First off, a confession: I never finished Jimmy Buffett’s book A Pirate Looks at Fifty. I’d heard it included a lot more about seaplanes than I’d ever want to know. But I did make it through the introduction, and I enjoyed the bit where he summarized his life “in four hundred words or less.” I turned 50 myself this past year, and I’m on the verge of another milestone as well, so I thought I’d take a swing–in 400 words or so–at summing up my 26 years as a sailing writer. So, with apologies to Mr. Buffett, here goes:
Without a clue about what I wanted to do with my life, I landed on the front steps of Cruising World magazine in Newport, Rhode Island. The publisher’s wife took pity on me and offered me the receptionist’s job. I was in the door. Firmly.
I caught a typo on a letter I wasn’t supposed to be reading, and I got kicked upstairs (literally) to the editorial department. It was a world of words and boats, and I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I covered the first BOC Challenge solo round-the-world race and traveled to South Africa, Australia, and Brazil. With George Day, I wrote a book about the event called Out There. I was a real, live journalist. I pinched myself, and, yes, I was wide awake.
I took my first offshore voyage, on a Freedom 44, to Bermuda and then on to Antigua, and I fell in love with bluewater sailing. I bought my first boat, a J/24. I crossed the Atlantic on a 60-foot catamaran with boyhood hero Robin Knox-Johnston, tasted my first survival storm, and flew back home on the Concorde: 12 days over, a couple of hours back.
I was on the water off Newport when Dennis Conner lost the America’s Cup, and I was on the water off Fremantle, Australia, when he won it back. I met good ol’ Jimmy Buffett in Oz and spent an afternoon drinking beer with him and Rolling Stone correspondent P.J. O’Rourke. And, yes, I thought I was pretty cool.
I got hired by the racing magazine Sailing World; the unreal sailing just kept coming. I did an event in Alaska called the Around Admiralty Island Race and loved the cold, wild waters, something I’d never outgrow. I covered a couple of Whitbread Races and enjoyed many hours with Peter Blake, who impressed me more than anyone I’d ever met. I bought my second boat, a C&C 33, and moved aboard.
I came back to Cruising World and picked up where I left off. I chartered or cruised in Vanuatu, Australia, Greece, Turkey, the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Mexico, and New Zealand. I took a year off and was the media manager for the BOC Challenge. I danced with Isabelle Autissier the night she was rescued in the Southern Ocean. Later, round trip from Australia to Antarctica on a 60-foot sloop, I crossed the awesome Southern Ocean myself: 10 days down, nine days back, and another two weeks to thaw out.
I wrote a sailing column for three years for The New York Times and covered the Cup in New Zealand for them. I got into ocean racing and did a ton of it, including many of the biggies: the Newport-Bermuda Race, Chicago-Mac, the Bermuda One/Two, the Pacific Cup, the Transpac. The more I sailed, the more I wanted to sail. Cruising, racing, daysails, passages: I loved ’em all.
Most important, I ultimately fulfilled the dream that developed along the way: to become the editor-in-chief of this magazine. For the last five years, working with some of the best editors and writers in the field, I’ve done just that. It’s been a trip. A joyful one.
That leads to the other milestone I referred to earlier. Next month, a new editor will be taking over this page, and this magazine. John Burnham is a longtime colleague, a wonderful sailor, and a good guy. He has some great plans for CW. I’ll let him elaborate, starting with the March issue.
Me? I plan to keep sailing and writing, for this magazine and others. It’s too late for anything else. Besides, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.
I’ve had a helluva run and some fantastic times, and one thing was never, ever lost on me. None of it, not one second, would’ve happened without you, the knowledgeable, passionate readers of Cruising World. It’s been my honor and privilege. So, while I’m way over my 400 words, I’ll leave you with just two more.