Boats create Bonds

For these families, cruising draws crews closer together
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Russ and Barbara Jones 

Nordic Tug 49 

Like many people introduced to boating at an early age, Russ Jones’ nautical wanderlust developed from humble beginnings. At 4, he was figuring out how to pull the oars on a family rowboat, and by 8, he was exploring the back bays and coves around Boothbay Harbor, Maine.

Polaris underway

Polaris underway

“It was my first taste of freedom,” Jones says. “I’d just gaze into the water and over the rocks watching crabs, fish and all sorts of wildlife. When high school came around, a buddy and I built a pram in my parents’ basement, and later we bought a beat-up Penn Yan runabout to take our girlfriends waterskiing.”

College, the military and a wedding came next in quick succession, and then, he and his wife, Barbara, raised their two boys in West Hartford, Connecticut. The couple relatively quickly started looking for a family boat. “We were up in Boothbay Harbor in 1975 and fell in love with this Grady-White we saw for sale,” Jones says. “I put in a ridiculously low offer on it, but they called me and accepted my offer.”

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Looking for more space, the Joneses in 1980 bought a 32-foot Cheoy Lee trawler. “The boat gave us an introduction to cruising in New England,” Jones says. “We made trips with the boys to the Cape Cod Canal, Boothbay Harbor, Nantucket and too many other places to list.”

Jack Jones is an able crewman

Jack Jones is an able crewman

The boys, Chris and Steve, loved the water as much as their father did as a kid. “We cruised all over the place and ended up introducing them to the same activities that I enjoyed when I was young,” Jones says. “The older they got, the more we let them to do. We started out letting them row out on their own and explore. Then we started showing them the ropes by allowing them to steer the boat. It’s a great way to improve family communication. There are a lot of relatable life lessons about responsibility and accountability to be learned from running a boat, whether it’s a dinghy or a big trawler.”

The Joneses’ younger son, Steve, ended up in Boston working on the fish docks before heading to Seattle. An artist and author, Steve was painting a picture of a fishing boat when the boat’s captain offered him a job. “He started in the bilges cutting bait and ended up as a deckhand on many different boats, all the way up to Alaska,” Jones says. “There’s no doubt our early boating experiences influenced all of that.”

The Joneses’ older son, Chris, today has a Grady-White 275 that he uses with his two kids, Jack and Lilly, who are also frequent deckhands on their grandfather’s current boat, the Nordic Tug 49, Polaris. The two grandkids recently accompanied Jones and his wife on a cruise. “It’s such a good opportunity to be together as a family,” says Jones, who keeps his boat in Deep River, Connecticut. “Each child has their own bunk. We’ve also got a smaller boat up top with a 40-hp Honda outboard so we can waterski, tow tubes and explore.

“We were very happy with our previous boat, a Nordic Tug 42, but upgraded to the 49 because it offered us the ability to customize various aspects for cruising with kids,” says Jones. “We worked with Wilde Yacht Sales in Essex, Connecticut.”

Barbara, Lilly and Jack hang out on deck

Barbara, Lilly and Jack hang out on deck

Underway, Jones says, he understands the importance of having activities available for each grandkid. “We like to give them things to do that will stimulate their imaginations,” he says. “Next week, I am cruising with my oldest grandson, Matthew, and we’re going on an 80-mile trip in the smaller boat. He’ll drive the whole way, and I’ll be there to help. I can’t wait to see what we get into. Adventure, imagination, responsibility—it’s difficult to create a better environment for raising kids and being together with family.”

Bryan Scheff

Carver C52 Command Bridge

Bryan Scheff and his two daughters discovered boating later in life, at a sad time for them all. “My wife passed away nine years ago, and I was searching for ideas to keep me and my daughters, Tia and Arianna, together as a family,” Scheff says. “I thought about getting a summer house or simply getting a smaller boat to tow the girls behind on tubes. But then I started looking at family cruising boats. That’s where this journey began.”

Bryan Scheff and his daughters Tia and Arianna on  the foredeck of their 
new Carver C52.

Bryan Scheff and his daughters Tia and Arianna on the foredeck of their new Carver C52.

Scheff contacted a local dealer and went to look at some boats with his daughters. “They were 11 and 9 at the time, and when I told them about it, the girls exclaimed, ‘We’re getting a boat?’” he recalls. “I focused on smaller, 21- to 25-foot models, but the broker told me if I went with one of those, I’d end up buying a bigger one within a year. So, we went with a 31-foot Bayliner.”

