Paul Fenn, Take a Shot Media

Is it Still Possible to take a Summer Vacation and Simply Sail Away?

Growing up, taking a summer vacation was easy. We simply packed our suitcases, loaded them into the trunk of our 1967 Plymouth Barracuda and drove to up-state New York; first to visit my mom’s parents for a few days in Rochester and then later in the week to visit my dad’s parents at their summer place on Canandaigua Lake. My grandparents’ place on Canandaigua Lake was the absolute best. Here my cousins and I were totally cut-off from the outside world. We never had a TV or a radio here and although we did have a phone, it almost never rang and when it did, nine times out of ten it was a wrong number. No, here we were in our own world, a world filled with old canoes, tin boats, long hikes, hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill and bonfires on the beach at night. It was quite frankly, perfect.

DSC00327Back in the “olden days,” there were no such thing as minivans and as a result, people traveled lighter and left most of their… excuse me, “crap” at home. Yes we were cramped in the back seat of our small car and yes I probably missed my bike that I couldn’t bring with me but somehow, when all was said and done, our summer vacations were always relaxed and filled with lots of laughs and good times.

Today it’s different. For one thing, we no longer go to the same spot each summer but instead bop around from place to place looking for new adventures and places to explore. There’s nothing really wrong with this but there’s a lot more moving around when you go this route which makes for a more stressful, less relaxing vacation. In fact, often is the case that we need a vacation just to recover from the vacation. The real differencewifi-zonehotspot however between then and now, comes down to technology. It’s simply darn near impossible to get unplugged! This is an unfortunate reality because there are still so many great places to visit that are still 100% natural and where “being connected” adds nothing to the overall experience. So I ask the question, is it still possible to take an old-fashioned summer vacation and simply sail away, electronics free?

I am the ultimate optimist so of course the answer to this question is yes. But, it’s not easy to go cold turkey and disconnect and if your spouse is also addicted to always being hard-wired, they need to play along or you’ll never stop and smell the roses again until you’re dead. So, here’s a few tips I found on how to unplug and get the most out of your next summer vacation:

1. Let people you work with know what to expect: It’s not that people will really believe you when you tell them that you won’t have access to your e-mail while you’re away but at least you’ve given them the heads up so when you don’t respond right away, they’ll know why.

DSC003542. Control your smart phone: Like anything in life you have a choice, you can either be controlled or you can take control. Your phone has an off button. Your best bet for taking control of your phone and your vacation is to use that button and turn off the phone and go for a bike ride. If you can’t bring yourself to turn off the phone completely, at least silence the alerts so you’re not beeped, buzzed and vibrated to death. I personally hate alerts. It always makes me feel as though someone is constantly tapping me on the shoulder saying “excuse me, excuse me, I have something to tell you.” Ugh, what kind of vacation is that?

3. Avoid checking your e-mail: Most of your e-mail is junk anyway but of course you don’t know that until you check. I figure that if someone really needs me they’ll do one of three things, they’ll text me, call me, or in the case of a family emergency, they’ll call or text my wife. Bottom line is that most of the e-mails you receive will wait until you return to the office, especially if you were smart enough to leave an automatic “out-of-office” reply message. A word of advice, don’t check your e-mail it’s not worth it!

4. Carry a second phone: I have some friends that simply carry two phones, one for business and one for personal use. I don’t do this but I am leaning in this direction. I kind of like the thought of a clear separation between work and home. Yes, carrying two phones is a pain but it also gives you more flexibility to unplug from work now and again.

5. Don’t bring additional electronics for the kids: I did this last summer when I went sailing in the Apostle Islands and boy was that a mistake! I actually thought that my kids (10, 8 and 6) would get bored and ruin my vacation if they didn’t have videos and electronic games to entertain them. I somehow forgot that kids will find entertainment wherever they go; they’ll swim, pick rocks, hunt for crabs and if all else fails will terrorize one another until something better comes along. Do yourself a big favor and don’t forget to unplug before leaving the dock.

