Florida Boating

Saturday, August 18, 2012


By Barb Hansen
August, 2012

For all our faults we boaters are self-sufficient people. We plan. We practice. Before a trip we check everything from fuses to foghorns, charts to chocks. Tanks are topped off. Spares are secured. For a weekend cruise we stock the fridge for a fortnight.

 This is fun, actually. Planning the cruise is part of the cruise. See, virtue really is its own reward.

 Pre-cruise we tune the TV to The Weather Channel. Online, we check real-time satellite images. If a tropical storm or worse is a possibility, we call off the cruise.

Certainly, the human survival instinct motivates us. Boaters know how quickly the sea gets angry and becomes life threatening. We read about others who have died at sea or survived, barely. So, we prepare. We play what-if games. Better safe than sorry is more than a cliché.

And there is this. No boater wants the embarrassment of being rescued by another vessel or, heaven forbid, the Coast Guard. Chastened, the embarrassed skipper imagines what other boaters might be saying back at the dock, mean things like, “He just ran out of gas; is that pitiful or what?” Or, “You won’t believe this, but they were using an old chart.”

To a vessel operator, embarrassment of that sort may not be a fate worse than death, but it’s right up there.
Another current of thought – you could put it at the core of the boating belief system – is the ideal of freedom. We are free to sail where and when we want. But we also accept the corresponding responsibility. If others are willing to rescue us when we’re in trouble, we ought to try hard not to get into trouble in the first place.

It seems like every hurricane season we have a case where thousands who should and could have evacuated, did not.  They probably told themselves, Hey, we haven’t had a storm here since forever. It won’t hit us. They never do. That rationale reminds me of the Steven Wright line: “I plan to live forever. So far, so good.”

Even minor hurricanes and tropical storms can cause power outages and flooding (and multiple deaths) as the U.S. East Coast discovered in 2011. And hurricanes are not the only threat out there; think tornadoes, earthquakes, flooding, power failures. Keep thinking.

Well, if just a few individuals get into trouble the police or fire departments may come to their rescue. But when thousands get into trouble, first responders will not have the manpower or resources to rescue everybody. Boaters already know this, so we tend to rely on ourselves.

 A fine and fragile line separates our comfortable lives from hardship or even death. Self-sufficiency helps boaters stay on the bright side of that line.


By Barb Hansen
July, 2012

When Vic and I leave the dock a thought always comes to my mind, along with a feeling of exhilaration. I think, Wow, free at last. I’m free at last from the office and all the minute-by-minute commotion of the office.

Don’t get me wrong. Vic and I love our work, and we work hard and long. We don’t get out on the boat as much as you might imagine. So when we get to cruise, it feels like freedom to me.

We Americans have been living out our destiny of freedom ever since our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence. And while, after all the centuries and decades we still debate what freedom means, we know it is a word and a concept we hold dear. We celebrate Memorial Day and the 4th of July with flags waving and patriotism at a fever pitch. It just feels good. And that’s where boating comes in.

 We’ll leave the ideological debate over the meaning of freedom for another time. As boaters, we care about the physical freedom of getting in our vessels, untying the lines, and sailing or powering away from the dock. For us the American “spirit” is synonymous with the freedom of boating. Boating lets us escape from our daily routine and lifts us up to a place we long to be, close to that which we hold dear – family, friends, and the beauty of the world around us.

As boaters in America, and especially in Florida, we are the envy of many boaters around the globe. In our business, our charter customers and boating students come from countries around the world. We have the freedom to buy the boat we want to buy, or the boat we can afford to buy with the resources we have. We have the freedom to cruise where we want to cruise, to return home each night, or stay away for weeks or months at a time. In fact, unlike driving or flying, as adults we have the freedom to pilot a boat with no federal license requirement, whether we are qualified or not! Sure, there are rules to follow and matters of nautical etiquette to consider, but for the most part we boaters police ourselves.

I read an editorial recently in which the writer made this point: “America is great, not simply because we are free. America is great because with that freedom, we choose to do good.”  We have the freedom to choose what type of nautical society we want as well. And we choose to be good boaters, and good citizens, because that’s the kind of society we want on the water. That’s the meaning of freedom that boating teaches to novice boaters and old salts alike, every time we are on the water.

 As far as recreation goes, boating offers freedom of another kind. When was the last time you waited in line to go boating? Think about it. There are no serpentine lines, ticket-taking lines, hand-stamping lines, conveyor-belt boat moving lines, “is your vessel this tall” lines, boat “fast-food” lines (or is it “fast-boat” food lines? Whatever), or “please take a number” lines! We leave the dock, we cruise, we relax and re-charge, and then we return to port on our own schedule. That’s the freedom of boating. And we love it.

 So, let freedom ring. Welcome Aboard.


By Barb Hansen
June, 2012

I've been looking for ways to save time so I searched "save time" on the Internet. It was a big waste of you-know-what.

 Oh, there are a zillion links that tell us why we need to keep a to do list and how to rank our tasks. Heck, I do keep a to do list. The problem is that it's longer at the end of the day than it was at the start.