Scheff knew he needed some help with his boating skills. He took private lessons from a captain for six weeks, and then took the girls out, just the three of them. “The inaugural trip was a Memorial Day weekend cruise, and it didn’t go entirely well,” he says. “I got boarded for going through a bridge too fast, went into the wrong inlet to Cape May, and my planned cruise route was too shallow for the boat, so I had to turn us around. Still, we had fun together.”

 Arianna gets wheel time.

 Arianna gets wheel time.

The family didn’t let the mishaps dissuade them from going out again. “One year, we took Tia and five of her friends on a cruise to the Inner Harbor in Baltimore,” Scheff says. “We had a great time, but I very quickly found myself tripping over all the bags and gear. I longed for a bigger boat, so we started going to boat shows to look for one. Scheff and his daughters found a 44-footer that allowed them to expand their range. “We started going deeper into Chesapeake Bay and also making coastal trips,” he says. “My daughters and I are really close, and the trips bring us closer together. We talk, watch movies, and just hang out. There are no house chores waiting, and it’s a total escape.”

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Not completely pleased with the 44-footer because of some service issues, Scheff began looking at Carvers. “We fell in love with the C52 Command Bridge,” he says. “We went and saw her being built at the factory, and we were treated so well during the whole purchase process. Waterfront Marine in Somers Point, New Jersey, and Carver brought out the red carpet. Though a larger boat was the main goal, I picked Carver because it’s American made and I knew getting service and support would be easy. The boat fits the way we want to use it for long-term, long-distance cruising in comfort together.”

Now, Scheff’s goals include spending most of his time on board and moving the boat from its homeport in Somers Point, farther south over time. “The plan is to keep The Tardis in New Jersey for a while, and then I am going to take her to North Carolina,” he says. “I figured I’d make a smaller step first, rather than run the boat down to Florida the first year.”

When both girls are done with college, he says, they hope to do a Great Loop cruise together. And then, to go beyond. “The big trip, though, is going to the Bahamas and tying up at Atlantis Marina on Paradise Island,” he says. “I took the girls there about five years ago and asked them, ‘How cool would it be to tie our boat up here and stay a few nights?’ They were enthusiastic about the idea, and we’re all looking forward to doing it.” 

Erik and Kathy Olstein

Formula 45 Yacht

Erik Olstein grew up around small boats on lakes in Kinnelon, New Jersey, and his wife, Kathy, poked around in Lasers in Fremont, California, during her childhood. Olstein says he cut his teeth on the sea with an uncle: “He had a 42-foot Hatteras built in 1972 that he ran quite a bit. That was my first experience running a larger boat. He let us steer, tie up, a little bit of everything. I really enjoyed it, and it stuck with me.”

Erik, Kevon, Hunter and Kathy Olstein on Red Rhino.

Erik, Kevon, Hunter and Kathy Olstein on Red Rhino.

The Olsteins have three grown sons: Ryan, Hunter and Kevon. “We started boating with the boys when our youngest turned 4,” Olstein says. “A 32-foot Sea Ray was our first boat.” The family’s first real cruise across Long Island Sound included stops in Shelter Island, Greenport and Sag Harbor, New York, before heading back across the sound to Mystic, Connecticut.

“That first cruise was a lot of fun,” Olstein says. “We taught the boys knots, how to use radar in fog, how to tie up and how to run the boat—with close supervision, of course. That first weeklong vacation was amazing because everything was new; it was quite an adventure for all of us and left behind great memories.”

Olstein says he most enjoys boating as a family when everyone works as a team—and everyone speaks at a reasonable volume. “If you’re doing it right, there’s no yelling,” he says. “It was nice to give the boys responsibility at a very young age and having them help out with daily tasks. Everyone is involved. It’s always a different experience each time you go out, and we always went home with new stories. We still do.”

The boats they were aboard changed as the family matured, but the Olsteins’ cruising grounds generally remained the same. “We got an American Tug and did the slow thing for a while, and it was a great boat,” Olstein says. “But we wanted to go faster and cover more ground. We had a 42-foot Sea Ray, and then started looking at Formulas. That’s when we purchased our current boat, a Formula 45 Yacht, from Rex Marine Center in South Norwalk, Connecticut, and it’s been our favorite boat so far. When we looked for the boat, we were attracted to Formula’s reputation for building a high-quality vessel and their continuing support of their customers.”

Formula 45 Yacht off the Norwalk Islands.

Formula 45 Yacht off the Norwalk Islands.

Today, Ryan is 28, Kevon is 23, Hunter is 20 and the Olsteins are in their early 50s. They’ll celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary next year.

“The best thing about the boat now is that our adult kids want to spend time with us and will carve time out of their busy schedules to go on cruises with us,” Olstein says. “They don’t get much time off from work since they are all mostly starting out, so there’s a lot to be said for that.”

