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By Land or Sea

A whirlwind travel schedule reminds editor Dan Harding that the best way to get somewhere is—and always has been—by boat.

Grand Banks boat

The woman in front of me was yakking on her cellphone. In front of her a disgruntled traveler seemed shocked that he couldn’t bring a water bottle through security, and right behind me a teenager was scarfing down an egg sandwich. 

dock piling

“Make. Sure. Everything is out of your pockets. If you have a laptop, put it in a bin by itself,” admonished a TSA agent, who apparently shares my level of early morning patience. Faster than you can say, “Hold on right here, we’ll have to pat you down,” my blood pressure spiked. I appreciate security measures as much as the next traveler, but on this day I began thinking that there has to be a better way. 

It’s amazing that traveling by sea stills seems to be the most civilized way of getting somewhere. There is just something special about visiting a place by boat rather than by land or air. 

My job allows me to revisit places I first experienced by boat. Camden, Maine, Beaufort, North Carolina, Ft. Lauderdale. I frequently find myself looking forward to any opportunity to fly and/or drive to a marina or boatyard I explored while cruising. 

I’ve had some great times revisiting old stomping grounds, but for some reason these trips have felt a bit disappointing lately. Had these destinations lost their luster, or was I still in a bad mood from my morning TSA pat down? Was I painting the past in too rosy a shade?

I’m starting to realize it isn’t me or the places that have changed; it’s that arriving by plane and car robs you of the intimacy you get from a destination when you arrive by water. And maybe it’s because of the heightened sense of anticipation, but a town just looks more peaceful and promising with water reflecting before it. 

When you visit by boat, you usually don’t have the ability to hop in a car, flip on the GPS, put your mind on autopilot, and travel somewhere for a meal. Most of the time you’re forced to walk from the marina into town to find something to eat. 

Just that simple act can change your entire experience. In today’s hurry-up world, going for a walk is a neglected pleasure. Strolling through a shaded hamlet in Maine or along a beach in Florida allows you to soak up a place in a way that driving never can. 

When my fiancée, Karen, and I go cruising, we make an effort to leave our cellphones off as much as possible. As part of a rule we started last summer, we don’t use Google maps to find an attraction or restaurant. We have to discover what there is to do the old-fashioned way, either by stumbling upon it or asking a local for help. 

Dan Harding and Karen McKay

“Excuse me, we’re visiting from out of town and were wondering if there’s a good breakfast spot you could recommend?” That type of question is sometimes met with a raised eyebrow and quizzical expression that seems to ask, Uhhh don’t you poor people have a smart phone? But more often than not we’ve learned that people love to talk about their homeport and offer up advice that even the mighty Internet can’t offer. Had we followed advice from the Web we’d be bound for an IHop or top-rated sports bar, but local advice has led us to an array of great hole-in-the-wall restaurants and dive bars alike. 

Striking up conversations with locals—I’ll admit is something Karen is much better at. Who’s she talking to now? I often think to myself. But there’s no better way to learn about a place then by talking with the people who live there. You’ll learn more in a five-minute conversation than you could from any Wikipedia page, whether it’s about the new Walmart coming to town that’s threatening mom-and-pop shops, or how changes in the economy are affecting a small town.

And there’s no better way to cap off a day of exploring a destination than breathing salty air as it wafts through the boat’s cabin. The experience has a way of allowing me to really connect with a place in a way that a stay in a hotel with a 100-channel TV and continental breakfast just doesn’t offer.

That deep connection you get when cruising, and the rejuvenating power of a walk into town, has been on my mind lately, and has helped me to find peace and calm, even as I’m prodded along with the herd of other cattle in winding airport lines. 

 “Whoa, wait right there. I’ll have to pat you down.”

  Well … almost.

Discover how a desire to escape to the simple life
led Dan to discover a new favorite cruising destination in Fisher's Island. ▶

Tenders tied up