DSC00323Life is too short to sit at the dock as we are fond of saying at Jeanneau but guess what, summers are even shorter. So the next time you hit the road and are headed out the driveway in your minivan all loaded to the gunwales, be sure to control your smart phone and leave the rest of the electronics behind. In the end, you’ll be happy you did.

On we go….

High and Dry in No Name Harbor

I’ve been around boats all my life and the one constant that I have always found to be true is that it’s never easy getting off the dock and underway. It’s always something, “we just have to get some ice,  I just need to stop and top off the fuel tank, I’m just going to grab another case of beer, do we have enough rum, maybe we should stop and get another bottle?” It simply takes forever and a day to actually cast of the docklines and leave!” So was the case with us when we tried to get not one boat but two boats off the dock and underway to the Bahamas.

Sailing onboard the Jeanneau 469 to No Name Harbor in Miami, FL.
Crossing the Gulf Stream can be as easy as sailing on a duck pond or as wild as shooting rapids on the Colorado River.

The original plan was to leave Miami early in the morning on Wednesday with the new Jeanneau 469 and big sister 509 and sail across the Gulf Stream to Cat Cay on the western edge of the Bahamas, arriving late Wednesday afternoon. We would spend Wednesday and Thursday nights in the Bahamas and sail back to Miami first thing Friday morning. Sailing with us would be Senior Editor, Herb McCormick of Cruising World Magazine, marine photographer Billy Black and his assistant, Megan, crew member Stefanie Gallo, and Jeanneau staff members, Valerie Toomey, Jeff Jorgensen, Erik Stromberg and myself. In theory, this was a reasonable plan but from a practical standpoint it had “not a snowball’s chance in hell” of actually working.

Jeanneau 469 sailing in Miami, FL.
The Sun Odyssey 469 doing sea trials off Miami.

The wheels really came off the wagon on Tuesday when we had over committed doing test sails aboard the 469 which we had just introduced at the Miami show. We then got hung up in customs Wednesday morning trying to clear out of the US. Then there was the usual delays trying to get everyone on board and settled. The long and the short of it all was that by the time the last boat left the dock it was close to 4pm in the afternoon and we still needed to pick up diesel fuel.

Jeanneau crew relaxing on the 509 and 469 in No Name Harbor, Miami FL.
The Sun Odyssey 509 and 469 laying on the Sea Wall in No Name Harbor.

We decided to opt for plan B which was to spend the night in No Name Harbor on the southern end of Key Biscayne and depart at first light for the Bahamas. So we parked the 469 and the 509 on the seawall, shot a few pictures, had a few cocktails, and headed up to the Boater’s Grill for dinner. We were all feeling pretty relaxed now having finally left the dock and having been properly watered and fed;  then, somewhere along the way, there was a movement to go back to the boats and immediately set sail for the Bahamas.This idea had a certain amount of merit, if we left now, we could make the 50 mile trip across the Gulf Stream at night, arriving in the Bahamas at dawn to catch the morning sunrise and make up for the time already lost. So we gathered ourselves up, paid the bill and headed back to the boats.

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Jeff Jorgensen tries every trick in the book to get the 509 floating again including swinging the boom out to the side and bouncing on the end of it.

Initially,  I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the sailing at night plan, primarily because I was tired and was really looking forward to looking at the inside of my eyelids rather than at a compass all night. But, the thought of sailing under the almost full moon across the Gulf Stream in tandem with the other boat was suddenly exciting to me and I found myself walking along the seawall with a renewed sense of energy, eager to  hop on board and cast off.  However, as we approached the boats, we noticed that the 509 was sitting at an awkward angle, with the bow being unusually high and the stern being unusually low. We gave the 509 a wiggle but got no movement. The boat was clearly aground in a very large way. Our attention quickly fell to the 469 and thankfully, although she too was aground, we were able to get her moving with the help of some strong hands and the diesel engine moving in full reverse.

