Our shared past

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For the last year, past and present Soundings staff members have been reminiscing about their times at the magazine. We’ve read of masthead changes, unimaginable developments in the technologies of publishing and enormous innovations in the marine industry over this half-century. But it occurred to us, as we wrap up this golden anniversary celebration, that ours is an emotional and passionate pastime and that certain events have touched us all. We have a shared past.

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There were the seismic shifts of the sport, as wood gave way to fiberglass, dead reckoning gave way to GPS and invisible loneliness on the seas gave way to EPIRBs, GMDSS and AIS. For better or worse, disappearing for months on end is a little more difficult than it used to be.

There were the great personalities that entertained, enthralled, engaged or enraged us: Ted Turner’s time as Capt. Courageous. Dennis Conner, who became “Mister America’s Cup” with his four victories in Stars & Stripes. Walter Cronkite’s reassuring presence as a sailor we could all proudly point to as “one of ours.” And Francesco Schettino of the Costa Concordia, whose “fall” into a lifeboat before his passengers were ashore mocked everything we know a true captain to be.

There were records broken and names added to the pantheon of greats: Robin Knox Johnston, Bernard Moitissier, Michel Desjoyeaux, Ellen MacArthur, Russell Coutts, Ben Ainslie, Anna Tunnicliffe. And there were the headline-grabbing youngsters: Zac and Abbey Sunderland, Jessica Watson and Laura Dekker.

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Nothing affects a mariner more than the weather, and nothing unites us more than weather gone bad. Katrina, Andrew, Ike, Camille and Sandy crashed through our collective consciousness — even if we weren’t personally impacted — leaving billions of dollars worth of damage and devastation in their wakes. Recoveries, which are almost always slow and painful, rarely fail to materialize as we roll up our shirtsleeves and wade in to aid our fellow victims.

That same spirit was unforgettable after 9/11, when a flotilla of volunteer boats shuttled New Yorkers out of a smoldering lower Manhattan. Most of those heroes remained unknown and unsung, but their efforts made us all feel hopeful — and united — in a dark hour.

And a happier moment for that same harbor: Who can forget the thrill of watching Operation Sail’s Bicentennial Tall Ship Parade in 1976? The ships raced from the Canary Islands to Bermuda, then proceeded “in company” to New York, where they were met by hundreds of spectator boats and a massive press presence. The majesty of these beautiful vessels parading around the Statue of Liberty, before visiting ports up and down the East Coast, is surely one of the great memories of any mariner old enough to have witnessed it; it revived in all of us a love of the great traditions of our shared heritage, whether we ply our local waters in a center console or voyage around the world in a passagemaker. Here’s to the next 50 years together.

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May 2014 issue