My Raison D'etre

My mother, my wife and maybe a few friends and relatives might read this column from beginning to end, but most of them already know my story. I'm a realist, so am not expecting the rest of the world to read it through, but am still hopeful a few of you might. For style, if nothing else.
Yes, I'm a writer, award-winning designer/art director, seasoned creative director, and was once considered by Graphic Design USA magazine as one of the "top-100 designers in the country;" yet print communications is only part of who I truly am. All work and no smelling of the roses would make me a very boring guy. And, many of those roses have certainly shaped some of my perspectives on life.
I'll try to keep this section a bit shorter than My Professional Story was, as I understand you are still worn out from reading through that virtual book.
 
Yet, I feel it's important to give you some insight into the rest of who I am, since without it, I'd be just another bookish writer and creative director. And no one would be the wiser about my slightly less-conventional path to get where I sit today. I am by no means, bookish.
Everyone who knows me will tell you I'm a bit obsessive. Some may say, a lot more than just "a bit." That goes for all of my athletic endeavors and pastimes, and everything else that matters to me, like my yard, my dog, my golf clubs and my overall image. I'm extremely analytical. You don't get ahead if you don't sweat the details. The devil is in the details. I learned that very early in life and have ridden that thought through every path I have taken. And, frankly, I am confident it is why I have some level of success on most every path I have chosen to take seriously. There is no such thing as "good enough" in my mind. I know it's unrealistic to be that way, but it surely forces me to do my best on anything that really counts.
I won't bore you too much with my childhood. Just the normal stuff. I played lots of baseball, and was an all-star shortstop. As a young teen, I was in a drum & bugle corps and played drums in a "rock" band too. Nothing special. A lot like many kids back then. One day, I got to go skiing on a real ski mountain, not just Mrs. Regan's steep front yard with the rest of the neighborhood kids every time it snowed more than a couple inches. I was hooked.
 
Within a few years, I moved to Killington, VT to train daily. I competed in amateur USSA events and then entered my first pro event, before heading off on a 6-week competitive pro ski tour out West, with contests in Colorado, Utah and California. All a great distance from Mrs. Regan's front yard.
Mixed in during the summers was some golf, as well as softball, race cars and dirt bikes, among other interests. I liked golf quite a bit. The wide open, finely manicured spaces were so dramatic and fascinating. Perfection, to my eyes. I caddied at an elite country club when I was 13 or 14, and played a little at the local municipal course with my resident-junior pass. It was a far cry from a private club, but still better than my backyard. I also worked on the grounds crew at a public course when I came home for the summer one year, so learned the game from that perspective, as well.
 
Yet, as much as I enjoyed those activities, there was something even stronger pulling at me. I grew up around the water, on Long Island Sound. I spent lots of time on the beach and on boats. I would often stare out over the water, where I would dream of being over the horizon. On a boat, at sea, there was a feeling that came over me like no other. I knew I would be a sailor someday. A real one. Not just a guest aboard my friend's dad's boat, or on a Sunfish out in the bay. This was my new goal in life. To sail. Not on a lake or the Sound, but over the horizon. Where there were no boundaries. 
After my career took off, buying a sailboat was going to be my first big purchase. It took me a couple years, but eventually I found a 25-footer with sleeping quarters and a nice galley for cooking. I moved aboard for the summer, while commuting back and forth from Connecticut to New York City five days a week for my job in advertising. I couldn't even stand up straight inside the cabin. It was only 5 1/2' high inside. I'm 6' tall. I didn't live aboard because I had to. I did it because I wanted to. It was an education.
A couple more boats and many years later, I decided it would be a huge accomplishment and a boost to my seamanship credibility if I could earn a USCG Captain's License. No easy task. It's a tough test. The fail rate for the written portion was over 80% at the time. After a 6-month course at Houston Marine Training, I took the test at the U.S. Coast Guard facility in lower Manhattan, along with 45 other hopefuls that day. 43 of them failed. For the record, I aced it. 100%. 
I didn't need a Captain's License. I wanted one.
 
But hey, you never know. I might need one someday.
Okay, I realize this page is starting to get long, so I'll jump ahead and leave enough out so you'll have questions or a reason to connect.
Suffice it to say, after nearly 25 years of boat ownership, focusing practically 24/7/365 on being the best sailor I could be, I ended up owning one of the most highly-respected and finest performing 47' sailboats ever built. I sailed and delivered yachts offshore, and made dozens of bluewater passages to Bermuda, the Caribbean and from Maine to Florida, compiling nearly 100,000 sea miles under my keels over the period. A good portion of those miles occurred during my time as president and creative director of a successful advertising, marketing and corporate communications firm. It was a balance.
In addition to receiving scores of various awards for creative direction, writing and design work in my professional life, I attained similar success in the sailing world too. The biggest was placing first-overall in the 650-mile Bermuda Race from Buzzards Bay to St. David's Light off the coast of Bermuda, against over 100 other offshore sailing yachts, with extremely experienced crews and skippers. And I did so on only my 2nd attempt. I finished 8th, the first time around a couple years before.
 