 For years my Dad would tell me, "Barb, Time marches on. Take time to smell the roses." I tried. Dad died some time ago, but I still hear his words in my head. Alas, I'm still working on the smell-the-roses dictum.

 Part of my problem is that I love my work managing our yacht charter and yacht school in N. Fort Myers. I love working around the house, even pulling weeds or dust-sweeping up those ubiquitous border collie dog hairs. Twenty-five years in our home and nearly 30 years in business. Life is good.

Still, there is that nagging to do list.

I wag my finger and preach to people to make time to go cruising. But, I confess to you, brothers and sisters, that I have failed to live by the gospel of relaxation myself. I confess that my work ethic alter ego has sometimes planted a not-kindly thought in my mind: How come they get to go on a cruise and I have to work?

Mea Culpa. I know, what I have to do is learn from my customers. They know how to manage their time rather than the other way around. They learned how to reward themselves for jobs well done rather than weight themselves down with blame for jobs undone.

Dad was right. Time marches on. It can't give us more of itself. It flows regularly and inescapably forward. There is no turning back the clock or the calendar. Time and tide wait for no man. Nor this woman.

So I am hereby making some mid-course corrections.

One is I am going to let my to do list get longer and from now on, in my mind, longer is better. I'll sleep at night knowing that it's all written down.

Another correction is rather than blame myself for jobs not done, I'll congratulate myself for doing important jobs well.

And the last is that I will now add fun things to the list just to, you know, smell the roses. Thanks, Dad.


By Barb Hansen
May, 2012

I was on the phone with my best friend the other night and asked her what she thought about a big story in the news. She said, "I haven't heard anything about it." She went on to say that she gave up watching the news or reading the paper a month earlier. The news was just too depressing and disturbing, she said.

I was shocked. Me, I am a current events junkie. A Political Science major, I have always been drawn to the news in the political world. Old habits die hard, I guess. When I am in my regular routine I tune to the news first thing in the morning and it's the last thing to go off at night. Generally, I feel good being informed and engaged. In my mind, this is what a good citizen does.

To each her own, certainly. My friend lives in the nation's capital and the discouraging yin yang of the government sausagewerks is probably in the D. C. air. Anyway, she told me she's much more relaxed now that she knows less of what is going on in the world.

 So what is it about the news that makes one person feel bad and another feel good? I think it must be something going on in our heads. My husband has always said, “If your head is on right, a tin cup can be a silver chalice. It’s all about how you look at life.” You are what you think.

 Let's say you pass somebody on the street and he starts yelling obscenities at you for no apparent reason. You might be inclined to think, "What a jerk." But if you found out the other person was severely mentally ill you might think, instead, "Oh, poor guy." See, you are what you think.

Now, of course, there is some serious doom and gloom in the news. Sometimes the news is so discouraging it's hard not be down and maybe even a little angry. But, woe is we? Nope. Not here.

I am so lucky. I manage a charter yacht company and school for yacht skippers -- at a marina -- and the ever-present sound of happy marina people doing what they do is like taking a happy pill even when I'm at my desk and dealing with business matters.

You know what, people who work around boats are happier. Boaters are happier. I'm convinced of it. It doesn't make any difference whether they're on a megayacht or a paddleboard. I'm reminded of an old saying which I think has some oceanic truth to it: Mountain people are wise. Ocean people are happy.

So, if the news is getting you down, go down to the water's edge and catch some sunshine. If you really need a stronger dose my prescription is to gather up the family, get in a boat, and push away from all of that land-based negativity. It's funny how your perspective changes on a boat. No TV. No newspapers. No news is good news.

Don't have a boat? Actually, you do. There's a charter boat in this marina with your name on it. Think about it. You are what you think.


By Barb Hansen
April, 2012

Some of you probably remember the Think Small advertising campaign. This was the headline of a successful TV advertising program introducing the little Volkswagen Beetle to America. That was in 1959, more than half a century ago.

Since then it seems the world has gone from thinking small to thinking big -- too big if you ask me -- about everything from supersized fast food platters with 3,500 calories to 15-deck cruise ships for 3,500 guests.

I applaud the cruise ship industry for introducing cruising to so many but I have to say that as cruise ships get larger they have more to do with big plates of food and onboard entertainment than enjoying the wild blue wonder and visiting ports of call.

The new Freedom of the Seas is the largest luxury cruise ship in the world. It's 1,120 feet long, 184 feet wide, 208 feet tall. They should call it Freedom from the Seas because of all of the gee-whiz stuff onboard, like a little river, a waterfall and sculptures shooting jets of water. It even has geysers shooting from "the ground."

 It has a mall for shopping, eating, entertainment – They call it the "Royal Promenade" – and at night they put on "street" parades with music and laser lights.

Geysers shooting from the ground? Street parades? It seems like they're trying hard to make you think you're not on a boat but terra firma, and terra firma offering the same thing you have at home. Then why take a cruise? Save money. You can visit your local mall for shopping, eating and entertainment.

