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Soundings at 51: What will the next half-century hold?

It’s been a good year for looking back and visiting with old friends and colleagues, for remembering the early days when both life and boats moved a bit slower. With this issue, we wrap up our yearlong celebration of our 50th anniversary. I tip my hat and bid adieu, at least for a while, to the stories of Jack Turner, our iconic founder, who was one of those bright, complicated, busting-at-the seams characters you want to work with at least once in your career.

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For you, our reader, some portion of this last half-century on the water constitutes our shared past.

Designer Michael Peters laments in our feature on boating innovations this month that when he was growing up he felt as if he had missed out on the good times, those years when fiberglass was replacing wood and change was heavy in the salt air. He has come to realize that the most exciting times are happening right now. “I thought I had missed the show,” Peters told writer Chris Landry, “but I didn’t miss it at all. It’s just different stuff.”

That’s exactly the attitude to ride into the future. As the poet said, all we have are these moments. The best times lay ahead.

What does the future hold?

As much as things have changed since the first issue of Soundings was published in 1963, the bedrock elements that first drew us to the water remain firmly in place. Sun, wind, motion, the play of light off the water, the laughter of friends, the sense of freedom and independence that can be found in few other places. For me, the water has always been one of the surest places to experience the sensation of being truly alive and in the moment.

In today’s constantly connected world, boats offer a chance to pull the plug for a little while, to temporarily sever the digital umbilical cord to land-based concerns and just relax. They are a much-needed refuge, a shelter from the storm. “Boating solidified relationships in a world doing just the opposite,” Bob Johnstone, the founder of MJM Boats, told me awhile back. “And that might be the most important aspect of boating.”

At Soundings, we will continue to embrace both tradition and innovation. One part tried-and-true to one part new technology is probably as good a formula as any. The DNA of the capable boats of yore and the sea smarts of the captains and crews of yesterday will have a place in tomorrow’s world, too.

Moving forward, some of the most interesting boats will meld clean, classic design and styling with a host of integrated systems on well-engineered, well-built hulls. You see examples of that trend across today’s Down East fleet, from pretty little outboard skiffs to 50-plus-foot express cruisers with pod drives and joystick control.

Experienced boaters will seek out functionality, reliability and simplicity over glitz and fads, and they’ll be rewarded with more trouble-free time on the water than those whose heads are turned by the glitter. And more attention, I hope, will be paid to aesthetics. There’s truth to the maxim, “Life’s too short to own an ugly boat.”

I do think we’ll see some pretty cool boats aimed at young people, but my guess is they won’t be designed by fellow graybeards. As one boatbuilder so presciently observed, it’s impossible for a 50-year-old to think like a 20-year-old.

At the same time, I expect more emphasis will be given to features and modifications on boats owned by baby boomers, present company included. None of us is in a hurry to swallow the anchor.

For those talented shade-tree mechanics and DIY boaters, project boats, rehabs and refits will continue to be popular alternatives to buying new. With the average age of a boat today being 20 years or older, there certainly is no shortage of candidates, including those we consider “classics,” a list that continues to evolve as we move forward through time. We’ll cover these projects in our pages on a regular basis.

Jack Turner used to admonish the staff to “be lively.” Good instructions as we embark on the next leg of our journey.

“Only two sailors, in my experience, never ran aground. One never left port, and the other was an atrocious liar.”

— Don Bamford

May 2014 issue