The best thing about summer where I live in coastal Connecticut—and we’re in the thick of it as I write this—is the way we can live within a stone’s throw of the Sound (as in Long Island Sound) yet manage to keep things separate enough that it offers a true disconnect. By disconnect I don’t mean it in the what the hell is going on with this Wi-Fi? way but in the good unplugged way, that feel the warmth of the summer sun on your shoulders way. Keeping a boat nearby is the surest way to effect a much-needed escape, even for a little while. It’s funny, the difference I feel from when my feet are on my driveway to when they actually touch the deck of a boat, is downright stark.
Last time I noticed was a few days ago. I was going fishing with a friend and the temperature change alone from driveway to deck felt like 15 degrees. But it’s more than that. You know what I’m talking about. It’s like a shift in your brain, where its computing power stops work on the standard set of questions of day-to-day life and takes on an entirely new one. And that second set of questions, unlike a large percentage of those in the first set, are all about the kinds of challenges you don’t mind facing: “Where will the fish be today?” “Well I don’t know, what’s the tide doing?” “Bottom half of the incoming.” “Should we try where we went the last time?” “In this wind? What do you think?” “What do we have for bait?” These questions in the cockpit will get answered, one way or another, and with varying degrees of success, throughout a day’s fishing.
Now bear with me for a moment: Let’s take a wider view of the day on the water, pull that movie-camera lens away from that dockside discussion, and broaden the circle of our consideration to bring in a few other boaters. At the public boat club where we’re just casting off, families and friends are coming together, excited to be getting out on the water, or working on their boats. In the mooring field, I spy a friend’s Dyer 29 swinging against the current, bright blue topsides gleaming in the sun. I know he wants to sell his boat (he’s already got another he’s working on). But after all the love and attention and sweat equity he put into this one, the questions probably arise for him as well: “Would it be better to sell her locally, so I can keep an eye on her?” “What’s the next offer going to be?”
Maybe someone is deciding to try waterskiing for the first time. Perhaps we see a fleet of Optis rounding the mark, junior sailors learning the thrill of practical lessons applied as they answer their own questions of tactics and strategy in rapid succession. Some boats are moored, visiting from New York or farther away, and making their ways to Newport or the Cape or New England’s cruising grounds beyond. “Should we stay here another day or find another spot up the coast?”
Take the lens back even farther and we can see the entire breadth of the Sound, boats showing up as white wakes against the blue-green. Center consoles bob at anchor at seemingly random spots—it almost feels as though the anglers aboard avoid eye contact with passing boats, not wanting to give up a honey hole. Now you can imagine even larger questions that form as we collectively take on issues surrounding fishing, water quality, access, and the like. As to the local favorite striped bass, this season has been a bust for many anglers, and the science is pointing to overfishing as a root cause. “Should I kill this ‘keeper-size’ striped bass today?” may become a less common question. Just recently I signed a petition confirming I wouldn’t take two fish at 28 inches in a day, instead agreeing to a self-imposed limit of one fish at 32 inches.
Use an even wider view and you can see the entire East Coast of the United States and into the Bahamas. Even wider and it’s the entire U.S. on up to Alaska and down into Mexico and the Caribbean. Everywhere you look, every boater has questions he faces as his feet hit the deck.
What are the questions that come to mind on your boat? Tell me where your head’s at at email@example.com, and share how you’re going about getting the best answer. See you on the water.