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