As you also may know, cruise ship accidents have been in the news lately. Costa Concordia ran aground and capsized off the coast of Italy. Costa Allegra had an engine fire and drifted in the Indian Ocean. Costa Europa rammed a pier in Egypt. Periodically, nasty stomach viruses spread among dozens of passengers and the vessel has to return to port prematurely. All this has prompted some to rethink their next cruise.

Well, how about something with two cabins instead of 2,000, something for four friends instead of 4,000 strangers? Instead of 24 buffet lines how about a vessel with a stove and fridge and you get to be the chef?

May I suggest that you not cruise a rocky coast but rather a glassy-smooth waterway framed by barrier islands and mangrove wilderness? Alas, at night they don't put on street parades, but you and your friends can sit on the bridge and watch the sun go down. There is no after-dark laser show but you might see a comet streak across the sky.

This vessel doesn't have an activities director. Well, it does, actually. You are the activities director. Just tell the captain you want to collect shells on the Sanibel Island beach, eat a cheeseburger in paradise on Cabbage Key and cap off the day with a Crème Brulee at the Collier Inn restaurant on Useppa Island.

Yes, I'm suggesting your next cruise be aboard a small charter yacht, not a cruise ship. I'm suggesting your next cruise be on a vessel that departs when you want to depart, goes where you want to go, and stops and starts at your command.

If you're considering another cruise, I have a timely suggestion.

Think Small.


By Barb Hansen
March, 2012

Most of our yacht chartering customers have cruised before. Many own or have owned yachts. When I go over the do's and don'ts, they get it.

But I really like explaining it to newbies. If I do it right, I tell myself, they'll enjoy the cruise even more and feel like they'll want to cruise again. They'll get what cruising is all about.

Sometimes I use the spoon-full-of-honey-helps-the-medicine-go-down philosophy.

For instance, if I tell them "Don't feed the wild animals" that gives me an opportunity to talk about the wild dolphins that might show up and ride their wake.

Of course, most of the do's and don'ts have to do with more mundane things than dolphins. It's not as easy to sell things like using lamps sparingly. The generator is great, I say, but it's even greater when it is turned off and you can hear mullet jumping and great blue herons squawking. Instead of cranking up the generator at night and turning on the TV, tell pirate stories and fish whoppers.

Space is at a premium on a boat. So soft-sided luggage like duffel bags give you more room in your small cabin than hard-sided luggage. Ironing board? Nope. On board, you're supposed to be proud of your wrinkled fabrics. You're on vacation, remember.

Sometimes humor helps the sales pitch. I ask them no to throw paper and other incidental trash into the toilet unless they've chewed it first. They get it.

People typically want to be well thought of. So when I remind them that fresh water is at a premium, I also tell them that taking long showers is a no-no until they dock at a marina with showers. I tell them shoe soles that leave dark marks on white fiberglass decks will leave a mark on your boating reputation. Boat shoes solve that problem, and give you traction, too.

Children? You are a good parent, aren't you? Give them direction, I say. (Better from you than a harsh word from the captain, eh?) Leave the video games at home and limit time on laptops and iPods, too. Instead, have kids keep a written and/or photo record. It'll come in handy if they are assigned to write a school essay about what they did on their summer vacation.

 Boating has a long tradition of established protocols that, I'm sure, sound off-putting if you're new to boating. One such tenet is that the captain is boss. But, the point is, safety. So, for instance, if the captain asks you to wait in the cabin while he docks the boat, don't take it personally. He just wants to make sure nobody gets in the way of the docking procedure or is tempted to step onto the dock before the boat is secure and he gives the word. And when I put it that way, I see nodding heads.

The real joy of my job is when the new cruisers return and tell me this is the best vacation they ever had. Then I know they got it. And they get it.  ##


By Barb Hansen
February, 2012

MODERATOR:  Candidates, a viewer in Fort Myers, Florida has emailed a question about boating. Let's put it up on the screen.

There are many recreational boaters out there who are undecided about which of you to vote for because they don't know your position on recreational boating. Are you a boater? What kind of boating do you like to do and why?

 Mr. Speaker?

Speaker SlowPoke:  "Fundamentally, the American people known that if we can set up a 51st state on the moon then we can restore recreational boating to its philosophically correct place in the world as a basic tribute to our great nation in honor of the founding fathers and Ronald Reagan. I am a boater – thank you for asking – and Carisma and I like to spend long weekends on a trawler – nothing fancy – that just hums along at a modest speed and lets us get away from the ex-wives and other demands of civilization. This is the kind of boating I would support from the oval office. In fact, I would make the flybridge my own oval office. And, furthermore, as president I will sign an executive order stating that Governor Sailalong's campaign has been more blatantly dishonest than any presidential race in the history of U.S. elections.

Governor Sailalong:  "Well, Mr. Speaker, I have to say that your positions on boating and going to the moon are sheer lunacy. You should get away from K Street once in a while and see what life is like in the rest of America. Visit small towns like Marblehead, where I keep my sloop, then you would know the heart of America is in setting sail on your own and dreaming big like I did and reaching the finish line in first place using your own wits and wind. Sailing is the essence of what it is to be an American. In addition, my sailboat is the ideal vessel to escape the Occupy Movement. Frankly, Mr. Speaker, you can take your stinkpot and shove it and I'm sure the American people agree with me.

