A Difficult Good-bye

When one journey ends, it’s natural to take a look back at how it began. And that can now be said about my time in Newport, RI and with Yachting magazine.

My Newport story began on a warm April morning, nearly two and a half years ago. It was zero dark thirty as I drove from Long Island to Newport for an interview with Yachting, an opportunity that seemed to materialize overnight. My mind raced faster than the headlights of my old Honda.

Do I really want to move to Newport? Is this job right for me? What if I bomb this interview? I thought to myself.

These questions snaked through my mind as my car weaved through the wooded single-lane roads of Rhode Island. Then the woods seemed to open up and I crossed the Jamestown Verrazano Bridge and saw Narragansett Bay for the first time. And an impressive sight it was. I followed the GPS a few miles further and came to the Pell Bridge, the same one I have talked about countless times in this blog, but for good reason. The view was unlike anything I have ever seen before. Sailboats (a foreign wind-powered craft) and sunlight danced a top the expansive blue water. The Newport skyline rose in front of my dashboard.

Like after a first kiss, sparks flew, I laughed and said aloud, “yeah, this is going to do just fine. New York, it’s been fun.”

As you can guess, I got the job and moved to the City by the Sea a week later and the rest, as they say, is history. Since then I’ve worked with some of the best people you could hope to meet, I’ve traveled the world, met people so interesting that they’d put the Dos Equis guy to shame. I ate at some great restaurants and drank at a few awful bars. I bought a boat. And broke a boat. And forged an unlikely friendship with an old carpenter who helped me fix it up.

Karen and I have raced around the bay enjoying incredible sailing and at times, sailed in circles, becoming frustrated nearly to the point of tears. We’ve watched mega yachts, schooners, America’s Cup yachts and cruise ships come and go while sitting on the back of our boat. Yes. Life in Newport for a 25-year-old dreamer has been damn good.

But I will be moving to another good home in Essex, Connecticut to become the senior managing editor of Power & Motoryacht magazine, one of the most respected marine magazines in the world. I feel that same type of excitement that I did two and a half years ago, the kind that you only get when you don’t know what the future has in store.

As I drive west over the Pell Bridge to Connecticut, I’ll look back in my rear-view mirror and see a town where I left nothing but good friends and great memories. I’ll hope that one day, years from now, I’ll drive back over that bridge and my future children will look up from their iPhone 20’s and become as mesmerized as I was when I first crossed it.

The story continues…

Photo(s) of the week: J-24 racing

No matter what day of the week it is, whether its a warm and sunny day or if it’s bitter cold and raining, in the summer and fall, there will be boats out racing on Narragansett Bay. On this night, it was a fleet of J-24s that whipped up the water. Competition was fierce, it always is, and at the end of it there were no trophies to be had, no sponsorships waiting for them at the finishing mark; the only reward was wind burn on their faces and salt spray in their hair. After a race like that, there is a winner but there are no losers.

Stories That Stay With You

As an editor of Yachting magazine, I write about an unbelievably wide array of topics. I’ve penned stories ranging from boat shows and megayachts to bilge pumps and batteries. Just last week, I interviewed a megayacht helicopter pilot and wrote about a $14,000 Rolex, all while eating a ham sandwich on potato bread. Such stories are often fun to write but after that issue goes to press, they are soon forgotten.

Every once in a while however, I get to write a story that stays with me indefinitely. Case and point: Last fall, Karen and I joined a group of cancer survivors and patients on a ride around Newport aboard the schooner, Madeline. The plan was to do a ride along, snap some pictures, get a few quotes and give some publicity to the group who organized the trip called Sailing Heals. We’d be in and out in a couple hours and the story would be finished later that day.

So, on a dreary and drizzly Sunday afternoon we boarded the schooner and set sail for the bay. Sitting on the starboard rail, I couldn’t help but notice a middle-aged woman wearing a blue raincoat and sporting a huge grin. With her head on a swivel, she was snapping cellphone pictures at an impressive rate, seemingly impervious to the fact that the rain and lack of wind made for awful sailing conditions. She was having a blast.

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Wanda (right) and her daughter, Lorna enjoyed every minute of their sail aboard Madeline.

I introduced myself and asked a few icebreaker-type questions, and learned that happy woman’s name was Wanda Howard, a 59-year-old veteran of newspaper advertising who enjoyed volunteering and spending time with her family. The next thing I know, Karen (who I’m convinced would make a good reporter) and Wanda were deep in conversation, talking as though they’d been friends for years. They discussed sailing, living in Massachusetts and family.

