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Starting Line

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Don Weidner

Now an old salt, Weidner laughs at his past mistakes and maritime miscues.

If at first you don’t succeed, well hey … don’t worry about it. 

My wife Jiji had been extraordinarily patient while I looked for a consistent and substantial way to have some quality downtime—to have some fun when I wasn’t working. Cooking classes and racquetball or squash matches were fleeting and somehow fell short of the major lifestyle improvement I craved. Golf seemed to call for more patience than I had left in me by the end of the week. At rock bottom, I actually constructed model steam engines from kits from the Smithsonian. My recovery started one wonderful day, when Jiji and I accepted the invitation of a colleague to take a ride on his sailboat, a 27-foot Hunter. We did, and I was stunned with the beauty of the experience. A second short trip two weeks later nailed it, even though we ran aground in the shallow waters off Shell Point, Florida, and even though my colleague’s very pregnant wife had to join us in the water to push the boat off a sand bar that fortunately had none of our local oysters on it. I loved every minute of it, and immediately started shopping for my first boat. 

Jiji and I began traveling to boat dealers in search of a sailboat that we could use as a weekend getaway and that would be strong enough for offshore as well as coastal cruising. Since we knew nothing about boats, much less how to sail, we resorted to an article we found in a marine magazine on the requirements of a good cruising sailboat. We zeroed in on the Pearson 365 ketch, for I suppose some of the right reasons. It had most of the features the article suggested, such as all-bronze through-hulls (even though we were not sure what through-hulls were), a separate, walk-in shower, a big galley, and so forth. But what pushed us over the edge was the sight of four 365 ketches docked in a row at Turner Marine, in Mobile, Alabama. They looked absolutely beautiful and incredibly romantic. When the marina owner, Keith Turner, took us on a moonlit run to dock and dine at a waterfront restaurant, I was toast. Where had I been while such spectacularly beautiful things were going on? Steam engine kits, indeed! We signed on the dotted line and ordered our new boat, picking out the only thing we understood—the colors.

The boat arrived in Mobile a few months later, and in short order I proceeded to make my first major nautical gaffe—and perhaps earn a footnote in the history of Turner Marine. There sat the Jiji Lou, sparkling white, newly rigged and stunningly beautiful! Keith had put just enough fuel in the tank to make it to the fuel dock, which was a short run from the marina. I proudly got behind the wheel, with Jiji and Keith by my side, hanked on the iron jib, and motored oh-so-slowly to the fuel dock for more fuel, enough to fill the tank.

The gentleman at the pump said, “Throw me a line.” Keith pointed to a line coiled and resting behind me in the cockpit. Obliging and good-natured fellow that I am, I picked up the line and tossed it. The recipient stared at me in total amazement, as did Keith. Jiji started laughing as she realized before I did what had happened. No one had said to me: “Tie one end to a cleat on your boat and throw me the rest, residue, and remainder.” So I simply threw the whole thing—both ends and everything in between. That’s how much I knew about boating when we bought our first boat, which cost us more than our house had.

Perhaps remarkably, my life as a recreational boater has since been long and joyous, entailing no loss of life and relatively little property destruction. We eventually learned how to sail and moved our boat from Mobile to Shell Point, Florida, near our home in Tallahassee. We kept her for 10 years, until we bought the Jiji Lou II, a Hatteras 42 LRC, which we kept for 6 years in Carrabelle, Florida, and which was followed by Plan Sea, a 22-foot Mako we keep on a lift behind our place at Alligator Point, Florida.

My advice to anyone who is hesitating on the verge of taking the boat-buying plunge? It’s quite simple, really: Get aboard. If you wait until you are fully prepared, you may never do it. And don’t be concerned if some fellow on a dock some day appears overly enthusiastic about catching a dock line for you. It may simply be me, feeling a bit nostalgic.   

Donald J. (“Don”) Weidner lives in Tallahassee, Florida, where he is the Dean of the Florida State University College of Law. He keeps his boat at his weekend place at Alligator Point, Florida. Although most of his boating and fishing are done in the warm and welcoming waters off the Florida Panhandle, he always tries to get on the water when he visits his son who lives in London and his daughter who lives in Nashville.

This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.