“We have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it, we are going back from whence we came.”
– President John F. Kennedy, addressing America’s Cup Crews, September 1962, Newport, Rhode Island
Why do people love boating? Some say freedom. Others say it gives you perspective. Most people agree that it’s just really enjoyable—except those who get seasick, of course. For them, there are toy boats. For the rest of us, there is the incomparable feeling of slicing through the water, the wind and spray, sea air and sunshine.
Few places on earth can boast the briny bounty of the Connecticut coast. Here, we speak with boating buffs to get a heading on what makes the shoreline exceptional.
Ole Nielsen, Branford – Runabout
Some people are born for the boating life; it’s just a matter of time until they sprout sea legs. For Danish-born Ole Nielsen it happened late, after coming to America.
“I took a job in a marina,” he says. “There, I was bitten by the boating bug. I took a job with a boat builder who was also a yacht designer, and I started studying yacht design. It’s just something that took over in me. It wouldn’t let me go. Then I fell in love with the beauty of the wood, and with mahogany runabouts especially.”
Ah, yes – the classic mahogany runabout; that sporty little designer speedboat favored by everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to George Clooney. Picture a Mercedes (or maybe a Ferrari) but for the water. What’s not to love? In America, the runabout is typically a Chris-Craft or a Hacker-Craft. In Italy, it’s the Riva. Either way, you’re talking about the sexiest motorboat ever – and Ole Nielsen is its newest design star.
Like the serious artist/entrepreneur that he is, Nielsen quit his job at the boatyard, formed Destino Yachts, and began creating his 21st century runabout. What a beauty he’s made: it’s got a 20-degree deadrise with lifting strakes, chine flaps, and a generous flare to keep it dry. The hull itself is cold-molded, and that construction ends with a layer of mahogany veneer. The thin veneer on the outside is locked in place by epoxy, allowing for a clear coat finish like a luxury car – very rare in boats.
It’s so undeniably gorgeous that it won Best New Powerboat at the Newport International Boat Show – one hell of an award for a newcomer.
Nielsen is hitting the boat show circuit, spreading the word about Destino Yachts and the certifiable best new powerboat around. When Nielsen wants to relax, he only has to put his own creation in the water. “After a long stressful day at work, I throw a sandwich and a couple of cold beers in a cooler, and just get out on the water,” he says. “That, to me, is the best. We just hang out in the Thimbles, drink a beer and watch the sunset. Getting out on the water takes you away from everyday life. It’s not even about the boat. It’s about being out on the water. You can do that in any boat.” It helps, however, if you’re in America’s raciest new runabout.
Kitty Pilgrim, New York – Motor Yacht
To cable news hounds, Kitty Pilgrim is an icon. As a CNN anchor from 1996 to 2010, Pilgrim covered the biggest stories with assured journalistic sangfroid. As a novelist, she’s turned her Citizen of the World credentials and unique access to power into a series of page-turners full of romance and action. Her latest book, Summer of Fire, weaves together volcanic eruptions, globetrotting protagonists, and sumptuous locations with elegance and adventure. Fans of the genre will love it.
During her years as a CNN correspondent, Pilgrim learned that of all vacations, cruises were the only ones that were impossible for work to interrupt. That started a passionate affair with boats and boating that has deepened over time.
“I love being on the water,” Pilgrim says. “This goes back 20 years ago or more when I was in the newsroom. When you went on vacation, they could always call you back for a story if you were on land. If you were on a boat, they couldn’t get to you. So I started taking Transatlantic cruises, first on the QE2 and then the Queen Mary. If you’re in the middle of the ocean, they’ve got to find another reporter.”
Out on the water, she says, “you leave your troubles behind. It’s wonderful. Now that I’ve left the news business, I’m on the water as much as possible. I still do Transatlantic and Mediterranean cruises. And I’m always on Relemar.”
