Best Day On The Water

By BoatUS Editorial Staff

We cast a line to our members asking you to share your treasured boating memories. Here are some favorites.

Memories of magic time spent on the water stow away in our unconscious, always ready to be recalled and relived. They can be a fleeting moment of perfection or a sprawling weekend that unfolds to reveal one wonderful surprise after another. They can be from those hazy days of childhood innocence or that incredible cruise last weekend.

They are the little gems that have nothing to do with the resale value of our boats, yet everything to do with why we're so passionate about them.

Here is a collection of wonderful boating moments as told to our editors by our members. Look for additional Best Day essays in future issues. If these inspire you, send us your own memories to Magazine@BoatUS.com. But for now, sit back and enjoy these sea stories from your fellow boaters.

Matthew Thomas and sunset on the Chesapeake Bay

It was a Friday afternoon, not long after the kids had started the new school year, when my wife suggested we take an evening cruise. We texted our friends, and they were in for a spin.

We met on the water a couple hours later and motored up the James River, not far from where it empties into Chesapeake Bay. We chose a spot off the windward shore of the river and tied up together for a long drift. The kids swam in the chilly water, we shared a meal, then we chatted as the sun sank behind the trees and the sky went from blue to yellow to orange.

Later, the lights of the city behind us were starting to twinkle when we separated and started the downriver putter back home in the fast-approaching darkness. The kids in the bow were shouting out warnings about crab-pot buoys and channel markers. By the time we made it to the dock behind the house it was almost dark, but I could still see the sun setting over the river as we drifted.

— Matthew Thomas, Virginia

John and Karen Swope

It was the third weekend of October and forecast to be unusually nice for October on Lake Erie. The next weekend we'd prepare to haul the boat, so this was the last hurrah of the season. Spontaneously, we decided one last trip to Put-in-Bay was the ticket. The normally bustling bay was quiet. Despite the subdued mood, or maybe because of it, we had a great day on the water.

Inevitably, though, as it was Sunday evening, my wife suggested we start heading back. I throttled up as we rounded the outside marker and was greeted with a boatless lake as smooth as a mirror. I throttled back a little, determined to make this final ride last as long as possible. As we passed the west end of South Bass Island, the sun was nearing the horizon and it painted an iridescent red path. I turned to Karen and joked, "Let's turn and follow it 'til we run out of gas or water." She seemed to consider it for a moment but finally sighed, "No, let's head home." So that's what we did, but I'm still grateful to have experienced one of those rare moments in boating when everything was perfect.

— John Swope, Ohio

Sunrise at sea

The year was 1978. We had sailed from Bermuda to St. Barts in my Swan 48 and were on our way to Antigua. We arrived early afternoon, cleared in, cleaned up, and decided to have dinner and depart in the morning. We dined in an open courtyard under a clear sky and gentle east-northeasterly winds.

The moon, almost full, climbed high above us.

It was then that I changed our plans and decided we'd sail overnight to Antigua. When we hoisted our sails and departed, I told everyone to get some shuteye and that I'd stand the first watch. I put Neil Diamond's soundtrack album to "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" on the cockpit speakers and sailed down the moondance on a close reach.

Wide awake, I never did rouse anyone, instead witnessing the magnificent sunrise. It was the most spiritual, beautiful, and heartwarming sail I've ever had. Nearly 40 years later, it's as clear in my mind as this morning's breakfast.

— Blane Bowen, Toronto

Framed gyotaku prints

"Can we go fishing again, Ono?" squealed Zoey and Maya in unison as they greeted me at the arrival gate in Seattle. Zoey and Maya are my 7- and 3-year-old granddaughters who live in San Jose. "Ono" is my grandpa name. Ono is a fearsome fish (aka wahoo) that can swim 50 miles per hour, but it also means "delicious" in the Hawaiian culture. What better name for a fisherman to be called by his granddaughters?

But how did I get my young granddaughters to be so enthusiastic about fishing at such a young age? The secret was in meeting the kids on their own turf. In this case, the answer is in the Japanese art of fish painting, called Gyotaku.

A few months earlier, on a calm, sunny July day in Puget Sound, I took them fishing for flounder. They each had their own pink spinning rods and, with not much assistance, were able to land a few small flounder in 40 feet of water.

Previously I'd purchased paper and paints. When they were done fishing and the weather still calm, I spread out the fish on a small platform on the aft deck. We proceeded to paint multiple fish and make prints. Amazingly, they stayed at it for nearly an hour.

I saved them all, the best of which I had framed and gave to the girls for Christmas. Upon opening hers, Zoey held the painting over her head and exclaimed, "Now I'm famous!"

— Thomas Benedetti, Washington

Chris Kelly and his Dad

Starting as a young kid, my dad taught me everything I needed to know about boats, from how to tie knots to how to sync the RPMs by ear, and everything in between. Most of all, he taught me how to love every bit of it.