My days of racing sailing yachts are gone now, but I still have all the old silver trophies and cups, as tarnished as they may be, proudly displayed close to where I now do my writing. They help inspire me.
After 17 years of running my business, all the while conflicted with my desire to sail the seas, I needed some time. Some time to reflect. Time to change course. Time away. The sea won out. It was time to use that USCG captain's license I had in my back pocket. I sold most of my worldly possessions, sailed over the horizon and off to Paradise, this time to stay for awhile. (It wasn't quite that simple though. I'm trying to keep it short, remember?)
Other than making the ocean passage during the tempestuous North Atlantic gale season in late October into early November, most of my stress subsided. It was a really good move for me, one I'll never regret. I designed a brochure promoting my new direction in the Caribbean, DAKOTA Charters. My captain's license would finally get some use. And I lived aboard a boat again. On this one, I had plenty of headroom.
 
I became a charter skipper in the Virgin Islands. Based on the western end of St. Thomas, in Red Hook Bay, I hosted private charters aboard "DAKOTA," taking 4-6 guests out for the day or a week (or longer) throughout the U.S and British Virgin Islands. I mean really, someone had to do it. It might as well be me. Right?
Most weeks I did a couple/few day-charters, leaving the dock at 9ish and returning as the sun began to get low on the horizon. I had a cook/crewmember aboard, who helped with lunch and sailing the boat. We took the guests for exhilarating sails. We brought them to reefs for great snorkeling. We fed them lunch. I filled each tack with captivating sea stories, keeping them mesmerized as the boat sailed in perfect conditions on gentle azure-reflecting waves through the surrounding volcanic caps-turned-tropical-islands. I taught them the basics of sailing and gave them stints at the helm. It was all good times.
Between sails, I wrote. I would sit up on deck with a pen and paper, gaze out at the magnificence around me, and just write. I wrote about trips to sea, places I'd visited, the beauty of the locale, you name it, I was inspired.
Every couple of months I booked a week-long private charter, with only two or four guests on board. These paid the bills. But, they were a lot more work. I met some slightly famous people along the way and received some rather nice tips. All the while, I learned the Virgin Island waters and its way of life. It was quite the experience of experiences.
 
I actually sailed and explored most of the Leeward Islands chain from Puerto Rico south to Antigua and part of the Windward Islands too. Not on charters. Just because I wanted to experience it all, myself.
After 30 years of sailing, most of it hardcore, plus ownership of five boats, winning the Bermuda Race, and cruising throughout the Caribbean, I decided I'd accomplished everything I'd wanted on a boat. It was time to live the other half of my life. The half I gave up in order to sail at the level I did. The half I was curious about living, but never had the time to pursue.
I sold my boat and this time, didn't buy another one. I met a girl, moved back to the States and got married. I opened a small marine services company and began restoring yachts for a living, quite a different tack from my previous career, but one in which I had years and years of experience. Being out of the design business for just those couple of years in the islands put me way behind on technology. So I focused on my writing. I marketed my new company, wrote and built websites, published articles on boats and stayed generally connected to the art of communication...and boats.
Then, I rediscovered golf. I no longer had a boat. I had time. I had new vision and now a place to put the passion I once had for sailing. (One which I will always cherish.) I jumped in the deep end. I told my wife I'm going to take the game seriously. She expected nothing less. She supported me. Still does. (I think.)
 
I wish I could make some money at the game, but that ship has long sailed. So, I write. May I write you a few words, a story, or maybe a book?
I'm now a golf fanatic. I love the etiquette, the rules, the challenge and its long history. The tradition of it all. And, of course, the classic look and perfectly landscaped environs. I have a fairly respectable game and carry a single-digit handicap. I play a lot. Whenever I'm not writing (or mowing the lawn), you'll likely find me at the golf course, either swinging a club or helping out around the place. Might I run into you there? Let's play.
Or if there is anything else in my story to which you might relate, whether sailing or skiing, baseball or tropical islands, whatever, let's talk. We can move forward from there.
(You've made it to the end, and that's fantastic, You now have a feel for my easy-going writing style. Honestly, though, you really only read the "cliff notes." There's much more to this tale. Maybe down the road, if we work together, I'll be able to fill in more details. Thanks for reading.)

The yacht, DAKOTA, a Swan 46, sailing upwind with her crew on the windward rail in the Atlantic during a race off the coast of Newport , RI.

Sailing DAKOTA back home via the North Atlantic after winning the Bermuda Race, with a gale beginning to approach. (Look closely at the building seas astern.)

Working hard at my job while my guests are off picnicking on the beach of Peter Island in the BVIs. DAKOTA  sits quietly at anchor behind me. The largest  British Virgin Island of Tortola lies in the background.

We'll get along just fine, either way, but if you happen to play this dastardly game, we can commiserate together on the course. I won't let you win, though. You'll have to do so fair and square. Wanna play?

© 2019 Douglas R. Ely. All Rights Reserved.