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After 34 years as a full-time marine journalist, it’s time for Bill to switch gears, and focus more energy on his version of the Great American Novel.

Capt. Bill Pike

Capt. Bill Pike

At the time, just about everybody I knew thought I was nuts and didn’t mind saying so. It was 1967—I was 19 years old—and, while lots of guys in my souped-up age bracket were trying to stay out of the Vietnam War, I was trying to get in. Joining the U.S. Army was the kickoff, a move that my conscripted colleagues in boot camp saw as total insanity. Then, when I wound up stationed in Germany instead of Southeast Asia, I’d launched another flier, filing for a transfer to Chu Lai, a base in Central Vietnam. Well, the transfer was approved but landed me in a rear-echelon job. So, I convinced a wounded infantryman I met in a Chu Lai hospital to swap assignments. He’d shift over to the rear echelon, and I’d start “humping the boonies,” as we used to say, with an infantry unit just south of Vietnam’s Demilitarized Zone.

“Okay, Pike, I’ll do it,” I remember the guy saying with a mystified look, “but I gotta tell you, man, I think you’re nuts.”

There was a certain logic to the scheme, however. Perhaps due to the delusions of grandeur that often assail the young, I’d convinced myself that I was destined to write the next Great American Novel and, considering the impact the Vietnam War was having on the world in 1967, I’d also convinced myself that I needed to see the war—experience it—firsthand.

The psychological shock waves that resulted from this point of view, as you’d expect, were not even vaguely anticipated. And only recently, some five decades later, have I begun to suspect that I might finally have enough maturity, detachment and understanding to at least try to write a book about the vicissitudes of the Vietnam War and its aftermath.

Such suspicions, of course, tend to become intrusive. And over the past year or so, with the assistance and understanding of my good friend Dan Harding, I’ve spent increasing amounts of time wrestling with the novelist’s trade, attempting to create engaging fiction from a lively mixture of research and remembrance. And although this exercise has not been exactly enjoyable, it’s turned out to be so deeply compelling that, in order to keep the project firing on all cylinders, I’ve requested and been granted the reduced status of Editor-at-Large, a position that will require only the submission of some feature stories as well as the continuing production of this monthly column.

Making the decision to dial things back was not easy to say the least. I began working full-time at Power & Motoryacht in 1988, some 35 years ago! And believe me, withdrawing—even partially—from such a longstanding career, replete with people and experiences that have had such positive effects on my life, is considerably more disorienting and anxiety-provoking than I’d expected. I mean, strange, admittedly self-centered questions routinely arise these days, like will I ever get to drive a race boat across Long Island Sound at 116 mph again? Or spend time with such admirable human beings as Jacques Cousteau? Or scuba dive the Great Blue Hole, off the coast of Belize, during an extended sea trial of a new powercat?

But hey, I’m not that worried. Not really. For me, marine journalism has always been about the camaraderie, not the exotic venue. Take, for example, the time Dan and I each attempted to eat a bowl of Cap’n Crunch—the kind spiffed up with peanut butter, not berries—while sitting on a bench seat in the bow of an Axopar 37 XC that was sweeping across the briny at approximately 40 knots. Was it fun? Convivial? Unusual? Heck yes—it was all those things and more, but mostly because the whole Power & Motoryacht crew was somehow involved, whether behind the wheel, shooting video, photos or whatever. The future proffers a raft of such companionable adventures, I’d say. And as for the next Great American Novel—well, we shall see.

Read Dan’s take on Capt. Bill’s transition here ▶

This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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