He lived in Cleveland, I lived in Colorado, and summers on Lake Erie were days I looked forward to all year long. He was always a Formula guy, and nearly 40 years later, in 2015, I moved from Colorado to Florida and finally bought my own first boat — a Formula, of course. My dad, age 73, flew down from Cleveland, and for the first time in my life, I got to take him out on my boat.

Those first days were also sadly the last. A few weeks after returning to Cleveland, he was diagnosed with cancer and passed away 16 days after that. Those nine days we had on the boat together in Florida, with him knowing that his love of boating and his dream of living in Florida were now his son's life, will always be my proudest.

And they will forever be the best days I've ever had on the water.

— Chris Kelly, Florida

Sunset on the water

The evening I proposed to my wife had to be my best day on the water. We were out with a friend water-skiing in the cove behind Villa Sabine on Pensacola Beach on his late-'80s Sea Ray 160 BR when Foreigner's hit song, "I Want to Know What Love Is," came on the radio. I thought, "no better time than the present" and dropped to one knee next to my soon-to-be fiancée.

When she looked at me kneeling on the deck in my swimsuit and smiling, she simply said, "Oh God, don't ask me here!" With one of my best friends urging me on from behind the wheel, saying, "Do it, Fish," I proceeded to ask the question, to which I received a laughing "yes!"

After that, we headed over to the beach to tie off at the dock, freshen up under a shower on the boardwalk, then off to Peg Leg Pete's to celebrate. Almost 26 years and two kids later — yes, we still water-ski, wakeboard, and boat! — the memory is as vivid as if it were yesterday.

— Norwin Fischer, North Carolina

Whale eye

On a beautiful moonlit night, I was returning to San Diego from Catalina Island at about 2 a.m. Bellringer, my Hunter 42, was moving along at a good clip on a beam reach as I stood watch alone in the cockpit.

I was startled by a splash and a loud, misty breath and looked over to see a large whale rise alongside the cockpit. This large eye stared intently for a minute or two, then disappeared below the surface, leaving me no time to grab a phone or camera to document the event. Moments later, the whale surfaced alongside again, this time surrounded by the pod. We slipped along silently together, in my total amazement, for several minutes before they pulled ahead and dove beneath the deep blue Pacific, leaving me behind to dwell on the joy of sailing and the beauty of nature.

— Chris Ferrante, Florida

Family fun on the lake

The Fourth of July has always been my favorite day of the year because it includes time on Lake LBJ, a nearby reservoir nestled on the Colorado River in Central Texas. Our normal July 4 begins with early morning water-skiing and wakeboarding while the lake is still smooth as glass. Then we dry off and sit with family and friends for a big breakfast. Packing our boat for the long day takes a lot of preparation — towels, fishing gear, sunscreen, music, water toys, tons of food, and assorted beverages.

After motoring through the no-wake zone and into the cove, we inflate the three-person tube, load it up with kids, and whip them around, all the way to Sandy Beach, where we anchor and spend most of the rest of the day having fun in the water and sunshine along with dozens of other boaters.

By late afternoon, we head back to the lake house for burgers and brats, and to get ready for the Fourth of July festivities. It is always best to view the fireworks from your boat, so our first destination is Kingsland, where the show begins right after sunset. Later, there are more fireworks at Camp Champion and Horseshoe Bay. The calm night cruise back to the lake house is always a pleasant delight, with local neighborhood fireworks still lighting up the sky in all directions.

We end the day with a big bonfire and good old-fashioned s'mores — and that is why the Fourth of July will always be my best day of the year.

— Mike Hassel, Texas

Family fishing with big catch

My grandsons, 10 and 8, didn't know I bought a brand new boat.

I picked them up one morning. We'd had a plan to go fishing, but it was raining. I told them that because it was raining, we should go boat shopping. I handed them a Lund catalog and they were all over it in the back seat. They wanted it all.

An hour later we are at the dealer (who was in on the ruse), who says, "Look around, and I'll get with you after a phone call." The boys were climbing all over the boats and noting which boats had which features. The dealer shows up and tells us he has a boat in the back he thinks we may be interested in. I knowingly ask, "What color is it?" and he replies, "red."

"Grandpa, that's just the color we were looking for!" one says, and they were quickly running all over the boat. "Grandpa, this has everything we want!"

Ben, the oldest, looked at the fishfinder on the helm (which I pulled off my old boat and had the dealer install) and said it's "just like ours." I replied that's because it is ours! That was the only time I've seen my grandsons speechless.

We all enjoyed the dealer walk-through, and off we went. The sun came out. We headed straight to the lake and spent the afternoon breaking in the boat — a fabulous day of happy memories with the promise of many more to come.

— Lowrie Harrison, Indiana 

— Published: December 2017


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