Gazing out onto the water, Wanda leaned in towards Karen and softly said, “You know, four years ago I didn’t live life to the fullest. Now that I have stage-four cancer, I appreciate things like this so much more.” Wanda seemed so full of life; it was hard to even believe she was sick, let alone dying of cancer. It was hard news to digest. Karen’s eyes filled with tears and Wanda got up, walked over to her and gave her a big hug saying, “don’t be sad.”

A short while later Madeline returned to the dock, but to our surprise, we found ourselves not wanting the ride to end.

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Since the time the story ran, Karen and I have crossed paths with the schooner, Madeline dozens of times. And every time we do, without exception, our thoughts go back to Wanda and her incredible spirit and joy for life. Sometimes we talk about her aloud, and other times we reflect on that day to ourselves in silence. We both wondered how Wanda was doing but were too afraid to find out, that is until the other day.

Lorna Brunelle, Wanda’s daughter emailed me asking for copies of the article that ran a year before. She told me she wanted to use the images and quotes in a book she’s writing about lessons she learned from her mom, now that she has passed away. We both spoke about the rainy afternoon we shared together and Lorna said:

“Until the final week of my mother’s life she referred to her day on Madeline as one of the best days of her life. I remember being nervous because she was on a very high dose of steroids (to help her breathe) and I was afraid her excitement would lead to an unwanted dip in the ocean. Thanks goodness we have only happy memories of our day on the water!”

I know that from now on whenever we see Madeline out sailing in the bay, Karen and I will feel sad that someone as nice as Wanda passed away too soon. But we’ll also be reminded of her advice to be happy and live life to the fullest, and a reminder like that is nothing short of a blessing.

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To learn more about Sailing Heals, please visit sailingheals.org.

An (Almost) Perfect Day on the Water

September is a special time here in New England. Fleets of tourists return to their homeports but there is still boating left to do. Last Sunday was a particularly picturesque day; a cool breeze lingered over the bay, sunshine reflected off the water as if it were a mirror.

It had been too long since Karen and I went sailing simply for the sake of sailing. With no destination in mind and no ETA to provide, we literally decided to go wherever the wind took us. We were healing over, skimming atop the water like a stone, making course corrections only to check out mansions on the coast or to take a closer look at a container ship anchored just outside the channel.

In the world of sailing, there are days that really require you to work. Shifty winds might require regular trimming and every turn of the bow feels labored; you have to earn every tenth of a knot. This was not one of those days. The varnished wheel felt like an extension of my arm and the boat responded with every gentle turn.

We decided to sail passed the Naval War College, an area with thin water and a narrow channel. It was a body of water that I normally would have opted to motor around. It was beyond scenic.

A grumbling stomach was the only reason we turned back towards Jamestown. The highlight of the day was still to come, and it sat in the cooler: A bacon-wrapped pork loin I bought that morning for a barbecue. That piece of meat, corn on the cob and a few cold beers were to be the pinnacle of an already perfect day.

For 40 minutes, I grilled the meat and the smell of bacon and pork wafted across the anchorage. We were the envy of the entire harbor.

Before digging into dinner, I gave the meat one last –over zealous– flip and the pork slipped through the tongs, off the side of the grill, falling, seemingly in slow motion, into the water below. The envy was over in an instant.

Karen, holding an empty plate, looked on in horror, knowing how much I was looking forward to that dinner. We sat in silence for some time; the loss of our dinner was hard to swallow.

It didn’t take long until we were able to laugh at the ridiculous turn of events. After all, it was a great day on the water, one that I’m sure we’ll laugh about on a cold winter day months from now.

Rediscovering Newport [Gallery]

It’s known as the Sailing Capital of the World, America’s First Resort and the City by the Sea; for the last two years I have simply called it: home. Since moving here from Long Island to begin my journey with Yachting magazine, I have walked the cobblestone streets with flocks of tourists, slurped clam chowder at its many seafood spots and frequented the many salty pubs. I thought I knew Newport pretty well but the one thing I haven’t done, at least until the other weekend, was visit by boat. 

Just a ten minute trip from Jamestown, we cruised past Fort Adams, a garrison originally built in 1799 and revamped in 1841, and were met by perhaps the most eclectic fleet of yachts found in the United States. Schooners under a full wardrobe of sails silently swept by monstrous megayachts, and families in rubber dinghies dodged rust-laden fishing vessels. Simply put, it was a boat nut’s dream. 

The Karen Marie anchored in one of the more quiet (a relative term) corners of the harbor, in the shadow of the New York Yacht Club’s summer location, Harbour Court. Long hours of yacht watching ensued, as did multiple dinghy rides around the harbor, which yielded some of the amazing sights I hope you enjoy below.