As we moved the 469 away from the dock and into the anchorage, we looked back to see Jeff Jorgensen and the crew of the 509 earnestly trying to get the boat unstuck. They would labor on for a while longer before they would eventually give up and give into the idea that the best solution was to wait for the tide to come back in and float them off. For now, they would be left sitting high and dry with Billy Black who continued snapping pictures throughout the ordeal. The Bahamas would have to wait just a little longer.

KokapelliTo Be Continued…..

Sailing with Murphy

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” – Murphy’s Law

I didn’t even see him slip aboard but then again, when it comes to Murphy, you seldom do. He’s tricky and just when you think all is well, he sneaks by you and quickly tosses a wrench into the works. He’s been around since the beginning of time and he rarely misses an opportunity to create havoc whenever and wherever he can. I am convinced he does his finest work while on a boat but I am sure he is a credit to his namesake on land as well.

The air was fresh and strong when we threw off our lines and headed out for an afternoon of sailing, aboard the new Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 469. Sailing with us was John Kretschmer of Sailing Magazine and John Armstrong of Canadian Yachting who had come aboard to assess how this new model of ours would perform. The waves were steep and the current strong as we made our way out of Miami’s Government Cut Channel under power.

Miami’s Government Cut Channel – Photo by Ross Cobb

I knew that we were seriously low on fuel but I didn’t expect to completely run out; unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. Damn I thought, Murphy is here. I don’t mind saying, it’s an awkward feeling to lose power while in the middle of a busy shipping channel with lots of wind and tide. Fortunately, we didn’t totally lose our heads and much like Harold with his purple crayon, we came up thinking fast and quickly set sail. We turned on our heel and with the wind behind us, we began sailing back into Miami Harbor. We knew the fuel dock was just in front of us and while sailing to the dock is something more commonly done in smaller boats in calmer conditions on say a lake or cove, we decided to give it a shot.

We approached the entrance to the marina under mainsail alone and at a pretty good clip. As we got closer, I said to my friend and colleague Erik Stromberg, “let’s lose the main, we’ve got plenty of speed.” Erik quickly furled the mainsail just as I made the final turn and headed for the end of the fuel dock which was thankfully unoccupied. Docklines and fenders were rigged and in the final few yards just before we made our landing, Erik gave the engine one last shot to see if there was any life left in it. To our surprise it started and I was able to quickly shift into reverse and make a perfect landing right on the end of the dock just like we had done it a hundred times before. “Well done someone cried, great boat handing!” I smiled to myself and thought… ha, take that Murphy!

John Kretschmer, author, sailor, all around good guy
John Kretschmer, author, sailor, all around good guy

With our fuel tank now filled, we headed back out the channel, leaning hard on the throttle in order to make up for lost time. The sea was still steep and the wind still piped hard but all was going well untill Murphy appeared on deck and unexpectedly dumped our anchor and chain over the bow. “Crap” I said under my breath, “this is not good.” John Kretschmer, our fellow crew member, accomplished sailor and the author of several books, rushed forward and begin to deal with the problem. Erik joined him on the bow and together they began the task of wrestling the anchor back on deck and regaining control of the situation. After several minutes, and with the help of a good sharp knife to remove some unwanted fishing line, the anchor and chain were once again back in their designated places. Again we powered forward and once we cleared the last buoy, the sails were hoisted, the engine shut down and the boat took to the sea as she was meant to. It was, in the end, a great day to be on the water and under sail.

In my mind, sailors are a great bunch, they expect the unexpected, remain unflustered when the boat does cartwheels across the waves and while they wouldn’t deliberately invite Murphy to take the wheel, they know that he is always on board and as long as he doesn’t completely sink the ship he is a welcome crew member.

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Jeanneau 469 sailing off the Florida coast. Photo by Billy Black

I have to say that I have had smoother test sails in my life. But, if I have learned anything at all, it’s that Murphy’s Law always holds true, “if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.”  It’s just the way life is and in my book, it’s not such a terrible thing. Not everybody can hit a curve ball and if you’re one of the lucky ones who can, it means that you’re just that much further ahead than the next guy.

I’ve always taken the approach that life is meant to be lived on the balls of your feet. This way, when the music suddenly changes, you can quickly change tempo and dance away to the new beat.

On We Go…

Great Companies are like Great Adventures, both take Optimism, Spirit and Teamwork to be Successful

Several years ago some friends took  me into Washington, DC to watch the best of the Banff Mountain Film festival, a series of award-winning short films created by outdoor thrill seekers.The actual festival takes place in Banff, Canada where the world’s best mountain films, books, and speakers take the spotlight for nine days bringing to life the adventure of climbing, mountain expeditions, remote cultures, and the world’s last great wild places. I have never been to the actual festival but each year they take the very best of the show on the road, and each year I make it a point not to miss it when it comes to Washington. It is quite frankly, amazing and I always look forward to seeing it.

This year one of the films featured two young guys from Australia (Cas and Jonsey) who were determined to be the first to make the trek from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole and back; 1,400 miles unassisted, on skies, pulling 300 pound sleds across the frozen ice. The first half of the trip would take them sixty days, some days marching thirteen hours at a clip in complete white-out conditions against fierce winds and frigid temperatures. The entire trip would end up taking them 90 days. At times, the film was difficult to watch; I could almost feel the pain and agony these two guys were going through.

An additional twist of the adventure came before they even started when they learned that an experienced Norwegian adventurer, Aleksander Gamme, would also be attempting to make it to the Pole and back at the same time. In other words, now it was not only a trek but also a race. Traveling alone and with considerably more experience traversing ice and snow, Gamme quickly out paced the Australians and was well on his way to upsetting their plans. Strangely however, the three adventurers, via the sat. phone, became friends, kindred spirits really, as they each battled the elements day after day.

In the end, as Cas and Jonsey were only two miles or so from the finish, they spied in front of them their fellow adventurer and now soul mate, Alexander Gamme. He had camped for two days, waiting for them so they could all cross the finish line together.

As I left the theater and made the drive home to Annapolis, a host of thoughts raced through my mind; not just about this particular film about two guys pulling a sled across the ice but about all the films. They all shared a common thread, specific elements that were clearly at the core of these outdoor adventurers. Values such as vision, success, focus, hard work, personal relationships, trust, unselfishness, goal oriented, shared expectations, shared common objectives, risk takers, teamwork and spirit were the elements that were clearly evident. The more I thought about it the more I saw the commonalities between those companies that we love to do business with and those adventurers that go off to blaze new trails, setting new records and discovering the unknown.

At Jeanneau America, we do our best to approach our business with much the same optimism, spirit, and teamwork that enabled Cas and Jonesy to complete their journey across the ice. Being in the luxury yacht business, times have not exactly been easy these past few years but despite this, we have experienced solid growth, introduced several new models, found our way into a few new markets and managed to have fun along the way. Our success is largely due first and foremost to the fact that we like what we do, we have fun doing it, we believe in the boats that we build and we believe that as a team, we offer something real and meaningful to our customers. In short, we share the idea that we want to be a company that people like to do business with and we enjoy doing what it takes to earn that privilege.

Finally, a few last words about Alexander Gamme. When asked why he waited for Cas and Jonsey to reach him before crossing the finish line, he replied

“Waiting for them in the end it felt very natural. I liked them from the very first moment. I saw myself in them. I enjoy going solo, but to finish and to celebrate alone, it’s not fun.”

I think there is a lot of wisdom here. While winning is a great thing, it’s not the only thing (Lance Armstrong, note to self). And, I think for a company or an individual to be truly successful, they need to respect and appreciate their competition and recognize that part of their own success is due to the success of those that are behind them, pushing them to be faster and better. Humility is an attractive personality trait. Practicing humility is not always easy but it’s a good thing to do.

On we go….

P.S. Join Cas and Jonsey for a quick preview of their award winning film Crossing the Ice

Don’t Forget to Unplug Before Leaving the Dock

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A beautiful view of the unspoiled Apostle Islands located on the western end of Lake Superior.

