When I first arrived at the waterfront publishing offices on North Cove in Essex, Connecticut, so many years ago, Soundings was indeed true to its tag line of that time: “The Nation’s Boating Newspaper.”
Reporters pounded out copy clickety-clack on typewriters and smoked packs of cigarettes at their desks. Pre-Web news cycles seemed as long as an epoch. You could actually “break” a story in a monthly boating newspaper. We had five zoned regional editions and churned out reams of copy to go around the flotilla of ads that came in on every tide.
Soundings was tabloid-sized back then, and we were printed in black-and-white on cheap newsprint with a color newsprint cover. She was big, newsy and not very pretty, but we never felt we had to win a beauty contest.
When we put an issue to bed, founder Jack Turner would blow into a conch shell, we’d gather around the long tables where copy was pasted up, and we’d drink beer, rum and wine.
It was a good team of quirky reporters and quirky editors, and we worked hard and played hard. Jack wanted Soundings to be the “flying tigers” of marine publishing, and we tried to live up to that idea. It was the right fit for me.
Jack went to his reward about 10 years ago. The last vestige of newsprint and our tabloid footprint are long gone, too. I can’t remember who has the conch, but it’s been silent a good while.
All of that seems long ago now, and with very few exceptions, everyone who was here when I first walked through the door has found a new place to drop the hook. And now more change is on the near horizon.
It is with a sense of gratitude and a little wistfulness that I bid you, dear Soundings readers, adieu. Not farewell, exactly, because I will continue to occupy my cluttered, artifact-strewn office in Essex, where I’ll be writing for and editing a new fishing magazine. And as time allows, I intend to write for Soundings as its editor-at-large, a role that suits me well.
But after 18 years as chief editor, I am pleased to turn over the helm of Soundings to Mary South, a longtime boater, writer and author who has been in the publishing business for 25 years. A former editor of Yachting magazine, Mary really understands what Soundings is about. (She knows the difference between a built-down and a skeg-built lobster hull, which in my book says something.)
As deputy editor of Soundings for the past year, Mary has been a great help to me as we worked to launch our new fishing title. In the process, we became good friends. She is a skilled editor and writer with high standards and strong journalistic integrity. Soundings will be in good hands with Mary at the helm and the same veteran crew working the deck.
My primary focus going forward is on a new fishing quarterly called Anglers Journal, which our company started about a year ago. Anglers Journal was recently named one of the “30 hottest” magazine startups of 2014, and in December we also won a couple of Folio awards. Not bad for a publication that’s barely a year old. Anyway, I’ll be plenty busy as chief cook, bottle-washer and editor of that magazine. I’ll also continue as editor-in-chief of Soundings Trade Only, our boating business monthly.
When I took over as editor, my goal was to build a magazine that covered a distinctive swath of the waterfront, a publication that appreciated classic boats as well as contemporary ones. I wanted to look closely at current trends in design, propulsion and electronics while being mindful of what came before — tradition, seamanship, the old proven ways. And if, on occasion, we managed to convey through a story, painting or photograph the grandeur of the sea — what the old Cape Horner Rex Clements called “the windswept fields of infinity” — then perhaps we have had a modicum of success.
Looking back over 30-plus years, I can say without exaggeration that it’s been quite a ride, through calms and squalls, from crest to trough and back into sunshine, fair winds and a good tide. Soundings has always been a seaworthy ship and a damn lucky one, too.
And you have been the best, sharpest, “saltiest” audience for which a reporter or editor could ever hope to write. Thank you for your loyalty and for keeping me on my toes these many years.
I’ll look for you on the water.
“He picked up the ball of twine and put it to his nose and drew in the smell of boats, caulking smell, rope-locker smell – the smell which, savored in deepest gloom of wintertime, had the power of evoking faraway sunlit wavetops, a canted mist, a warm summer breeze on the helmsman’s cheek.” John Hersey
February 2015 issue