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Research Project

On a humid tropical evening this past August the sun dipped below the horizon quicker than I anticipated. From our slip four miles away, we could see it shining brightly across Cooper Island’s Machioneel Bay. It was as if a single spotlight lit this oasis, setting the stage for a solo performance for a special piece of paradise.

Our plan was to stay at Hodges Creek Marina on Tortola for our first evening and then make the easy jump to Norman Island in the morning. After snorkeling in the caves on the western end of the island and dinner aboard the schooner/bar the Willie T, we’d head back to Cooper early Monday and begin our cruise through the British Virgin Islands on board a new MarineMax 484 power cat. Besides the idyllic anchorage off Cooper and wonderful little beach club with top-notch service, I’m particularly fond of the strong Wi-Fi signal at their coffee shop—a necessary tool in the kit for Monday morning conference calls.

The sun continued to dip lower, shining brighter on Cooper Island, the Siren’s Song increasing in volume as dusk enveloped the Sir Francis Drake Channel. Come to us, George. Leave the dock behind. The water is clear. The drinks are cold. 

The hell with it, I thought, let’s just leave now, get off the dock and jumpstart this vacation. I mentioned this urge to my wife Lindsay who was stowing dive gear up in the bow locker. She looked over her shoulder toward Cooper and replied immediately, “Let’s do it.” Twenty minutes later we were heading across the Sir Francis Drake Channel.

For this charter, I was following a more deliberate plan than I usually do. You see, now I was empowered by science and research to ensure the optimum vacation experience. The week before, while ending my 23rd consecutive day on the road, I took a moment to read an article in the Wall Street Journal. It was about how to take a smarter vacation to realize the most health benefits and maximize well-being during your time off. Believe me, I dove into this story with vigor while squeezed into a center seat on the Denver to Boston red-eye. 

The writer offered sound advice about trying to unwind, short vacations versus long vacations, and even the optimum amount of time to take off. One researcher sourced in the article said eight days is the optimum amount of time. Apparently you peak on the eighth day and begin a rapid decent back into the real world. Good Lord, I need eight days just to shut out the voices in my head. 

One key takeaway for me, however, was the notion of trying to take control of your day. Research suggested finding autonomy while vacationing. In other words, turn off the alarm clock, wake up naturally, and let your day evolve. During many cruises, I’ve tried to establish the “no-plan plan”—each time with a varying degree of success. Like many of you I’m sure, I work in a deadline-driven business. So when I get on a boat, I really don’t want to have a plan at all—beyond the premise of a point-A to-point-B delivery.  

Such selfish detachment apparently does not work when you have eight members of your family onboard—including four boys between the ages of eight and 16, who are looking to you for guidance and, well, a plan. Even with really good kids who would happily spend an entire day in and under the water, there’s a craving for specificity.

So the main challenge on this trip became my morning passage past the cumbersome amoeba hovering in the saloon. During my slow shuffle from Lindsay’s and my stateroom—while singularly focused on the coffee pot 6 feet away—four pairs of young eyes would lock onto me like laser-guided missiles, then the rapid-fire questions about the day’s activities would begin. I tried to methodically paraphrase for them the key points in the Wall Street Journal article. I explained that this pouncing before I was caffeinated conflicted with my quest to seek out autonomy and a naturally developing day. They all looked at me blankly.

Then on day seven, something happened. Without knowing it, this morning interaction with the boys was how my vacation naturally evolved. My alarm clock was two kids playing cards above our heads (with the world’s loudest freakin’ dice). The joy was having a nice meal, reading a book, and yes, even doing a little work before the office opened. And our next port of call was really of no consequence to kids or adults. As long as there was water, a beach, and good snorkeling, all was well. 

I think the Wall Street Journal should work on a follow-up article and interview boaters to see how their numbers change when boating with family is the nucleus of a vacation. They may find we wind down more quickly, and after eight days, we’re reluctant to turn back. I’m available for an interview, by the way. See you on the water.