This past summer my wife Kim and I chartered a 40 foot sailboat on Lake Superior and cruised through the unspoiled and mostly deserted Apostle Islands with our three kids, Will, Mollie, and Graham. We had never sailed in this area before and although eager to experience all that the islands had to offer, we were also nervous that our kids, ages 10, 9 and 6 would get bored with no on-shore activities to entertain them. This is rather a pathetic statement I know, but let’s face it, kids today and even us adults have come to expect being entertained in one fashion or another every minute of every waking day. Because of this, and because we didn’t want our vacation ruined by cranky kids whining about their being nothing to do, we literally left the dock with three laptop computers, one Itouch, one Ipad, an Android smart phone, my old Blackberry, and plenty of movies to watch. The one thing that we forgot to bring however was a 12 volt/ 110 volt inverter. In short, we had no way to charge all that we had brought so once the batteries ran out, we’re talking game over.

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Our beautiful Jeanneau 409 that we chartered from Superior Charters out of Bayfield, WI

We had a smoking good sail the first day before dropping the hook (that’s nautical lingo for anchor) just off the beach of Stockton Island. The day slipped away into a clear, beautiful, star-lit night and after dinner Kim and I sat in the cockpit sipping our wine and taking it all in. Our kids on the other hand sat down below fighting over which movie they would watch, where they would watch it, and who would hold the computer. We spent two nights in Stockton Island before sailing onto Raspberry Island about 12 miles to the west. One of the great things about sailing in the Apostle’s is that the islands are close together making for quick passages between harbors. We set our anchor in a well-protected cove just off the sandspit in about 15 feet of clean, clear-blue water. It was a sweet spot for sure and we made the most of it by swimming and diving off the back of the boat. But once the sun went down, there were all three of my kids once again glued to the screen of the Ipad, the last remaining device with any juice left. Then a funny and unexpected thing happened almost immediately after the Ipad gasped its final breath and the light faded from its screen. Will appeared in the cockpit with a deck of cards in his hand and said “anyone interested in playing a game of Michigan Rummy?”

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My oldest son Will discovered this great spot to jump into the water from. The water was cool and deep. We all had a blast jumping off!

From that point forward the trip took on a whole new feel, a real feel, one without beeps, clicks, electronic tones, or video games. From that point forward we spent our time combing the shore for cool looking stones and driftwood. At night we made fires on the beach, told stories and sang songs. We played cards, board games and read books. We did all those things that families used to do before the invasion of portable, hand-held electronics. No one was fighting that they couldn’t see or couldn’t hear. No one was arguing over which movie to watch or who would hold the computer. All that was gone.

We spent several more days on the boat cruising from one island to the next. They were all beautiful, unique and for the most part deserted. And while there was no commercial entertainment to be found, we never lacked for being entertained. It was all there just as it was for our parents and grandparents, simple entertainment but oh so much better than what we have today.

My youngest Graham and  me building a fire on the beach of Bear Island. We had the place all to ourselves!
My youngest Graham and me building a fire on the beach of Bear Island. We had the place all to ourselves!

After we got home, we called our cable company and disconnected our TV. We still have the internet and the kids still play too many video games when we’re not looking but there’s also more chess and scrabble being played; there’s more music flowing through the house, more family conversations and a few more fires burning in the fireplace at night; all good things.

Mollie, Graham and Will climb on the Wishing Tree on Bear Island
Mollie, Graham and Will climb on the Wishing Tree on Bear Island

This Christmas, Santa brought us a new tent and we’ve started looking at the idea of buying an Airstream trailer and doing a little camping. We’re not sure exactly where we’ll go but one thing is for sure, when we do go, we’ll be sure to unplug, leave the electronics behind and experience all that life has to offer, for real.

On we go…

P.S. Interested in exploring the Apostle Islands for yourself? Contact Superior Charters at www.superiorcharters.com. They have a great fleet of Jeanneau sailboats to choose from and are a treat to deal with.