Typically, our editorial team takes to the water in a big way when the boating season in the Northeast gets underway. From May through October, we take advantage of opportunities to sea trial new models, run restored vessels and walk the docks at shows. In a normal year, it’s a busy period during which we spend a lot of time on the water, having a blast and rubbing shoulders with pleasant people who like to think and talk about boats.
But this isn’t a normal year. The pandemic put the kibosh on our professional boating plans for the season. Like many of you, we spent the working days hunkered down at home, but trying to make the most of it by connecting with co-workers on video calls and doing lunch with the family.
Then, in early July, Hunt Yachts reached out with an invitation to sea trial its new 63 Ocean, which would be located just a two-hour car ride from my home in Connecticut. I had not been on a business trip in three months, but Scott Bryant, Hunt’s vice president of sales, was taking measures to ensure the health of the five passengers who would be aboard. He’d have the boat cleaned before and after our arrival, provide masks, sanitizer and access to soap and running water, and enforce social distancing protocol. Before I accepted his invitation, I checked out the boat’s specs online. This offshore-ready 63 had three decks and an 18-foot beam. Should be easy to keep 6 feet apart, I thought.
A few days later, I pulled into the parking lot at the builder’s headquarters in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. The yard was humming as masked staffers hustled to get boats in the water. Because of the
pandemic, business was brisk, as existing owners were planning to use their boats more than ever.
Over on the Hunt 63, the sun had baked the teak sole to the perfect temperature. That was the first thing that crossed my mind when I stepped aboard. That and the realization that something as simple as bare feet on warm wood can make you feel really good.
My colleagues Dan Harding and John Turner were onboard. Although we’d been talking regularly since lockdown, we had not been in the same physical space for 12 weeks. We greeted one another with big smiles and elbow bumps, and then spread out along the side decks, pulling in fenders while Bryant eased the boat away from the dock.
We spent just an hour or so running the 63 along Narragansett Bay, but in that short time, nature had a mood swing. The sun became obscured by a thick fog and the seas rose up from a serene slumber to take a few good slaps at the side of the robust deep-V hull. As the wind picked up, the air cooled and the saltwater clung to our hair. The change in atmosphere was electric. From the driver’s seat on the flybridge, Dan looked as happy as I was feeling. “Some things just can’t be experienced virtually,” he said.
Back at the dock, we tightened up our masks, grabbed our backpacks and beat it for the parking lot. We had a Zoom call to make later in the day with the boss. There’d be a good discussion about the business of boats and boating. But there would be a better conversation about the joys of plying the waters in real time, in real life.