Senator Gofast: Now hold on there Governor Sailalong and Speaker Slowpoke. Folks, did you just hear what they said? They said they prefer an America that just plods along like their go-nowhere-fast boats as if we have plenty of time to solve these issues. And when they have to debate President Flotsam Jetsam, they will lose. They will be figuratively left behind at the marina. Folks, we need to put this economy on the bow of my Sea Ray and give it full throttle. I am the only candidate with the vessel that can get from here to there quickly, a go fast boat, and we will leave Speaker Slowpoke and Governor Sailalong and their so-called vessels rocking and rolling in my wake.

MODERATOR: Congressman, do you want to weigh in on this?

 Congressman Driftwood: I don't have an opinion about that. But you asked me to weigh in on this issue. Actually, maybe the country would be a whole lot better if everybody had a boat to get away from the politicians. You know sailing into the sunset is starting to sound good. Maybe I should get out of the race before they all start swiftboating me.

MODERATOR: Candidates, while you were responding to the boating question we received another email, this one from Southwest Florida Yachts, inviting each of you to visit as president of the United States and charter the boat of your choice, sail or power, fast or slow, and cruise the beautiful waters of the Sanibel-Captiva area.


By Barb Hansen
January, 2012

Are you feeling down? Lethargic? Perhaps your bathroom scale points slightly toward the high side?

You may be suffering from SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD commonly affects millions of people in northern climates in the late fall and winter. Days are shorter. The sun doesn't shine much, if at all. Your body doesn't produce the melatonin it needs to feel right.

Last year Farmer's Almanac identified the five worst winter weather cities: Cleveland, Detroit, Duluth, Syracuse and Casper, Wyoming. Years ago I heard about a town in the upper Midwest that went six weeks into a new year before the sun made a brief appearance.
Here in southwest Florida, where work's winter uniform consists of shorts and a boating shirt, this is the time of the year when I have to remind myself not to phone friends up north and brag about our pleasant weather, especially not when they're getting cold fronts and not much sunshine. They're already sad enough.

Fortunately, medical science has prescribed a regimen for SAD. It includes light, fresh air and cognitive therapy. Collectively this is known as Cruising in Florida. In Florida, light therapy is automatic. After all, Florida is the sunshine state. Florida is practically synonymous with fresh air. Boating supplies the cognitive therapy.

At the end of a satisfying day of cruising in paradise and exploring Sanibel and its neighboring islands you'll be sitting up on the fly bridge watching the sun set beautifully over a scene that might include roseate spoonbills, herons, egrets and wood storks feeding on a flat at low tide.

Are you still depressed? I don't think so.

Now I should mention that from time to time our prescription is not strong enough for severe cases of the blahs. In these cases, we prescribe another natural pill labeled Attitude Adjustment. Our kit of supplies for students at Florida Sailing & Cruising School includes a bumper sticker -- Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure. Vic and I adopted it after we heard more than a few students say things like, “What if it rains?” Actually, it rarely rains in Florida in the winter but we just tell them, “Oh, we don’t charge extra for that.”

Not much was known about SAD back in 1984 when Vic and I started Southwest Florida Yachts. But, born and raised Midwesterners, we instinctively knew that helping people cruise in Florida was the ideal therapy for the sun-deprived.

For more than 100 years winter vacations in Florida's sunshine have been the natural pill that people from the north have ingested for SAD. Alas, I fear that a lot of northern state boaters still haven't learned this valuable lesson. They do not have to be trapped by the weather or sloppy thinking. While their harbors are iced up and their boats are wrapped in tarps, they can still tend to their boating addiction and their medical issue in a meaningful way.

Hey. Don't be sad. Get out of there. Fly to Fort Myers. We'll get your boat ready.


By Barb Hansen
December, 2011

Santa is making his list and checking it twice. Since you've been very nice I suggest you ask him for the best gift of all – family and friends. That's also known as boating.

Yes. There’s something about boating that insists that it be done in the company of others. It’s all about teamwork and accomplishing something together. It's about a common purpose, about strengthening relationships, about forging shared memories that last a lifetime.

A few years ago a single man took one of our live-aboard courses at Florida Sailing and Cruising School. Just student and instructor. They spent a day covering all the basics right up to anchoring for the night. The student did well. The day was done. But then he asked the instructor what he should do after anchoring and securing the boat. Our instructor asked him pointedly why did he want to cruise if he didn't have somebody to enjoy it with. The instructor told me the man thought about this for a long minute. Then he looked up and said, “I think I should think about being in a relationship.”

Well, yeah.

Relationship building is the main reason why I believe boating is the best possible gift. The gift is not the boat. Rather, the gift is commitment we make to each other. After that, you can look for a boat to buy or, like many, just decide to charter vessels for personal cruises.

