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Crystal Clear

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Sometimes the best navigational aid is in front of you.


In 2013, I was asked to take two couples from Stuart, Florida, to New Orleans in a 49-foot Eastbay for Jazz Fest, a route I was very familiar with. During preparation for this trip I met Capt. Stan Morse and his best mate Judy onboard their boat, Folly, in a mooring field on the South Fork of the St. Lucie River in Stuart. They were in the process of returning home to Destin, Florida, after several months of island hopping. 

Folly got my attention as she is not a cookie-cutter cruiser. She is a retired, 50-foot Navy launch purchased at auction by Capt. Stan. As a friendship with Capt. Stan and Judy developed, I learned the name Folly was more indicative of Capt. Stan’s sharp wit and sense of humor than Webster’s definition as it would apply to their boat. Folly was powered by a single 6-71NA Detroit diesel which had a mere 75 hours on it when Capt. Stan made the winning bid. 

Capt. Stan put the old launch in a boatyard in Virginia, purchased a retired shipping container that would serve as a workshop, and had it placed next to Folly in the yard. For several months, Stan and Judy built decks, a hardtop cabin with simple amenities, and a shaded cockpit, converting this retired launch into a salty, sexy brute; an island-hopping cabin cruiser. The choice of a Navy-gray hull only enhanced Folly’s salty profile and Capt. Stan’s philosophy of keeping things simple.

Over the course of three weeks, as my charges and I made our trek towards New Orleans and Stan and Judy made their way home, our paths would cross two more times, once in Ft. Myers, Florida, and again in Destin, as I was making the return passage from New Orleans. This allowed us to share plenty of quality time and more than a few sea stories. 

Capt. Stan Morse is a retired Chief Mate of the Military Sealift Command (MSC). MSC is the leading provider of ocean transportation for the Navy and other Department of Defense branches. One of Chief Mate Morse’s many duties onboard MSC ships was to be an instructor/professor for a handful of midshipmen, from the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA). Midshipmen from the USMMA typically work/study onboard a variety of ships and other vessels, acquiring sea time and hands-on educational experiences in the various operations and disciplines. 

During our visit in Destin, I was sharing my story of the 49 Eastbay losing the port engine’s Electronic Control Module (ECM) upon departing New Orleans due to an electrical spike during a severe thunder and lightning storm. We also had other equipment failures during the same period of time, leaving us to assume that our problems were due to some very complex electrical issues. This conversation brought us back to the simplicity of Folly and a teaching exercise Chief Mate Morse would perform with his midshipmen.

He would start by ordering his midshipmen to the wheelhouse of the ship. Then he would instruct them to peruse all the computers, plotters, charts, radars, instruments, and any other navigational paraphernalia they could observe. Allowing them ample time to absorb all the functions and equipment of the wheelhouse, he would then pose the question, “What is the most important navigational aid in this wheelhouse?”

After a plethora of well-thought-out answers from midshipmen eager to please Chief Mate Morse, he would bark, “It’s the windows! Don’t forget to look out the windows!”