BENETEAU By Invitation: It Happened Again in Annapolis
One man relives his first sailing experience as a young man in a second equally transformative moment of joy – many years later.
BENETEAU by Invitation, August, 2020
There are moments in all our lives that are indelibly etched into our memory. I remember as if it were yesterday, the day as a child, when I learned to ride a two-wheeled bicycle with the help of my father. I remember my first school day, and the first day of my adult working life. I especially remember with great joy, the day I was married.
I also remember the first time I went sailing as a sixteen year old off the Northwest coast of England. I sailed beneath gray windswept skies, aboard a 26’ day-sailer, on Morecambe Bay, in the company of a school friend’s father. Most important of all, over the many years that followed, I remember how that experience made me feel. I remember the exhilaration of the wind, and a sudden very powerful feeling of peace and tranquility, far from the frenzy of the ever-present now, as we temporarily severed ties with the complex world left ashore.
I remember all these things, but now I have an entirely new memory. One that I will equally cherish. This memory is of the second time I went sailing, almost exactly forty-six years later, on August 28th, 2020. This is when I accepted an invitation from BENETEAU to experience sailing their new Oceanis Yacht 54 in a brisk turn about the Chesapeake Bay.
This may seem a rather tame experience to a blue water adventurer or a world traveler, but in the context of my life, this was a grand adventure. To appreciate this, you need to know that I have spent most of my career in an office without windows, and I have also lived my life largely without hobbies. Do not get me wrong, I love what I do, and I feel that my career has made me the luckiest of men, but my hermetically-sealed and land-locked life has reached a point where I am sorely in need of diversion and adventure.
Our Saturday morning sailing event in Annapolis started inauspiciously. The remnants of a gulf storm had inexplicably looped up and across the country and decided to exit the United States via the Chesapeake Bay on the very morning of our planned “sailing experience”. This left an otherwise calm and tranquil morning filled with the dynamic prospect of “weather”.
As they sipped their coffee, the BENETEAU sailing team seemed to look cautiously out into the bay, quietly talking among themselves, as a gentle squall irrigated the perfectly placed exotic Iris plants adorning the dockside BENETEAU hospitality center. Meanwhile, “bubble boy” and his lovely wife enthusiastically donned our BENETEAU provided Sou’wester’s, thrilled by the promising prospect of a little wind in our face, and salt sea spray moistening our lips. Detecting professional caution among the BENETEAU staff, I began to regale them with my father’s favorite statement to me that it was: “better to be born lucky than rich.” In that moment of boyish optimism I told everyone that it may look a little dark, but that I was certain the moment we got out there, the sky would clear, and the sun would leave us all with a Chesapeake Bay tan and tremendous stories to tell of how we defied the menacing elements. To my delight, the BENETEAU team smiled and decided to press ahead. (For the record, please let me assure the reader on behalf of the BENETEAU Team that, all joking aside, they would never have contemplated any element of risk to their team or their visitors at this event).
And then, as we unfurled the sails, ‘boom’ it happened … again … a completely renewed experience of the pleasure of sailing, and a feeling I had inside that no words can describe. The exquisite joy of a vessel powered by nature. The wind in our face, a light rain shower that made “bubble boy” feel like an intrepid sailor … followed by … you guessed it … a gradually clearing of the sky, and the beginnings of a return to sunshine. My dear departed father is always with me, but in that moment I felt his presence was especially strong.
So what did we think of the Oceanis Yacht 54? For us, this yacht feels like a great choice. It is large enough to have a significant presence when no land is in sight, but it can also be equipped with all the accoutrements of modern sailing, to make it easy to handle with a short-handed crew.
Below deck, it is generously appointed, with considerable thought devoted to design and ergonomics, including details sure to please the most discerning family. My wife and I especially appreciate the recent trend in below-deck interiors toward the use of light stained woods and soft tones which increase the sense of space within the cabins. A trend away from the excessive use of dark mahogany woods that create a somewhat more enclosed ambiance. Less Mayflower, more May flower! These items seem small, until you confront them every day.
Above deck, I particularly appreciated the lines of the craft and the clean deck. I liked the handling of halyards though discrete covered channels to avoid the appearance of a maze of control lines on deck. I also loved the obvious idea of a self-tacking jib, a furling mainsail and automated code zero. I really liked the provisional lazarette, large enough to accommodate a tender with automated swim platform entry opening up use of the stern. I was naturally impressed by the quality and capability of communication and navigation equipment aboard this craft. The last time I sailed, GPS did not exist, but then neither did cellphones or the internet. It was certainly a simpler time.
I am told that BENETEAU is the largest manufacturer in the world of yachts in this class, and the evidence of my own eyes leaves me in no doubt why this is the case. I came away knowing that a future on the water would definitely burst us out of our bubble, and give my wife and I a new and exciting chapter of adventure in our lives. The only problem: have you seen the BENETEAU Oceanis Yacht 62!? As wise men have said before, the great will always be the enemy of the very good.
In conclusion, I would like to express my appreciation to Mr. Mike Thoney of St. Barts Yachts who suggested our trip, procured our invitations, and graciously chaperoned us during the weekend. Ms. Aurore Bordage and the BENETEAU shore team who took great care of us during the event, and Mr. Eric LeVine and the sailing team who expertly ensured our safe sailing demonstration on the Chesapeake Bay.