Experts say there is a high correlation between boating and happiness, and I think the reason is they are doing it with people they care about. Heck, every time I go boating I know I'll get a positive charge times three: One, when Vic and I plan the cruise. Two, when we cruise. Three, when we remember the cruise.

As a matter of fact, some years ago the National Marine Manufacturer's Association sponsored some research that showed that boaters are happier than non-boaters. Maybe boaters are naturally happy even before they start boating but, whichever, boating always puts a big exclamation point on it.

So, you've got a boat and your favorite people are on board. Now what?
Make time for it. Everybody complains that they don’t have enough time. Well, when you’re hooked on it, boating motivates you to make time for it. It's that important. I heard about a physician in solo practice who wanted to go boating but he never had any time off. He figured out a solution. He went into practice with other doctors but he made a deal with them. The deal was each would take extended time off periodically for whatever they wanted to do and the other doctors would look after missing doctor’s patients while he was gone.

When you've moved the big parts of the picture into place I think you and yours will discover that the other pieces to life's happiness puzzle fall into place easily.

Some examples: there's a feeling of accomplishment. There's a lot to know and a lot to do when you're boating and a good job-well-done feeling at the end of the day and the end of the cruise. You'll get your rest. On a boat, you'll sleep like a baby. Naps are okay, too.

Oh yes, there's stress reduction. On the boat you'll be miles away, mentally and physically, from life's workaday burdens. You'll be loving the scenery. You'll be checking the nautical chart. At the end of the day you'll be placing the anchor so the boat drifts back to the perfect place on the planet for the sunset.

The best part is that even after the cruise is over and you're back doing what you do, the memories you made will always be with you. When I find my mind drifting into negative territory, I can jerk it back to the happy side of the scale by summoning up some delightful cruise in the past.

It's a cliché, I know, but the reason that boating is the best gift of all is that it never stops giving back. If you’re already boating, make time for more. If you’re not may I just remind you that Santa is making a list.


By Barb Hansen
November, 2011

Some day Occupy Wall Street protestors will Occupy a Boat. I mean that in a good way. I think some actually will buy boats or charter them and they will love every minute on the water.

They will be like the hair down to here hippies of the 1960s who quit drugs, washed their hair and found a job and earned their own financial success.

Fast-forward forty years from today. I can see some former Occupiers anchored up and enjoying the views and breezes with their spouses on a fly bridge. They will remember, not fondly, the lice and lethargy of 2011 when home was a public park that smelled like an outhouse, where drums pounded, vuvuzela horns squawked, and people chanted stupidity: "We WE …are ARE …the THE …99 Percent."

Remember, for every action there is a reaction.

Maybe one of the new one percenters will be the young man Conan O'Brien joked about. He proposed to his girlfriend, "Will you occupy my parents' basement with me until I get a job?"

Well, it's a start, if his parents are okay with that. Why not? Up to now they've given him everything he ever asked for including paying for his PhD in Postmodern Know Nothing Studies where he learned that others owed him a comfortable living and health care, too. It's a human right, don't you know.

Yeah, you know this story. Eventually the parents kick them out of the basement and the young couple applies for jobs. They don't put Zuccotti Park on their resumes.

Most of their former comrades leave Zuccotti Park when the first cold arrives. A few dirty and disheveled deadbeats keep on banging drums, blowing smoke, and stinking up the neighborhood.

After a year or so of this businesses and residents of the neighborhood pack up and leave the city. So New York City's Mayor for Life Bloomberg agrees that if the protestors would please leave the park he will let them Occupy empty office buildings in Lower Manhattan.

Meanwhile, our young couple from the park earn enough to pay rent and buy a used car and they feel better about themselves. They get promotions and raises from time to time so on special occasions they agree to Occupy a restaurant and actually pay for dinner and tip the server.

Yep, our couple has a couple of kids and when the little ones are toddlers the family auto takes them all to the Florida coast and they all Occupy a beach. They build sand castles together, periodically applying sunscreen to pink faces and reminding the little ones not to leave their Kit Kat wrappers in the sand.

They Occupy a dolphin-cruise tourist boat and see bottlenose dolphins surfing the boat's waves and their kids are just thrilled. "You know," she says to the man she married, once a boy with a PhD, "wouldn't it be great if we had our own boat and could go on dolphin cruises all the time?"

See. This is how it happens.

They get the boat. It's great but soon they realize it's too small so they get a bigger boat. And the kids invite their school friends to get pulled on the big ski tube with them and they are far and away the most popular kids in their classes.

Everybody works and studies hard. Then one year, before their teenagers leave for college to prepare for corporate jobs, they decide the time is right to charter a spacious yacht and cruise the beautiful Southwest Florida coast for a whole week.

Wow. This is a boat they could actually, you know, Occupy. It has indoor plumbing, clean linens, comfy beds, heat and air conditioning, everything they need but not drums or vuvuzela horns. The only chant is the put-you-to-sleep charm of the boat's engines.

