I’ve been going to boat shows for more than a decade now and — as with anything that becomes part of your professional duties — they have occasionally lost a little of their luster. It’s fair to say, though, that the very first boat show I went to changed my life — and it was more of a headfirst plummet than a long, slippery slide.
I had always loved boats, but I tended to find myself aboard them through no fault or effort of my own. When I was 10, we spent a summer on a small island off the west coast of Ireland, and on Sundays the few villagers would all be rowed by one burly islander ¾ of a mile in a wooden dory to the mainland for Mass. In the 1970s, I crossed the Atlantic three times on Russian and Polish ocean liners with my family. And later, as a fortunate adult with a very generous brother, I was invited on some wonderful charter yacht vacations. This was — roughly — the sum total of my maritime experience. I did not grow up on boats, but it was hard not to notice that I should have. Whenever I was on a boat, whether it was a yacht or a ferry, I was deeply happy.
So perhaps it was inevitable when a midlife crisis struck that I yearned to run away to sea. (As George Eliot said, It is never too late to be what you might have been.) I covered the walls of my office with photos of salty-looking workboats and daydreamed about where they were headed. And it was my first foray to a boat show that finally convinced me I should quit my job, sell my house, buy a boat and move aboard.
It was a day much like today — the shoulder between Indian summer and midfall, with the sky a cloudless, intense blue and the trees’ leaves just beginning to look yellow-tinged, tired of summer’s relentless expectations for lusciousness. After a long drive, I parked in the lot at TrawlerFest in Solomons Island, Maryland, and as I walked toward the docks and saw the array of vessels before me, my heart was breakdancing, butterflies somersaulted in my stomach, my pulse did a do-si-do. Rows and rows of beautiful boats: Krogens, Nordhavns, Grand Banks, Selenes … They were a wonder to me — handsome, comfortable, rugged and for sale. I was dazzled by their capabilities and amenities — in one of these, with the right preparation, I could go anywhere.
On each boat, I saw myself in a new life afloat. I held the wheel and looked out over the bow at imagined horizons. I pictured morning coffee on the stern, an evening cocktail on the flybridge, stormy days at anchor with a book. Here was everything I could ever need, a perfect world that could be mine.
So I took the plunge, and after quitting my job, selling my house and buying a boat, I went to seamanship school for professional mariner training. (I was crazy but not stupid.) Then I brought my trawler from Florida to Maine through the Atlantic.
Over the years, I have learned that I was not wrong — I did find my perfect world on a boat. It has challenged and soothed, frightened and thrilled, but it has never, ever disappointed.
For most of us, boating is a passion that has no expiration date. It will never run its course and fizzle out because each voyage is completely different — there is always something more to learn, different seasons and weather with which to contend, new places to see.
This season, I plan on visiting the boat shows as a passionate mariner, not just as a marine journalist. After all, no matter the size or age of our vessels, we boat owners are part of a very lucky club. We see our time on the sea, away from increasingly fractious and harried lives, as invaluable. We’ve summoned enough imagination to commit to something that’s fairly impractical as an absolute necessity. There’s a kind of genius, there.
We have found our perfect worlds; let’s not forget to keep enjoying them.
This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue.