Charting Their Own Course


The Old Man And The
Fishing Boat

By Rich Morris
Published: June/July 2013

In honor of Father's Day, a son pays homage to the man who quietly instilled his love of the water.

Photo of the author with his dad and sister, setting out from Ship Bottom, New Jersey

The day was perfect, 15 knots of wind and calling for a glorious weekend. The Morgan Out Island's genoa was full and taut, the mainsail a nearly perfect airfoil. We were close-hauled about 10 miles southeast of Atlantic City, and I was driving the heavy boat hard and loving the ride. It was May 1975, and I had the perfect summer job from college. I worked for a marina out of Brigantine, New Jersey, and was crewing for an orthodontist and his young family, a long weekend cruise to Cape May and back.

Photo of the author in college sailing attire from the 1970s

As captain of my college sailing team, I was pretty full of myself when it came to sails and stuff. I was sure that if we could hold our heading, we'd make Absecon Inlet around 6 p.m. Then, we could motor to the dock while enjoying a perfect sunset. The doctor was steering, and while we were chatting, he asked me if my whole family were sailors. I said no, my sister sailed a little, but my father was a fisherman. He pressed on, curious to hear how I'd built my world around a sport without a family history.

My father loved the sea and boats, I told him, but he's always loved the thrill of the deep-sea hunt more. His 30-foot Ulrichsen, Wanderer, was well-known as a fishfinder. You could hear the chatter on the radio when he hit the inlet, with people guessing where he was going, boats following at a respectful distance. If I decided to sneak out on the bay and bottom-fish some afternoon, I'd have to get on the radio and explain that Dad was not aboard, because an armada would form behind me. The boats would disperse, leaving me to look fruitlessly for fish. My father was the fish hawk, not I.

Photo of author's parents

When I was small, my dad worked two jobs, teaching physical education in the Philadelphia school district, and moonlighting as a sporting goods salesman. Most times I wouldn't see him from Sunday night until Saturday morning because of the hours he kept. When I was 6, he brought home a new product, a Styrofoam boat with a sail. It was 11 feet long, and he'd paid 50 bucks for it, with his discount. I was thrilled! No one knew anything about sailing at our house, but Dad had noticed that when I was on Wanderer, I loved watching the sailboats more than the power craft.

After we rigged the small boat on the grass, I sat in it for hours dreaming of what it would feel like on the water. My family nicknamed my penchant for doing this "corn going," a mix of "Hornblower," sailing the cape in my head, but actually being in a field on a boat.

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