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Reporting the news and having a blast - Soundings at 50

This is my second go-round with Soundings. I spent about five years in Essex, Conn., in the mid- to late-1990s, mostly as a staff writer and then as managing editor for the final year. We wore flip-flops and shorts to work. We mapped out editorial calendars on midmorning drives for coffee.

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We went running along the Connecticut River at lunch. And we topped it off ripping rooster tails on slalom water skis after work or night-fishing for stripers from my 21-foot walkaround or editor Bill Sisson’s 18-foot Tashmoo skiff.

We filled the hours between all of this by banging the phones and the keyboards of our tiny Mac computers in makeshift cubicles to produce Soundings, then known as “The Nation’s Boating Newspaper.”

I left for nearly nine years to serve as the editor of the now defunct Powerboat Reports. In late 2007 the prodigal son returned, seeking a fresh start after watching PBR vanish and going through a divorce. Now based in Florida, I started as a senior reporter, getting back to my roots, and then added video editor to my title after learning how to cover stories with short iPad-produced videos. Now I’m happily serving as executive editor, working with three men who never left Essex: Sisson, Michael LaBella (senior editor) and Rich Armstrong (managing editor). Guys, I’m glad you stayed put.

I can easily say those years in Connecticut were some of the best times of my life, and that’s not counting training for and completing the 1996 New York Marathon with fellow staff writer Tim Stanton. We all enjoyed boating — and in all temperatures, too. I went water skiing in January (Sisson drove my overpowered 15-foot runabout) on an icy Connecticut River. We took our boats to Long Island Sound for midwinter bonfire/barbecues on a spit of beach. We even attempted to swim. One November, before a company holiday party and after a few cocktails had dulled our judgment, we dove off the dock into the 45-degree river. The water was painfully cold. I swam to my runabout, which was moored about 75 yards away. The battery was dead, so there would be no boat ride that day — probably a good thing.

We had fun but worked our tails off, too. And there were some memorable assignments: interviewing boat owners who retrieved bodies from the Atlantic after the TWA Flight 800 crash near East Moriches, N.Y., in 1996; taking the helm from Billy Joel for a few minutes to drive his 36-foot Downeaster Alexa off Shelter Island, N.Y.; spending the day with marine police in Brick N.J., hunting down drunken boaters on Barnegat Bay; learning how to drive a stand-up Kawasaki Jet Ski in Key West. Good times. Lots of time on the water. Lots of writing. Dozens of reporter’s notebooks filled with interviews.

Soundings has changed over the years, but our mission remains the same: to deliver well-reported news and feature stories to the recreational boating community. Today’s Soundings is no longer a tabloid-size newspaper/magazine hybrid, and that’s OK with me. And we now have other outlets to disseminate the information we collect. I’ve learned to mix video, audio and words to tell stories in slideshows that we broadcast online and in our e-newsletter, Dispatches. And I file same-day video reports from boat shows to appease today’s demand for immediate information.

I still get out on the water, too. I work out of a home office in Sarasota, darting around the state for boat and engine tests, and I visit boatbuilders and cover the boat-show circuit. I travel more and farther from home, too. I went to Texas to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Ike in 2008. Last summer, I visited Volvo Penta headquarters in Sweden to learn about innovations that would negate the need for steering wheels on boats. (No kidding.) And no matter where I go in the future, I’ll still carry an 8-by-4-inch reporter’s notebook. Sorry iPad, some things are irreplaceable.

February 2014 issue