspective.”

But there’s another kind of future, a really interesting and special one—sometimes funnier than Spinal Tap—living in my house with my wife and me. That’s my daughter, and she’s tremendous. She looks at the world with wide-eyed wonder and uses her own six years of perspective to understand and interpret what she sees. It goes without saying and grossly understates the point, but my wife and I love her a great deal.

And that’s what irks me when I tune into the news and really pay attention. I see the world’s challenges: environmental, political, economic, religious. People can’t get along with each other, and even worse, don’t have any interest in trying. Colleges try to protect their students from rape and from drinking themselves to death. Terrorists kill people over cartoons. And so it’s very occasional that I hear a very small voice in the back of my head asking: “How could we have brought her into this world?” Pain and fear for any parent, right there.

This is the other side of the coin about getting a boat. I want it for my daughter’s future as well as for our present. There’s something about boating, a wide and ever-growing base of knowledge that combines with experiences to create something inside her that she will carry with her throughout her life. Something that creates confidence, and a fuller understanding of what her capabilities are, and yes, her limitations, too. Something to help carry her through, when I’m there and when I’m not around.

Tuning In to What Matters

The Boat Snob Awakens

So I’ve decided to buy a boat.

It wasn’t a hard decision to make. You see, I’ve worked as an editor for magazines that cover boats of every stripe for more than 15 years, and I’ve been immersed in boat culture the same way that guy at the Ford plant is immersed in left-front fenders. Boats just keep on coming across my desk in one form or another and have done so for the whole of my professional life: Huge, luxurious superyachts; brawny sportfishing boats; sleek Italian express cruisers; and lobsterboat-inspired Maine-built yachts. I’ve looked at photos, read press releases, spoken to designers and engineers and boatbuilders, dug deep into the philosophies that inspired the hull designs, given light-as-fluff, off-the-cuff personal opinions, strode the docks at boat shows year after year.

And then there’s the action in the field, as only I would say. Traveling the world to visit different bodies of water—it’s like the job has a built-in vacation. But you don’t bring your family, except on the rare occasion when you can finesse that.

Anyway you get there and stay in some hotel that may be very nice or much less than that. You meet up with the boat and go through as much of it as you can, all the while reading the personalities of the company representatives onboard. Sometimes it’s just the captain, who doesn’t really care what you do, he’s got plenty of time today. And other times you’ll have the boatbuilder’s head of marketing along, and they are very helpful with e-mailing photos and images (I’m often on deadline—no pictures, no article) and answering questions (though sometimes the captains have better answers for my purposes) and they’re happy you’re there but they’re also trying to arrange three more tests of this boat to make sure it hits all the major magazines and even some minor ones. That’s their job.

My job is to get a sense of the boat and how it performs, and also to form an idea in my mind about the prospective owner of that boat. Then I put those two concepts together and see how the boat will fit the bill.

So I see them all, and drive quite a few, and know what they’re supposed to do and why they do what they’re supposed to (and why they don’t). I think about this a lot.

You see, all this work experience (and a fair amount of personal experience on boats belonging to friends and family members kind enough to host my family and me) has made me nothing short of a boat snob. I know what I like. And I know what I want.

And I want a boat.

But it’s not just because I’m surrounded by boats all day every day. I have been studying them and the people that surround them for years. And there are some more complicated reasons that revolve around me, my family, and the way we think about our lives. I intend to explore them here as we learn more.

The Boat Snob Awakens