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Soundings at 50 - A sea of change

Celebrating a half-century of boating

In July 1987 I was a proofreader at a typesetting house — my first “real” job after graduating from college with an English literature degree. It wasn’t what I had in mind for a career, but it kept me current with my student loan payments.

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I saw a newspaper classified ad for a proofreader at a magazine and figured I’d give it a shot. Proofreading magazine copy seemed like a logical next step. If nothing else, driving to Essex, Conn., would be a lot easier than the commute to South Windsor.

The magazine that placed the ad, of course, was Soundings. I’ll never forget my mother’s reaction. She told me I went to school with one of the founder’s sons: Chris Hyfield, whose dad, Scott, sat around a kitchen table with Jack Turner, et al — and a bottle of gin — five decades ago and hatched the idea for a boating newspaper. I interviewed, and the rest, as they say, is history.

My supervisor at the typesetting house told me I wouldn’t be happy at a magazine, but there was no swaying me. When the company president asked where I was going and I told him Soundings, he said he knew the magazine and that he owned a boat. He wished me well — after he gabbed and gabbed about his pride and joy — and I was on my way.

In 1989, editorial director Christine Born gave me my first break. I told my supervisor that I wanted to interview for the research reporter position, and she basically said no one moves from production to editorial. Christine and I talked, I took a “reporter’s test,” and, again, the rest is history. And speaking of history, by 1990 the typesetting company had closed shop, thanks to the desktop publishing revolution. I, however, was on my way to a career at Soundings that’s lasted 27 years and counting. So much for not being happy at a magazine.

To say it’s been a long, strange trip is a cliché, to be sure, but it really has been. I started as a research reporter, fact-checking stories, tracking down photographs, verifying telephone numbers that would appear in print. I also wrote news briefs and kept the calendar that ran in each issue up to date. I later served as the editorial assistant, was a staff writer and eventually a copy editor — back when the copy editor edited the story, wrote the headline, picked and sized the photos, and laid out the page.

When the “nation’s boating newspaper” took its first detour toward a magazine format in 1998, one copy editor was tasked with reading, and I wound up laying out pages on the design desk. I missed being part of the “word side.” When an opening for an associate editor came up in 1999, it was editor-in-chief Bill Sisson who gave me the big break — I was back on the word side.

When the economy tanked in 2008, Bill promoted me to senior editor, and associate editor Rich Armstrong to managing editor. We gained another magazine: Soundings’ sister, Trade Only, which covers the marine industry. And we haven’t looked back.

There are too many good people I’ve worked with through the years to name all of them, but there are some notables. Chris Landry started his first round with Soundings on Feb. 14, 1995. Why would I remember that? It’s the day after I proposed to my wife, and I remember Chris congratulating me — a guy he’d never met — as he was introduced to the staff. Chris is with us now as executive editor.

Senior writer Jim Flannery is one of the most talented people an editor could hope to work with — accurate, creative, smart, and he hits deadline. I once described him as a “stud,” but that’s a story for another day.

I remember Jack Turner trudging down reporters’ row in the morning — a huge man whose presence was impossible to ignore. In many ways. Jack was a pioneer in his own right. He dreamed up this thing called Soundings. He digitized the classified section and put it on the Internet — the first boating magazine to do so.

Sisson can do it all, and he’s a pathological workaholic. He expects nothing less of his staff, and the magazine is better for it. He sets a new bar with each issue and raises it with the next. “Never settle,” he says. There’s always a better photo, another sidebar, another way to make Soundings stand out. And Bill is a pioneer. We’re now a 21st century media company, and he’s guiding us through more change than Jack could have imagined. We produce digital editions, e-newsletters, events and, of course, the print magazine that’s been such a big part of my life.

Soundings and I turned 50 last year — the magazine in April, me in May. I remember the days of paste-up, when production artists would assemble pages in pieces on drafting tables. I remember the darkroom where writers’ black-and-white film was developed, and the huge camera that took pictures of the finished pages, rendering them to negatives to be shipped to the printer by courier. It’s strange that we still say we’re “shipping” the issue, when we simply use a command on a computer to upload digital pages to our printer online.

And think about how boating has changed since 1987. We now have 40-plus-foot center consoles with quad 350s hanging off the transom, joysticks, pod drives, waterjets, boats that can track sideways, multifunction touch-screen navigation displays, personal rescue beacons, GPS on your smartphone that can be integrated with the boat’s electronics. That’s a sea of change.

How many people spend 27 years at their second job after college? It has been a long trip, and I can’t wait for the next adventure.

April 2014 issue