Temperatures are just right. The Gulf ICW is glassy smooth. Dolphins perform. Ospreys plunge-dive for small fish then eat their meals, guardedly, at the very top of bare trees. Flocks of pelicans fly by in formation. Herons and egrets peck in the shallows for worms and minnows.

Once, cruising along, our couple detect the slightly off-putting whiff of something from Bird Island. They look at each other, both reminded of the same thing, and keep cruising into the fresh air.

That night, anchored up, the family kicks back and takes in the views and breeze on the bridge. The parents tell their teens about Zuccotti Park and they offer some parental words of wisdom, something about always striving to be in the top one percent.


By Barb Hansen
September, 2011

Are we more free on the water than on land? I say, yes. But I would also have to say that it's probably more of a feeling than a human right. Still, it's a great feeling.

Being on the water has always felt good to me, even as a child, and it feels ever better since September 11, 2001. The destruction of the World Trade Center's twin towers and the murder of more than 3,000 innocents reminded us that we need the government to provide for our national defense – that's in the constitution – but if you sometimes feel like life is just one big TSA pat-down, then I recommend boating.

And, in addition to airport and other government hassles, we have what is called the "nanny state." I just read where New York's health department wanted to outlaw day camp games like wiffle ball, kick ball and Red Rover? Too risky, you see. Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed.

The government-knows-best people are always looking for ways to curtail personal freedoms. Food police want to outlaw Happy Meals and require calorie counts. At one Chicago school the students can no longer pack a lunch and bring it to school

If that is the way civilization is going, heaven help us. It's time to escape to the water just like Huckleberry Finn and Jim. They escaped on a Mississippi River raft, Jim from slavery and Huck from society's attempts to "sivilize" him.

I call water "the wild blue wonder" and for me it is the very symbol of freedom. Looking at an expanse of water is nice but, let's be honest, you're not going to get that special feeling just by looking at it. You need to be on the water.

People list lots of reasons why they like to go boating. They like to fish, or paddle, or go fast, or go slow. They like being close to nature. They like fresh air and sunshine. They like the sound of the paddle, the sound of the sails, the sound of the motor. They like being with friends and family away from the reminders of life's ever-present chores. Memories are made of this.

Today, a lot of busy people are deciding chartering a yacht is the way to go. Then you and your family and friends can really get away from it all because your boat has, hubba, hubba, beds and a kitchen.

Some people even opt to see the USA in a boat. For example, you actually can cruise protected water – barrier island channels, canals, bays, and rivers -- from Fort Myers Florida to New York City, Montreal, Chicago, New Orleans and back again to Fort Myers. That's called the Great Loop Cruise. It's a long way and it takes a long time but you know what? A TSA agent will never pat you down or ask you to pose for a camera that removes your clothes.

 I think boating is in our DNA. It's why when we were toddlers we floated a toy boat in the tub. It's why boy scouts graduate to sea scouts. It's why my husband-to-be Vic built a teenager's sailboat and made sails from old bed sheets. Today, it's why we operate a charter boat company in paradise.

Be a good citizen, but don't let them "sivilize" you. It's a great feeling.


By Barb Hansen
October, 2011

My name is Skye. I'm the new Border Collie around here. My assignment is to be the office dog and security dog for the Southwest Florida Yachts charter fleet. I also serve as the personal house pet and boat dog for my new parents, Barb and Vic Hansen.

Barb, my new mom, asked me to write this month's column so I could tell you my story.

I'm not a puppy. I'm already five and a half. The Hansens adopted me just a few months ago after their beloved Star passed away at the age of 16. They were very sad. One day Aunt Theresa at the animal clinic called them and told them she had a dog – that was me – who needed a home and some attention. They decided to give me a try.

Of course, I had to be on my best behavior because I knew right away that this would be a special place. First of all, I would not have to work 24/7 and sleep outside in the yard like with my first assignment. Before I was given up for adoption, my first parents kept me outdoors all the time. Today I have my own bed inside an air-conditioned house.

Right off the bat I learned it would not be a good idea to bother the house kittens or chew on the sofa. No big deal. Mom gives me really good food and lots of yummy treats. I'm pretty sure I've passed the probationary period.

I've come to understand that I've got four big feet to fill. Star the wonder dog was Barb and Vic's heart and joy. She was a Border Collie, too, which endowed her with exceptional skills.

Mom told me that Star was the official greeter at Southwest Florida Yachts. Her job was to welcome all, smile, and to lie down and be quiet when they had visitors. I hear ya, Mom.

They took me to Marinatown where the fleet boats are headquartered. Mom told me Star was very good at patrolling the docks at the marina, providing security of a sort and shooing away birds from the boats. Heck, I can do that. When I was at the pound I overheard somebody say that that the local airport was spending $5,000 to train a border collie like me to chase birds off the runway. For free dog food and medical care I can shoo birds from boats. It's in my DNA.

Please understand I have nothing against birds. It's only that they need to know that there is a place for everything and a boat isn't one of them. I went on a short weekend cruise with Mom and Dad recently and, oh boy, did I learn that lesson.

