By Ann Dermody
A Chocolatier's Love Boat, Building A Dream, A "Hustling" District Attorney, And Out For A Little Row
Jacques Torres – New York's Willy Wonka Finds Peace On His Boat
As a child growing up in the South of France, chocolatier, author, and TV chef Jacques Torres would catch squid and small fish from the docks between big powerboats and sailboats moored there. "It was like another world to me," he says. "Something only rich people could have. I dreamed of one day owning a boat like that, but it was like wishing for the moon."
Mr. Chocolate enjoys the sweet life in New York Harbor at the helm of his Bayliner.
Instead Jacques concentrated on what water activities were available to him – swimming, fishing, and trolling the beach for sea urchins with his father. At 13 Torres got a job as a busboy in a local restaurant to save up for the spear gun he coveted. After that it was diving, and later a small rowboat that he eventually rigged with sails and a motor. He'd head out to the little island of Bendar, across the bay from his hometown of Bandol, and marvel from the water at the people who stayed at the hotel on the private island. "I always had that impossible relationship with boats," he says. "They were near and yet so far."
In the meantime Torres' professional life took off. At 15, during a summer vacation, he started an apprenticeship at the local pastry shop in Bandol and eventually went on to earn a degree as a master pastry chef. A glittering career beckoned, and he won many distinctions including the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France medal (the youngest chef ever to earn the distinction), before the Ritz Carlton Hotel enticed him to the U.S. as their corporate pastry chef. The following year he went to work at the legendary Le Cirque in New York, lured by the custom-built pastry kitchen where he served presidents, kings, and celebrities on a regular basis. He also became Dean of Pastry Studies at New York's French Culinary Institute.
In 2000 he opened his own chocolate factory to serve the retail and wholesale market, and seven Jacques Torres's specialty chocolate shops quickly followed. While he was building his career, "Mr. Chocolate" as he'd become known, was dreaming of boats and fishing. "A few years ago I was training for the New York City marathon, running along the water on the West Side, when I saw these houseboats. I'd never even thought of fishing in New York. I went home, got online, found a broker, and told him I wanted a houseboat." Torres eventually settled on a Bayliner 3988 for sale two hours up the Hudson. When he headed up to sign the paperwork, he realized he'd no idea how to handle the boat. "The guy selling it handed over the keys and said, 'Good luck!' I said, 'What do you mean? How am I going to get it to New York? You've got to come with me!'" Luckily the seller agreed and gave Torres a crash course on his new boat.
"So now I have it at the marina, and I'm so excited I almost cry every time I get on it," he recalls. He hired a captain to come out with him for his first few outings, then it was time to go it alone. "I took the boat out and everything went fine but I couldn't get her back to the dock. Eventually I asked a neighbor on the dock to give me a hand. I promised him chocolate if he helped. I think he was a bit offended that I was treating him like a child. He didn't know what I did for a living!"
As the months passed Torres became more confident and decided his next step was to go fishing. "I thought it would be best if I went on a fishing charter first. When we came to a grinding halt in front of the Statue of Liberty, I thought the boat had broken down. I said to the captain, 'We can't catch fish here!'" Several minutes later Torres had a 26-inch striped bass on the end of his hook. "I was ecstatic. I couldn't believe it. I'd only ever caught small fish. If I'd caught something like this in my village in France I'd have been a hero! Then the captain took his tape measure out and said, 'Sorry, it's got to be 27.5 inches; we have to throw it back.' I felt like throwing him back!" Luckily, Torres caught several larger fish and was well and truly hooked on big-city fishing. Now, when Torres' wife goes home to California, he lives on his boat fulltime.
Given that it's Torres' first boat, its name, The Last Boat, is somewhat ironic. "I'm sure I'll have a bigger boat someday, but the day I let her go there will be a lot of tears," he says. "I knew nothing in the beginning but now I know every inch of her so well. As a kid I dreamed of being able to fish from my bedroom window and now I can." He can also sleep like a child, something that eluded him in the hustle and bustle of apartment living when he's on the boat. "When I'm in New York working, I'm in overdrive, so having the boat out in Liberty State Park is like being in the country. It's just a short ferry ride and I have the best view of Manhattan. The smell and the feel of the water beneath the boat, the quietness, and the community of boaters you meet — we all eat on the dock — is terrific. I'm exactly where I want to be in life."
Mike Morrissey, Hustler World Champion
Last year was a challenging one for Michael Morrissey. The longtime Massachusetts state senator won a tough election to become the District Attorney for Norfolk County, and this left little time for boating. "Last year I probably spent a total of four hours on the water," he says ruefully. This year he hopes to up that total, but the nature of his new job means he'll have to stay close to home. "I'm only a few miles from Boston where I live," he says, "and my boat has always been right at the local marina, or at the yacht club, so I just hope for the chance to come home from work and go out in the boat for a few hours, or go for a weekend in the Boston area."
If the mention of a yacht club conjures up images of Thurston Howell III of "Gilligan's Island" fame, Morrissey, a lifelong boater whose father was a pipefitter and vocational teacher, has done a lot to counter that image. As a state senator he sponsored legislation to reduce costs for small yacht clubs in the Bay State (and was awarded a Recreational Boating Access Award by BoatUS in 2010).
