The Ditch: Love at First Sight

I'm a hopeless romantic with a penchant for falling in love at first sight. Whether my affection's object is a person, a boat, or a place, it's never a coincidence that I always just know, immediately. How fitting, therefore, that one of my life's most enduring love affairs was a done deal before the end of our first evening together.

One October day almost 30 years ago, with my career as a delivery skipper very much in its infancy, I was joining the annual southbound migration of snowbirds down the ICW for the first time. That day ended 50 miles beyond Norfolk, in a place renowned among ICW regulars for its hospitality, low fuel prices, and 32-ounce prime-rib dinners: Coinjock, North Carolina.

The marina's restaurant was a rather rustic place in those days, and the home-cooked fare was spread out, raft-up style, on long tables for all to share. I arrived late and alone, but space was quickly made at the end of one of the benches. Quick introductions were made, so it was a few moments before I picked up the voice above the din. Cruiser Walter Cronkite was seated 10 feet away.

I was hearing perhaps the most famous voice on the tube and looking at the most trusted man in America. That night, however, he was just another sailor headed south on his Westsail 42, Wyntje, now dramatizing his day's modest adventures, just like the rest of us, and speculating on what the morrow held in store. While I might have wished for a tale or two from pre-war London or Berlin or an Edward R. Murrow or William Shirer anecdote, my encounter with Cronkite remains the glance, the accidental touch, that clarified for me the endless realm of possibility that defines every day on the ICW and ignited my love affair with that 1,090-mile-long magenta line that will never fade.