I haven't been on any extended cruises but I'm really looking forward to them. They told me Star liked to pace around the boat and when a dolphin surfaced she'd give a shout out to the passengers to let them know the show had started. Mom told me the more Star ran around the deck barking at the dolphins, the more they would perform. I could do that.

I'm good to go. I could even write a guest column now and then.

Just call me Skye the Boating Dog.

TAKE CARE OF YOUR BOAT (Or get somebody else to do it.)

By Barb Hansen
August, 2011

Vic and I were working on the boat recently. My job was to reach deep into a dark access hole and blindly hold lock washers and nuts in place while Vic twisted in three screws from the other side.

Physically, it was agreed, I was more suited to reaching around and holding them in place. Vic said my arms were thinner and I was more flexible. This is true.

Successful boating requires diligent boat maintenance. If you are going to do this yourself you should be no more than four feet tall. Your arms need to be six feet long and elbows should be double-jointed so you can reach and hold fasteners, filters and fittings.

It helps if you are a circus acrobat who can twist yourself into a pretzel shape. Or, you could marry one.

Boat maintenance and auto maintenance are different. Most of us don't get to use our boats as often as we use our cars so we don't get as much warning when something is about to break. Also, unlike car shops, boat repair shops are few and far between.

Some boaters actually enjoy working on their boats. Most don't. Time is short. We'd rather be out on the water. But, maintenance is necessary. The old saw is, Take care of your boat and it will take care of you. I interpret that to mean take care of it or it will break down when you're out on the water.

Better safe than sorry, of course. One of our responsibilities at Southwest Florida Yachts is to maintain our charter fleet. Since we don't want our charter customers to break down on the water, we follow a simple rule: Repair and replace things on a schedule. If we wait for them to break they will break at a time and place not of our choosing.

Vic and I are licensed boat brokers and we help buyers find boats. Right on the front end we tell them to consider the long-term cost of maintenance. For example, twin engines are nice for docking and maneuvering but engine maintenance expense is twice that of a single-engine vessel.

We have managed yachts with every whistle and bell imaginable – high tech electronics, multiple battery banks, electric dinghy lifts, complex entertainment systems. A couple even had trash compactors. We call that "stuff." It's okay to have lots of stuff on the boat but remember, more maintenance will be required. Eventually, everything needs repair or replacing.

Our tilt is always toward the boat that is equipped with what is necessary, but otherwise simple. When outfitting a new boat or retrofitting an older one, choose quality. You'll be happier. Quality lasts longer and lowers maintenance costs and aggravation, especially on a boat that (unlike your living room) is exposed to the elements.

If survival of the fittest theory is correct some day all boaters will be short, long armed, double-joined, and have an extra set of eyes on their fingertips so they can see exactly where to hold lock washers in place.

Until then we will have to use our inflexible bodies or get somebody else to do it.

It's one thing to be stuck at the dock and quite another to be adrift on the open sea. Take care of your boat. Maintain it on a schedule. It will give you more time on the water and peace of mind, too. And that's a bargain.


By Barb Hansen
July, 2011

I was browsing you-know-what and read something a parent posted online. I Googled manatees. It was about Florida manatees, of course, but this entry reminded me about the wonderful age of 10.

And, may I suggest, it also was about why cruising in Florida ought to be on the summer vacation to-do list for every young family.

It was posted on an online forum and the parent wrote, "We just got home from our wonderful trip to Sanibel for the first time. We saw a mother manatee nursing two babies near the lighthouse close to the shore on Friday Aug. 7… She also had about five other babies waiting their turn just poking their little noses out of the water. What an awesome sight for my 10 yr old daughter and me."

This was an awesome sight and awesome times 100, I think, because it was shared by a parent and 10-year-old. Ten-year-olds – I'm sure you know this – are the perfect age for an experience like this but, hey, I'm sure this would be a wonderful thing to see for all children above the age of reason up to and including those in their cynical mid-teen years, too.

The thing is, seeing manatees and frolicking dolphins in the wild is not at all unusual in Florida in the summer, especially when you're on a boat. They call this the "low season" but manatees and dolphins don't know that. For Florida’s wildlife, summer is the high season.

By the way Sanibel, mentioned by the parent of the 10-year-old, is one of our famous Gulf barrier islands in Southwest Florida and it helps shape the popular, protected cruising corridors on either side of Pine Island.

Here at Southwest Florida Yachts the summer pace is a tad more relaxed after a "high" season of chartering vessels to snowbirds escaping the cold up north. In the summer the calls often come from moms and dads asking what summer cruising is like because this is summer vacation and their kids are out of school. They've done Disney, and they are so over Disney.

Oh it's very good, I say. Then I'm off on a summertime is the best time riff. Cruising is the just right thing for a family with children to do on summer vacation.

I tell them about seeing manatees and dolphins in the wild. I tell them about seeing a thousand wading birds feeding on a shallow flat and a thousand stars twinkling from the dark sky at night. It's summertime. Living is easy. Fish are jumping.

I like showing off our lovely part of Florida to visitors during the low season and I’ve always thought it way too sad that so many fail to come here at a time of the year when Florida really shines.