Morrissey belongs to several yacht clubs himself, including a club in the Germantown neighborhood of Quincy that boasts a membership of only 100 families. "Gull Point Yacht Club is a little neighborhood yacht club, very exclusive," he says. "It's where my wife grew up. You have to live on one of five streets to belong. Many years ago the neighbors bought a piece of land on the water. They have a storage facility and a pier where you can bring your boat in, and at low tide it's all mud. In order to belong you have to have grown up in the neighborhood. So by virtue of the fact that I married someone who grew up in the neighborhood, I'm a member of the Gull Point Yacht Club."
Currently the owner of an Alura 35 powerboat now, Morrissey grew up racing small sailboats around his hometown of Quincy, starting out with a Turnabout (now called a National 10) purchased with the proceeds from a paper route, and going all the way to Cherbourg, France for the international finals in the 420 class. He takes particular pride in his success racing Hustlers – an 18-foot sloop-rigged catboat that only races in and around Quincy Bay. "They have a series of regattas," he explains, "but it's more of a regional boat. I like to say that I'm the national champion of the Hustler class. If you want to carry it further you, can say I'm the world champion of the Hustler class, but they don't leave the bay."
Katie Spotz On Mental Preparation
"Stolen: One pair of oars. Reward offered." Katie Spotz would like her oars back. They were taken, along with her minivan, from the street in Cleveland, Ohio, where she lives. The oars were only really used once, on a XXXX mile trip from Senegal to Guyana, when Spotz became, at 22, the youngest person to row across an ocean by herself.
A self-described benchwarmer in school athletics, Spotz has made a specialty of testing her physical and mental endurance. Her other adventures have included jogging across the Mojave Dessert, bicycling across the United States, and swimming the 350-mile length of the Allegheny River.
"Everyone can do endurance," she says. "It's just the mental aspect, that's really where the challenge lies, not in being big and tough and strong. With endurance you'll see that. You'll see big, tough, strong men, and many times they're the ones who are calling in for help."
Spotz didn't call for help, even at the end of her 70-day journey, when 25-foot waves forced her to travel an extra 400 miles to land safely. "For the last week or so, I was really waking up every few hours, changing course, trying to do my best to reach land," she says. "There was really no way for me to land safely without a boat towing me in, and I wasn't really interested in that. I wanted to do it all, every mile."
Her boat, Liv, a purpose-built ocean rower, used solar panels to power the AIS, GPS, VHF radio, laptop, and satellite phone, which she used to update her twitter account and blog (sample tweet: "If anyone wants to set up a lemonade stand at 8N 31W, it could be a very lucrative business right now. Or ice cream, please!"). Spotz slept in one of the 19-foot boat's small cabins, strapped into her bunk. She avoided shipping channels, and says she saw another boat about once a week. During the day, she stayed tethered to the boat ("Me and the boat, we stayed close. We stayed friends," she says). By the end of her journey, she had raised $100,000 for Blue Planet Run, which provides clean drinking water to people in Third World countries.
Back in Cleveland, she's working for one of her sponsors while she plans her next adventure (she wouldn't divulge the details). Oh, and if you should happen to find the oars, there is a reward: Spotz will take you on a boat trip across Lake Erie. She'll do the rowing.
If you'd like to see someone included in This Boating Life, a boater who's also done something extraordinary, e-mail your suggestions to editor@BoatUS.com.
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The Big Dreams Of Tom West
Tom West doesn't consider himself a great sailor, as his sole experience consists of a few hours on a Midwestern lake aboard a 16-footer. Yet West, 71, is confident that the 57-foot sailboat that he's building on his home tennis court in Poland, Indiana, will not only float, but also sail around the world – with West at the helm and his wife Marsha, also 71, by his side, and with as many as dozen friends along for the ride. Oh, and this, the first boat he's ever built, is also largely steel and so, in his opinion, pirate-proof. Well, pirate-resistant anyway.
"I plan out my life ahead of time," he explains, "and I thought it would be neat to go from port to port when I got old." Bold words, perhaps, but West straddles the thin line between Jack Of All Trades and Renaissance Man, so building a boat should be small fry for him. He built his home, and in various jobs over a lifetime he has also built farm equipment and computer circuitry, and rebuilt aircraft engines. "I've got just about every tool you can think of," he says. He also has a bachelor's in astrophysics and a master's in physics. "I've done a lot of things, built a lot of things, and I've never had much failure."
Once West retired from his last gig — a high-school tennis coach with five state titles — he had plenty of time to accomplish his ocean-going dream, a traveling boat, built of steel. "I tried to pick out the largest boat I could get out of here," he said of the 30-ton vessel that's nearly finished. The exterior is painted, and this winter he's completing the interior. If all goes as planned, he hopes to launch in April. "About half the state has shown up here. The ones who know boats say, 'My God, you've done a fantastic job.' But at the same time I get people who say, 'You're nuts!'"