Olstein also says that boating together has drawn them closer: “Communication in any relationship is important, and when you’re in close quarters for more than a few days, you learn that speaking with respect for the other person is paramount. We’re a better family because of it.”

Chris and Andrea Stewart

Prestige 500

Boatload is about as good as a boat name gets when you have six kids and two parents aboard. Chris and Andrea Stewart cruise a Prestige 500 by that name from its homeport in Dunedin along Florida’s West Coast and over to the Keys.

“My husband and I have a long history of going out and exploring and fishing the Gulf Coast of Florida,” Andrea says. “Each of us started boating young, and we spent lots of time in high school poking around the area with smaller boats. Once we’d started our family, we ended up in center consoles fishing quite a bit. But as our family grew, we knew we needed to start looking at bigger boats. A Sea Ray 43 was our first attempt at making everyone comfortable, and the kids just loved it. We spread them out in the different staterooms and the salon, and it worked out well.” Though they thoroughly enjoyed their 43, the Stewarts outgrew it.

The Prestige 500 underway

The Prestige 500 underway

“The kids wanted their own spaces where they could sleep,” Andrea says. “We ended up with a Prestige 500 Flybridge that we purchased from Galati Yacht Sales in Tampa Bay, Florida, and it’s been a great boat. It’s got all the room we need, is plenty quick, and the aft cockpit and swim platform are perfect for having kids in and out of the water when we’re anchored out. Also, everyone now has their own space to sleep and keep their things.”

The Stewart family on a recent trip in Florida.

The Stewart family on a recent trip in Florida.

Their six children now range in age from 5 to 15. “Three of our kids are our biological children, while their brothers and sisters are adopted from West Africa,” she says. “All of the kids love boating now, but it took time for our adopted children to loosen up on board. But that’s to be expected, considering how overwhelming the experience of coming from another continent is. Now, they’re born naturals on the boat. They all love it. We can give them some board games and cards, and they’ll spend hours together laughing and having fun. That’s not easy on shore with all the distractions, including television and smartphones.”

Andrea and Chris have been boating since a young age.

Andrea and Chris have been boating since a young age.

The Stewarts like to hop from marina to marina on their cruises, wearing out the kids so the couple can relax after their children go to bed. Trips to the Keys for the lobster season are an annual tradition, and the Stewarts are now planning a larger adventure. “We want to make a trip to the Dry Tortugas, which will require more complicated logistics and independence,” Andrea says. “We’re going to add some fuel bladders to expand our range and anchor out, explore the area with the dinghy, and do all the other things we usually do together when on board as a family. We’re excited about it.”

All in all, she says, life on the boat is great: “I really can’t imagine any other way we’d like to spend time with our kids.” 

Mike McCain and Debbie Freeman

Grady-White Freedom 375

Mike McCain remembers when you had to launch a boat days ahead of time after a layup, to let the wood swell. That’s when he and five other guys owned a well-worn Chris-Craft that they used for waterskiing and other fun in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. A group-owned Owens with a Mercury outboard came next, and then a Correct Craft and a MasterCraft.

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Mike met Debbie, who would become his wife, in 1994, and their first date was a dinner cruise on his 19-foot, dual-console Grady-White Tournament. “We got stranded on a sandbar, but luckily that didn’t affect the relationship,” he says. “Later, when we bought a house with saltwater access, we wanted a boat that could handle bigger waters. That began a long succession of different Grady-Whites. We like them because they make a great platform for our snorkeling, diving and fishing, and at the end of the day we can simply hose the boat down and then go ashore. And they’re packed with comfort features we like while underway or anchored out diving.”

Mike and Debbie, who today are in their early 60s and late 50s, respectively, have three adult children who have been along for the whole ride. “Hunter is 28, Alex is 26 and Sarah is 23,” McCain says. “We quickly discovered as they were growing up that having places of their own on board the boat was key to keeping everyone happy, so we bought a Grady-White Voyager 248, then a Gulfstream 232, and then a Marlin 300.”

They used them all for fishing, diving and snorkeling up and down the Gulf Coast.

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“My wife and I use our current boat, a Grady-White 375 Freedom, which we bought from FishTales Marina in Fort Meyers, Florida, a lot, but it’s our annual lobster-diving trip to the Keys each August that everyone in our family makes time for,” he says. “Our kids may decline dinner invites, but not a lobster trip. This year, we had 24 people down for the trip. It’s a very big deal, that time spent together as a family. We love that our kids want to be involved with us and include us in their plans. There’s a lot to be said for that, and our boats have played a big part in that togetherness.”

This article originally appeared in the August 2019 issue.