Part of an Observer News Feature Series
By MITCH TRAPHAGEN
Boats are the physical manifestation of dreams. No one needs a boat; but for those who choose the water as a way of life, they must have them. The boater’s dream comes in many forms: from a small sailing dinghy to a cutter- or ketch-rigged sailboat, from an open fishing boat to a trawler, or even a mega-yacht. In one sense, it is no different from dreams on land with the dream of homeownership running the gamut from a cottage to a mansion. But in other senses, it is entirely different. Boating, for some, is a way of life. The water is much like the air they breathe and boats are a conveyance for life itself.
In North Carolina, the Intracoastal Waterway runs closely along the Atlantic coast. The buildup of homes on the narrow spits of sand that form the coast is remarkable. The homes are large and expensive and are built with maximizing the use of the expensive, limited oceanfront land in mind. Most of the homes are so close together that daylight scarcely passes between them. Seeing the spectacle of this buildup makes it clear that there is no shortage of wealth in America. Even the smallest homes certainly cost many times the average American’s annual wage. Along the ICW where property is less expensive than along the coast, the newer homes are enormous. Some could easily double as large apartment buildings or hotels. And everywhere there are boats. People living along the Chesapeake Bay may think they are living in the boating capitol of America, but the bay has nothing on North Carolina. Boats are a way of life here.
Much of the waterway is a showcase of the success of the American Dream. It is not, however, necessarily representative of America. Relatively few people can afford such a lifestyle. Along the coastal barrier islands, nearby job opportunities must certainly be scarce due to the high cost of land. While it is unlikely most people living there have an inclination towards it, even getting a job at a convenience store would be out of the question there are few such stores to be found. The oceanfront is a narrow strip of sand attached to the rest of America by bridges spaced miles apart, thus raising the question: how far do people have to drive to simply get a carton of milk? Perhaps the difficulty in access creates an opportunity for others, primarily those dreaming of operating a home delivery business for groceries and other household goods.
There is nothing wrong with the conspicuous display of wealth such homes represent. In America, if you work hard towards becoming successful you, too, may one day look at the world from the third or fourth floor of one of the oceanfront homes I passed. That these homes exist shows the American Dream is still alive and well and is working for a great many people. But wealth doesn’t come without cost and it certainly isn’t the only American Dream.
Rob Gandy is living his dream. His is not found in an oceanfront home, but rather in his chosen occupation. Gandy worked for a municipal government for 15 years before becoming the harbormaster at Deep Point Marina in Southport. The opportunity opened just as he was ready for a change in careers. His story is simply another version of the American Dream — when one door closes, another somehow always seems to open. It is a story that is played out over and over again in this country. People retire from a long career and suddenly find themselves doing what they’ve always wanted to do — be it a harbormaster, a small business owner or, using my sister Pam as an example, becoming a successful freelance editor after working more than two decades as a corporate computer programmer.
For many, the chosen and preferred path in life provides a sense of satisfaction that was not readily available in their earlier lives. Gandy pours his heart and soul into his newfound career. When we arrived, he offered the use of his personal car so we could re-provision in town. As we closed up the boat to return home for Christmas, he stopped by, along with fellow harbor master Jessie Jolliff, to assure us that he would keep an eye on the boat as if it were his own. That he meant what he said is certain. The boat was perfect upon my return and all was indeed well.
Record-setting cold weather all along the East Coast has proven to be a significant barrier, but my dream remains intact. I will sail home to Florida, home to Michelle, and someday we will once again see what is over the horizon from the Gulf of Mexico into the Caribbean. We did that a decade ago, but each new adventure brings with it new horizons. The phrase, “Been there, done that” simply does not apply to the ocean and the landfalls — there are infinite and ever-changing discoveries yet to be made. The current cold weather is simply a challenge that makes the accomplishment all that much sweeter. After all, you usually have to fight a few dragons to kiss the damsels.
There is snow on the deck of the boat and on the docks at Deep Point Marina in Southport. The wind is gusting to over 30 knots out of the north — it is certainly not a definition of good boating weather. The sunshine, however, foretells of warmer days to come. From here, Shadow Marie will point her bow offshore when the weather is good and down the relatively protected confines of the Intracoastal Waterway when it isn’t. To provide a little armor against the dragons to come, I visited the West Marine store in Apollo Beach over Christmas where manager Bruce Hoskins showed me a SPOT Satellite Communicator. The small device, roughly the size of a cell phone, uses satellites to send my exact position and “All’s well” messages while I’m underway. It will also summon the cavalry, directly contacting the GEOS International Emergency Rescue Center, should the dragons get the upper hand while I’m on the ocean. Additionally, the device will continuously update my track to an online map on the web.
The North Atlantic Ocean in January is certainly a dragon stomping ground. I’ll do what I can to avoid them and will fight them when I must because I am living my dream and it is worth defending. Besides, I like kissing damsels — or at least one in particular. She is in Florida and I’m on my way home.