It’s a gorgeous day on Longboat Key, a sliver of a barrier island off the west coast of Florida sliced between Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, all of it straight out of a chamber-of-commerce brochure. The breeze has filled in from the southwest, but not too much, hovering at 10 knots or so. Which is just great, because the sandwiches are made, the cooler is packed, and we’ve got just the right activity for this sunscreen afternoon. We’re going sailing.
Skipper Steve Spurr is at the helm of his Pearson 365, August West—so named for the protagonist of an old Grateful Dead song called “Wharf Rat,” significant of nothing, slapped on the transom by a previous owner—and he backs her out of a tight slip with the easy nonchalance of a man who knows precisely what he’s doing. Which is probably no coincidence, and might in fact be a skill he’s inherited; his old man, Dan Spurr, is a longtime sailing writer, accomplished cruising sailor and a former editor at this very magazine. Seated to my left in a cockpit full of happy, expectant guests, Dan is also one of my oldest, best mates, a friend with whom I’ve sailed many a mile and enjoyed (or survived) countless adventures…talk about a pair of ol’ wharf rats.
I’ve actually sailed August West previously, back in Newport, Rhode Island, soon after Dan purchased her a few years back. But my longtime pal has since moved on, to the proverbial “dark side”—a pretty cool, I must admit, Grand Banks trawler parked in the same marina as August that we pass as Steve motors us into the bay. Dan’s boat swap gave his son the opportunity to upgrade to the 365 from his previous Pearson 30, and here we are.
Good old Pearson yachts, and my hometown of Newport, are a couple of threads that tie this whole story together, and sadly, it’s a tale not without a stiff measure of tragedy. It was almost 35 years ago (good God, how is that possible?) that Dan and his wife, Andra, were readying to set sail from Newport for points south aboard their 33-foot Pearson Vanguard (having moved up from, yes, a Pearson Triton), a time that Dan recalls well in his excellent memoir, Steered by the Falling Stars. It was an August night, and the Spurrs were on their boat in the harbor when I got word that back in Dan’s former Michigan stomping grounds, his son, Pete—the sweetest 12-year-old imaginable, even more so for the intrepid way in which he charged through life despite his cerebral palsy—had been struck dead on the tracks of an Amtrak train. It was my job to go fetch my buddy.
Steered by a falling star? You can say that again, brother.
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Allow me to cut to the chase. Within a few months, Dan and Andra’s plans for an extensive, open-ended cruise came to a complete and sudden halt when they learned they were…expecting. One son can’t replace another, of course, but a son it was. Steve.
The subsequent journey, like all of them, hit a few potholes. Growing up ain’t easy, man. But fate and love and serendipity has now brought them all back together, living in Florida, their respective boats just a few slips apart. Always a handsome lad, hardworking Steve has grown to be a true waterman—a sailor and a fisherman—with a good job, a beautiful girlfriend, a new house. As happy an ending as one could hope for.
On top of all that, he’s taking us for a nice ride on his pretty, well-kept boat.
We cut across busy Sarasota Bay to the city front, passing the gaudy and palatial mansion once owned by the circus impresario John Ringling. It turns out that Steve is a fairly excellent tour guide, and he knows his local history. We see a few dolphins. Everyone gets to steer. The chow is tasty, the beverages icy. The breeze shifts, and we relish a sweet reach back toward sun-splashed Longboat.
So, yes, we’re enjoying our sail on this lovely day, in the fine company of the sailor and his son. Well, two sailors, really. It’s about as perfect as it gets in a thousand different ways.
Herb McCormick is CW’s executive editor.