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An Explanation of Boating by Stuart Hochron

December 1, 2011

An Explanation of Boating – by Stuart Hochron

Photo by Glen Huszar,

The woman having her hair cut next to me mentioned her daughter, a newly minted nurse,

and her younger version’s recent move up life’s ladder. The newbie, approaching her first job, is willing to work hard. In today’s economy there’s a good chance she’ll be replacing a retiring nurse…someone her mother’s age. As youth replaces age, the wheel of life can be seen turning.

After having been around long enough you’ll notice that the cops your age are retiring, some from second careers. Mall shoppers will appear strangely youthful. Movie stars will seem barely old enough to drive. Your world will have changed, not for the better or worst, it will just be different. Amidst all the change you might begin to recognize the parts of life that offer enduring value.

Which brings me to a place where nothing changes…where value endures. Ernest Hemmingway escaped to the Atlantic’s wind-whipped waves, where the sight of a fish breaking the water’s surface, and the sound of a boat plowing through seas, hasn’t changed for centuries. While boats evolve, the waters they ply do not. The ocean’s unending rhythms of tide and weather resonate today precisely as they did the first day humans went to sea.

A young friend recently asked me to tell him about boating. We’d both been raised on the same island. We shared precisely the same boating experiences during our first two decades of life, an occasional ferry ride to and from Manhattan. His life is changing, and fast. Just out of school, barely out of the Boy Scouts, he is about to be sworn into the U.S. Coast Guard. I plan to sit him down and share my experience of boating, especially as it relates to the timeless of the sea. I am sure he will listen carefully, nod, and move on to his next task. His life, like the rest of ours, is filled with beeping technology, expectations, and time constraints.

If he is lucky, his first experience “on the water” will be magic. Just like mine. And, like me, he won’t know why. Without understanding, he’ll plan a life close to the ocean. After a decade or two of boating he’ll recognize that, regardless of his experience, the sea will test him as it always has. He will increasingly notice that, given the requisite respect, the sea’s power becomes immensely beautiful.

I expect that the sea’s primal natural rhythms will resonate within him. Unrecognized at first, he’ll reasonably mistake these feelings as similar to the feel of driving a new car, or seeing a great movie. As his life cycles through cars, and movies, and whatever else he thinks is important, he will hopefully one day experience an epiphany. He’ll realize that going to sea is, somehow, different. Its excitement is more like a first love; like the drive within us to do the right thing.

He will inevitably change as the wheel of life turns. But how he feels on the water, and how the sea behaves, will not. He will watch generations sprout under him, see them mature, and bring them aboard. And the sea will remain unchanged. He will be driven down, pummeled by life’s challenges, and rise again. And the sea will offer him a predictable, unalterable refuge. Eventually, if he is among a lucky few, he will know what it is about the sea that draws him, and be able to share this with others. He will describe an unchanging experience of resonating, natural rhythms that is available to every boater each time we arrive at the shore.

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