Dads teach us so much. Most of my life lessons involved a boat.
I grew up on the water, and I mean that literally. I was born in July, aka peak boating season in Rhode Island. Not the type to miss an opportunity to sail, my parents strung up a system on their C&C 29 where I swung around in a makeshift bassinette-like contraption all summer.
These days, both of my parents are active boaters, but it was my dad who instilled a love of boating into our family. He grew up in Warwick, RI and has plenty of tales of his youthful escapades. One of my personal favorites: the time he sailed with a friend to Block Island in his teens on a whim. Of course, this was with no charts, no motor, barely any wind. Just dumb luck. Oh, and he neglected to tell his parents. Some call it dangerous, he called it an adventure.
The first time my dad passed on his love for boating was to my mom. When they started dating, he asked my mom to sail to Cuttyhunk for the weekend. She had never set foot on a sailboat but gamely agreed. Again, without navigation and no charts, they set out from Cedar Tree Point in Warwick. Of course, the thunderstorms started just an hour after departure. There were two lifejackets aboard, but they happened to be child-sized and no comfort to my mom, who was starting to get nervous. Somewhere around Tiverton, things really went awry when the sailboat ran aground. A helpful fisherman successfully pulled them off a shoal, but snapped a halyard in the process.
By now it was dark and they had no clue where they were. Hoping for the best, they threw out an anchor for the night. As the story goes, the night was terrifying and sleep was fleeting. But when the sun rose, they woke to a gorgeous clear day with picturesque Fogland Beach in view. Somehow, they continued (chartless!) to Cuttyhunk. They made it, and it was there my dad received his first nautical chart from his friend Seth. Armed with the knowledge that maps of the ocean existed, my mom was hooked.
And soon I would be too. My sister and I spent our childhoods sailing Opti’s at Conanicut Yacht Club and selling blackberries to boaters moored at Dutch Harbor Boatyard. Much later, for my dad’s 40th birthday, my mom surprised him with a weeklong bareboat charter in the BVI. It is still, hands down, the best vacation I’ve ever been on. Not just for the location, which of course was incredible. It was because my sister and I (surly teens, to say the least) got up with the sun and spent every day laughing, snorkeling and dancing with our parents, who turned out to be pretty cool after all.
There would be more boats as we grew up. A tiny inflatable with a 2.2 HP Mercury outboard that I learned to drive at age six. An uncle’s loaned Boston Whaler. A Moody 34. A windsurfer. An aluminum rowboat from the sixties, with a motor to match. A work-in-progress Limestone. A Walker Bay. Kayaks. A beloved Najad 38.
I could tell dozens of stories about my dad and boats. Or about how my family is truly at our best when we’re all together somewhere on the water.
Every summer until I was about 13, our family took two weeks or so to cruise with our yacht club. We went everywhere: Fisher’s Island, the Vineyard, Montauk, Nantucket and a host of others. We’d raft more than a dozen boats together and spend the time swimming, playing games, cooking out. It was fun, exciting and absolutely exhausting.
Whenever the trip was over and we were on the way back to Jamestown, my dad would pull in the inflatable tender we towed and toss me and my sister in for a ride. We may only have been going five or so knots and yes, we were only trailing ten feet off the stern, but to a six and seven-year-old, it was absolutely exhilarating.
Even at that young age, we could tell this was our dad’s way of showing his confidence in us. He trusted us to be out there. He wanted us to try being on our own. I was always nervous at first, but those nerves never failed to grow into giddy excitement.
Fast-forward fourteen years: After graduating college, I was home for a summer, unsure of my next step. On a whim, I applied to be a stewardess on a Feadship in Annapolis, and to my surprise, I got the job. I was quietly apprehensive when I left because it would be the first time I was truly on my own. This time, there was no towline. I didn’t know where I was going or when I would be back.
But, thanks to my dad, I knew it would be fine. He taught me that nerves are just a precursor to excitement and adventure. And anyway, it was just another boat.
Thanks, Dad. Happy Father’s Day. I love you.