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A complete refit with a taste of salt

Welcome to the new Soundings.

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As you can see, we were doing more than chipping ice and shoveling snow this winter. All of us in Essex, Conn., are excited about the magazine you're holding in your hands. It measures 9 by 10-7/8 inches, the right size, we believe, for today - and tomorrow.

We've shed the last vestiges of the newspaper model we were, in part, patterned after - zoned sections with their own folio or page-numbering system, different grades of paper - and emerged as a single, cohesive magazine. For the first time in our 48 years, we've done away with newsprint. From stem to stern, the new Soundings is printed on one paper stock. The new model feels better - and works better.

In rethinking, resizing and redesigning Soundings, our goal was to improve the magazine, enhance your reading experience and make it mesh well with what we're doing digitally and on the Web with our other products and initiatives. We've added new features and voices; changed fonts, headers and colors; and sharpened the focus. We hope you like the changes.

In my mind we've never been defined by our physical size but, rather, by our content and our people - our stories, columns, photos, writers and editors. And by our perspective on everything from what makes a good boat to what constitutes good seamanship. We may be a little offbeat at times in our choice of stories but never, I hope, boring. Or too predictable.

We are still - fundamentally, at our roots - storytellers and boat nuts. That won't change. Promise. Our journalistic heritage stems from Jack Turner, who founded this publication many moons ago sitting around a kitchen table with two co-conspirators and a bottle of gin. True story. Their goal in 1963 was to challenge the status quo. Turner once said they saw themselves as "wildcatters - the Flying Tigers of marine publishing." We haven't forgotten that legacy.

Boatbuilder, sailor, woodworker, fiction writer, chef, publisher, backyard gardener and more, Jack was a restlessly creative soul who seemed happiest going against the grain. What would he have thought of this latest change? I can see him peering over his glasses as he growls, "What took you so damn long?"

J.P. Turner was rarely afraid to try something new, and if you had the good fortune of working with him you learned to embrace change rather than chafe at it. You learned to be nimble - a good quality if you intend to make a go of it in publishing these days, be it in print or online.

Periodically examining your magazine is a good process, one that forces you to look closely at what you're doing and why. You confront the sacred cows and legacy issues and try to get to the essence of who and what you are as a publication and a brand. Most successful refits, from my experience, are not without their share of "creative tension" and spirited debate. And we certainly had our moments during this one. But when you're lucky enough to work with a team of people you trust, you can be honest with your opinions, ideas and criticism. At the end of the day, that's how you move forward.

I have no doubt you'll let us know what you think. I'm expecting to hear from a cadre of loyal, outspoken readers: Joe from the Bay State, Frank on Long Island, Andy in Miami, Erik the wrench, Doug in the boatyard, big Roger, little Roger, Shipwreck, Pedro, DL, Sue M., my straight-talking 91-year-old father and a host of others who surface whenever we mess with "their" magazine. And you're right - it is your magazine.

If there has been a single thought or phrase that crystallizes what we strive to accomplish in Soundings it's this notion of leaving you, the reader, with "a taste of salt" - on your lips, in the crow's-feet in the corners of your eyes, caked on your foul-weather bibs. It's a pair of blown-out boat shoes, a favorite badger-hair varnish brush, the raspy bite on bare skin of a salt-drenched towel dried by the sun. It's the search for something authentic, believable. For objects with a patina, experiences with staying power, for the breadth of the sea, "as unfathomable," in the words of Ray Kauffman, "as the black holes between the stars at night."

Enjoy the voyage.

"It was when I was anchored in the lonely places that a feeling of awe came over me."

- Joshua Slocum

This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue.