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Cruising Tales - Taking those first steps

Starting with a Sea Ray 290 Sundancer, this Boston family is ready for more boat — and more cruising

For the Velsmid family, 2008 served as a five-month sea trial, a test to determine whether boating and cruising was a good match for them.

Alex Velsmid explores ashore.

Casting off from their home port of Boston, the family of three — Michael, 41, Julia, 33, and Alex, 5 — hit several Massachusetts destinations in their 2007 Sea Ray 290 Sundancer, including Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

“I was totally not a boater,” says Julia. “We were investing a lot of family time and resources into something that was [Michael’s] hobby.”

Indeed, the twin-sterndrive Sea Ray logged more than 100 hours last year. Despite a rough ride on their way to the Vineyard — little Alex experienced his first bout of seasickness thanks to the Buzzards Bay chop — and feeling cramped during long passages, the Velsmids have given the cruising lifestyle an enthusiastic thumbs-up. And guess what? They’re shopping for a larger Sea Ray for this season.

“It went great,” says Julia. “It’s good for the family and, living in Boston, we feel like we’re really taking advantage of where we live. And the trips — it’s like having a vacation home on the water.”

This family is living the cruising dream.

Michael, Alex and Julia Velsmid.

Michael began laying the groundwork for that dream months before he bought the Sea Ray in the fall of 2007 from Russo Marine ( in Medford, Mass. He thought long and hard about the type and size of boat that would fit his family’s needs. He wanted a boat that would be large enough to safely transport his crew to various destinations along the Massachusetts coast, and he wanted the redundancy of twin engines. “I didn’t want to go too big, because I wanted to be able to handle the boat and dock the boat, but I wanted something with twin engines,” says Michael, who runs Boston Sports Medicine, a physical therapy business.

He also knew his boat would need its fair share of creature comforts for his wife and son — a shower and head, berths, a galley, etc. “To get her into boating, it had to have some luxury to it,” Michael says. “If I were alone, I’d probably have gotten a [Boston] Whaler that could be completely hosed down at the end of the day.”

It was time

Michael Velsmid grew up summering on Copake Lake in upstate New York, messing about in small powerboats. After moving to Massachusetts later in life, he became an avid angler, fishing for striped bass off Scituate with a friend who owned a 23-foot Pro-Line center console. His work took him away from the water for several years, but the desire to own a boat remained strong. And when Alex turned 4 years old, Michael decided it was time.

He knew that running a twin-screw express cruiser would be more complicated than operating an outboard-powered open boat. Plus, he’d have precious cargo aboard: his wife and son. So he took three boating courses — paid for by the dealer — starting with Safe Boating Basics through Boatwise (www.boat He also completed a course in coastal navigation and one that covered GPS/plotters. Russo Marine also gave Michael a full day of instruction on the water with his new boat. He had become familiar with every inch of the Sea Ray as the boat sat in the dealer’s showroom for the winter. The owner’s manual was a fixture on the coffee table at home.

“For me, the basic safe boating course was the most important and made the most impact on me,” Michael says. “It was a great refresher.”

The boating course reminded him that children aboard his boat must wear life jackets. This meant that when guests asked if their kids could go without a PFD, he had to say no.

“Things can happen in the blink of an eye,” says Michael. “People who aren’t boaters don’t understand the inherent danger.” Michael and Julia wear inflatable PFDs anytime the boat leaves a harbor and heads into open waters.

Under way, under power

Careful planning was the key to making safe, enjoyable passages, says Michael. The skipper planned cruises months in advance, using Internet discussion boards, cruising guides and books to make sure there were no surprises. For instance, he learned a method of single-handedly retrieving a mooring pendant from the stern and securing it to the bow. “I didn’t want my wife at the bow reaching over with a boat hook,” he says.

Michael chatted with other boaters via the Internet to gain local knowledge about navigating Woods Hole, which can be tricky with its swift currents. And he learned that he should run with the current through the Cape Cod canal to save gas, which was $4.50 a gallon at the time.

Michael and Alex Velsmid.

In addition to overnight passages, cruising locally also made up a good portion of that 100 hours of running time. The Velsmids live only a few blocks from their slip at Constitution Marina in downtown Boston, so they enjoyed sunset cruises, taking in the city skyline. They also took day jaunts to the Boston Harbor islands.

Michael kept a careful eye on fluid levels when cruising. The 260-hp, 5.0-liter MerCruisers, which are freshwater-cooled, ran flawlessly. After every trip, he washed down the Sea Ray with fresh water.

His second mate also did her share of planning. Julia made sure Alex was familiar with the boat before his first trip. “It was a new environment for him,” she says. “I didn’t want him to have any surprises or get scared.”

Julia keeps games and snacks strategically located about the boat so they can be easily reached while under way. “Some of the trips can be long and boring for him,” she says.

But Alex loves the boat and has claimed his own space: the aft berth. He has taken an interest in the boat’s buttons and switches, and he operates the blowers and bilge pump for his dad. However, he may have to get familiar with another Sea Ray. Mom and Dad have their eyes on a 390 Sedan Bridge.

“Now we know we love boating as a family,” says Julia. “We just need more space.”

See related articles:
"Cruising Tales - Near and far"

"Cruising Tales - A simple cruising philosophy"

This article originally appeared in the June 2009 issue.