Relemar is the 70-foot motor yacht owned by Pilgrim’s friend and companion, diamond merchant Maurice Tempelsman. He’s one interesting guy (Google his name and see), but this isn’t his story. His yacht, however, is a classic: built by Hatteras in 1981 and beautifully appointed inside. “I rarely see boats that are as exquisite as Relemar,” Pilgrim says. “It has a beautiful, Old World feel to it.”
Pilgrim likes to spend the summer months writing on Relemar. “I usually ride on the aft deck, which has a dining area and a beautiful panoramic view of the off the back,” she says. “That’s probably where I do my best writing. I also love sitting in the salon, especially in stormy weather. It’s very cozy.”
This summer, Relemar (with Pilgrim on board, writing her next novel) has been dropping into shoreline marinas like Old Saybrook and Norwich, then cruising over to places including Menemsha Harbor on the western end of Martha’s Vineyard. With so many places to go, why does Pilgrim stay close to the Connecticut coast?
“I love it,” she says. “When I was very young we used to go to the beach in Madison. We’d always rent a beach house, and at night we would go to one of the restaurants. It was always a very nice, long day.” Sounds a bit like a scene in a novel, actually.
Kristin Connell, Clinton – Racing Sloop
Racing skippers have something extra in their blood. They can handle a boat, deal with the weather, and watch their rivals with a fierce eye, all the while maintaining composure. Female skippers have something extra extra. To win in a male dominated sport, women have to bring a unique competitiveness. Kristin Connell of Clinton knows all about that. At the helm of her beautiful Frers 33 sloop, Black Hawk, she’s matched wits with some of the best racers in the nation.
Recently, Connell placed first in the Frers 33 one-design Long Island Sound Championships and second in the Frers 33 National Championships. She’s a winning skipper, and a genuine yachtswoman.
Boating really does run in Connell’s blood. Her grandfather was a navy captain. Her family has participated in boating competitions for years. Starting out with a classic J/24 one-design keelboat called Polar Express, they moved over to the Frers 33 class with Heartbeat, later replacing her with the super-fast Black Hawk.
When Connell isn’t dominating on the water, she’s an environmental analyst for an engineering consulting firm. She mainly works on ecological risk assessment, and permitting for bridges and dams. Connell has also studied humpback whales, butterflies, salamanders, and bluebirds. For another form of leisure, she once climbed the Inca site Machu Picchu in Peru with friends and family. “Backpacking is cheap, so all you have to do is buy the plane ticket, and take the adventure,” she says. Adventure seems to be a habit with this lady – by land or by sea.
Youth Sailors, Sachem’s Head Yacht Club, Guilford – Sailboat
As with any sport, the love of boating often begins with good teachers. The amazing coaches at Sachem’s Head Yacht Club in Guilford instill in their young students a love of (and respect for) sailing, through multiple programs that enrich everyone from the novice level up to qualified racers. This patient education has been going on at historic Sachem’s Head Yacht Club almost since it’s founding in 1896.
Youth sailors get hooked on the waves and wind, like anyone else. But at Sachems Head, they learn how to enjoy that feeling while becoming qualified sailors. They’re out on the water having fun, and also being taught how to “plane” (simple navigation), how to trim the sails and, of course, boating safety. It’s often a family affair, with moms, dads, siblings, and grandparents involved in some way.
For the Sea Squirts (a program for absolute beginners ages 6-7), it’s all about the fundamentals: parts of the boat, how to rig, and how to function on the water safely. As student Avery Petersen says, “We want to know how to sail, and get out on the water.” These beginners are introduced to other sailing basics including wind direction, capsize and recovery, docking, towing, and more. It’s serious stuff, but also seriously awesome.
“I love it because it’s really fun, and we get to go to different places, like the Thimble Islands,” says Anna Steffen. Nola Lai loves to “relax on the water” and take in the Zen of sailing. It’s a little different for everyone. The Racers, for example, have an ardent love of the chase. Hayden Lai likes to “get the competitive blood pumping” because “winning just feels good.” Yes, it does.
It doesn’t really matter what kind of boat you’re in, or why. Once the salt in your blood gets awakened by the salty sea, we all become sailors. We all come home.