Sharing A Love For The Water


Blue Politics, Blues Songs, And Sailing The Ocean Blue

Edited By Ann Dermody
Published: August/September 2011

The Boater's Politician: John Breaux

There are boaters — and then there are boaters. The latter is the sort who know every inch of their craft to an almost obsessive degree, have their boats — rather than family and pets — as smart phone and iPad screen savers, do their own engine repair, carry well-thumbed old maintenance manuals (that they've studied incessantly and marked with highlighter pen throughout), and though they might not readily admit it, spend large chunks of their time daydreaming about that certain multi-ton lady in their lives.

Photo of Former Senator John Breaux and his wife aboard their 47-foot Sea Ray
Photo: John Breaux
Former Senator John Breaux and his wife, Lois, relax aboard their 47-foot Sea Ray.

It is very obvious, very quickly, that former Senator John Breaux is one of those boaters. Born and raised in Louisiana, he authored a landmark law that returned boaters' gas tax money to boating programs (it even became known as the Wallop-Breaux Act), while he was in the House of Representatives, where he'd been elected at 28, in 1972. Apart from helping to positively influence laws to enhance the quality of recreational boating, Breaux took advantage of his new home on the Chesapeake Bay to do some serious boating. In 1987 he was elected to the Senate and served as a U.S. Senator until 2005.

"I used to spend a lot of time repairing my first boat," he recalls. "It was a 23-footer with twin engines. I was in the House in those days, and I did all the repairs myself. I remember my wife Lois and I changed the headers, and she smashed her wedding ring holding something for me."

Boating has always been a family affair for the Breauxes. He says some of his very first memories are of fishing with his grandfather on the lakes, rivers, and bayous of Louisiana. "I remember as a little kid looking out the window watching him, and then later getting to go with him, when I was about 5. He'd have everything ready the afternoon before, so the next morning he could just step into his truck, pull his boat, and go fishing before daylight. It was just a wooden boat with an old motor that you had to tie a rope around to crank up. It used to backfire on him and bust his knuckles, and the rope would break, but it was a great sort of bonding experience that was very special." Breaux says he's trying to imprint the same memories on his own five grandchildren who range in age from 6 months to 13. "I'm taking them skiing and showing them how to run the boat. They love it. I had that when I was growing up and I'm trying to get them to continue doing it. It's always been a big part of our lives."

As with most boaters, his boats have grown with him. "You have your first boat, and then your second boat, and your second boat's a little bigger than the first boat, and the third boat's bigger than the second boat. There's always a bigger boat to get," he muses. Since that first 23-footer, Breaux has owned a 28-foot Rinker, with a single Mercruiser engine he kept at his home on Maryland's Eastern Shore for 10 years, before donating it to The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michael's, Maryland, to auction last year. He also has a 36-foot Chris-Craft Corsair (which he still owns).

"We have a condo in Florida, so every winter we'd truck the Corsair down to Florida, and then bring it back up to the Chesapeake in the summertime." Last fall the boat was already on the truck on its way to Florida when Breaux and his wife stopped by the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show and came away with a 47-foot Sea Ray Sundancer. "So I ended up with two boats in Florida for the winter," he says. By late March, the Chris-Craft was on its way back north where it'll live out its days. He also keeps a 21-foot ski boat and a jet ski in Maryland. Some of his greatest pleasures, he says, come from tinkering with his boats himself. Later this year he'll take a trip to Bimini with his wife and a group of Sea Ray enthusiasts. In the meantime he'll keep updating himself on the latest boating gadgets and apps coming on the market. His iPad is loaded with multiple weather and navigation apps and he's downloaded the new BoatUS app ( to his phone. He's also got Zeus pod drives on his Sea Ray. "You can make a dumb mariner look really good with those," he laughs. "I love all aspects of the boat. Just getting out in the open and being on the water. It separates you from the day-to-day stresses that everyone has in their lives. I'd much rather worry about my boat than worry about everything else I have to do."


Dawn Riley: Big Dreams Lead To Big Achievements

Now wannabe sailing rock stars, as well as those who want to improve their sailing game, can head down to Oakcliff Sailing Center in Oyster Bay, New York, and find out what it's like to train for the America's Cup. Dawn Riley, the executive director, means the school's pedigree is as good as it gets. As CEO and captain of America True, Riley was the first woman to manage an America's Cup sailing team, raced on four America's Cup and two Whitbread (now Volvo Ocean Race) teams, is the former president of the Woman's Sports Foundation, and serves on the board of US SAILING.

Photo of Dawn Riley Dawn Riley shows her sailing skills in all kinds of weather.

Riley's sailing experience started as a one-month-old. She might have started sooner except her mother wouldn't allow her father to take her out before she was baptized. When she was 12, her parents took their three kids on a yearlong cruise from Michigan to the Caribbean and back. The day after she returned, Dawn started racing and has barely stopped since. "From the time I was 13, I did everything from crew, to cook, to clean boats. I've never had any other job."

Thirteen seems to have been a significant age. It was also when she saw the America's Cup for the first time in Newport, Rhode Island, and announced to her family that she'd be racing in that one day, too.


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