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Owning a boat is way out of my comfort zone—expensive, demanding, and requiring experience and skills I’ve never acquired. That’s true for most of our other editors as well. So to plan this month’s cover story, we invited some experts, including several yacht club commodores, to come in and tell us about their passion for boating.

It’s not like I came to the subject stone-cold. During childhood summers in Northern Michigan, I messed around in rowboats and even took a few sailing lessons. (My sailing career stalled when I couldn’t master Step 1, figuring out where the wind was coming from, and it ended forever when my cousin and I couldn’t turn our Sunfish around after we ventured out into Lake Michigan and my sneering older brother had to come out in a speedboat and tow us home.)

But in high school in Fort Myers, I had that happiest of all boating experiences—a competent friend with a well-maintained boat. She could start the motor with a single jerk on the rope, and we’d water-ski down the Caloosahatchee River for miles. I was on lookout the day our friend Earl was putting on his skis in murky water; suddenly, he jumped into the air, his legs and arms thrashing, and shouted, “I just stepped on an alligator!”

But I never learned to run the boat myself, and in the last few decades, caught up in my busy routine, I’ve rarely been on the water. Besides, I’d seen my son Matt pour money into his old flats fishing boat, which seemed to break down more than it ran.

The last time the motor started was a year ago, when I decided to impress my new boss, who was visiting from Houston with his mother and teen-age son, by having Matt take them for a jaunt through Little Sarasota Bay. They waved happily as they pulled away from the dock. They looked less happy a few hours later when they returned on foot. After the motor died, they had to paddle ashore, clamber over a rocky revetment and through various back yards, and hike a mile in the blazing sun down Midnight Pass Road.

So as I listened to the commodores in our conference room extol the joys of boating, I had my doubts. Still, editors are nothing if not enthusiasts, and I was soon enraptured by their stories of enjoying a technicolor sunset while anchored in Big Pass, picnicking on deserted beaches, or watching dolphins herd fish inches from their bow. And, they emphasized, Sarasota has some of the best boating waters anywhere—beautiful, smooth and providing easy access to the Gulf or dozens of interesting spots along the Intracoastal Waterway. “You can even dock at Marina Jack and enjoy dinner and the theater,” one said. “There aren’t many places in Florida you can do that.”

The more they talked, the more enthralling it sounded. Former Bird Key Yacht Club commodore Jamo Powell summed it all up, declaring, “If you don’t have a boat, you’re missing the best part of living here!”

After the meeting ended, our experts lingered, pulling out their phones and showing each other pictures of their boats, making little clucks of delight. Reporter Tom Bayles, who’s also a longtime boater (and was sharing his iPhone pictures along with the others), brings their passion to life in “Adventures Afloat,” highlighting some of the best ways to enjoy our local waters.

 

Dolphin spotting on an 80-degree February day. / 🎥: @marasheintal

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And as for me? You guessed it. Matt got rid of the flats boat, and our family is now the proud owner of a gently used pontoon boat. In the two weeks we’ve had it, we’ve spotted manatees and dolphins, explored a mangrove island, docked for lunch at a funky restaurant, and watched a glorious sunset on secluded Midnight Pass Beach. I even sent my boss a picture of my grandsons on our maiden voyage and invited him to come back for another boat trip. “Oh, my,” he emailed back. “How lovely. But will the experience be the same without jumping out to push the boat off the rocks, I wonder?”

Some people just don’t get it. I guess you’re either born a boater or you’re not.

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