This is "Real Florida," as the tourism people call it. It really is. And the cruising is easy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


By Barb Hansen
June 2011

You can tell a lot about a person by the name on their boat. For example, a couple of years ago I strongly advised a certain literary celebrity, Juliet Capulet, to never date a guy with a boat named Sir Osis of the River, Beeracuda, or Blew Too Much.

Now I'm looking at the popular boat name lists from BoatU.S. and it occurs to me the names don't just tell us about the psychological condition of the boat owners; they speak to us about the psychological condition of the nation's economy.

Indeed, they are a proxy for the mood of the country and point to a change in direction for the economy and perhaps the stock market, too. Up or down. I call it call it the Boat Name Mood Meter (BNMM)

So what is the BNMM telling us? I think it's telling us that the economy is recovering.

The first thing I do is delete the names on the top 10 list that are on the list every year. Those recurring names don't tell us anything. So, goodbye Seas the Day, AquaHolic, The Black Pearl, La Belle Vita.

Last year's list reverberated with a bad attitude. That top ten list had boat names like Lazy Daze, Bail Out, On the Rocks.

Now, compare them with the names on the new list: Andiamo (Let's go), Mojo, Island Time, Second Wind, No Worries, Serenity, Blue Moon.

Don't you see what's happening? Boat owners are tossing out the negative and accentuating the positive. They are feeling better. Much better. You should, too.

So is it time to buy stocks or bonds or what?

Well, I don't know about that, but I do know that it's time to invest in time on the water. Being on the water is the great escape. It's the rhythmic flap of wind on a sail, the harmonic charm of a well-tuned cruising engine, the excitement on a boat when a big fish is landed, the soothing feeling you get watching a colorful sunrise or a sunset.

Time on the boat doesn't make problems go away but it does gives us the mental fortitude and the right attitude to deal with matters back on land.

You may have read that Tiger Woods is selling his 155-footer, Privacy, and replacing it with a smaller vessel. He calls it Solitude. The Tiger Woods case may not be the best example but it helps to illustrate that even when times are tough boaters don't give up on boating entirely.

Some sail. Some cruise. Some fish. Some paddle into remote backcountry areas where few have gone before. Some seek solitude. Some socialize. Some go fast from here to there. Some go slow to nowhere. Heck, some never leave the dock. But on the water, they feel good.

So is it time? Oh, yeah. Memorial day signals the start of a new summer. Fishing and Boating Week is June 4-12. Father's Day is June 19.

The stars are aligned. It's time to be on the water. You can check the Dow when you get back in. Meanwhile, it's nice to know that the Boat Name Mood Meter is trending sharply up. You know what to do.


By Barb Hansen
May 2011

It was Valentine’s Day, 1995 and I was awakened by my husband at 0630 telling me the morning TV news had just featured the cutest puppy available for adoption. "You have to go get her,” he said. That’s not exactly how I had hoped to be awakened on such a romantic holiday, but that’s another story.

I quickly got the doggie details. The “weather pet” that morning was a cute little black and white canine from the local animal shelter in need of a home. While we had talked about getting a dog for a few years, I hadn’t planned on adding a puppy to our family that day and neither had our two cats. However, being the animal lover that I am it only took a few minutes to be convinced that there was no better time than the present to expand our family.

I was waiting at the door when the Humane Society opened their doors that day and soon I had our new little fuzz ball in my canvas bag on the way to her new home. Vic and I quickly shopped for all the goodies our gal would need over the next few days. I confess now that the only “baby” collar in stock that day was blue. I know, I know. I probably scarred her for life, but I had no choice.

Now for the biggest dilemma of all – what to name our girl? I can see why it takes some parents nine months to decide on a name for Junior. See, it just has to fit. We perused all of our nautical publications trying to find the perfect name for a boat dog. Dinghy? Sloopy? Nothing seemed to work. Then it occurred to us that since this puppy was on TV, she was really a Star! At two months old she also had the outline of a star in the fur on her chest. Her name was Star

We soon found out that Star was not a terrier mix as the shelter had labeled her. Instead she was a smart and beautiful border collie. We took her to training classes, set up an agility course at home and read all about this popular herding breed. It wasn’t long before we noticed that border collies were showing up in more and more TV commercials and our local airport paid more than $5,000 to train one to chase birds off the runway. Hmm...mm. Hey, after all we did have a “Star” in the family. . . .

In the end, though, we found that Star was better at herding for fun than she was at working. Oh sure, she herded the cats from room to room. She herded our young nieces when they just wanted to play. Most of all, she enjoyed herding the dolphins that rode our bow and stern waves every time we went cruising. The dolphins seemed to enjoy it, too. The more she ran around the deck barking at them, the more they performed their aquatic acrobatics for everyone on board.

Star experienced more in her lifetime than most people. She flew in private planes and cruised the entire Intracoastal Waterway from New York to Florida. During one boat delivery, we stopped in Hilton Head. Because the trawler we were on was so tall, it was quite a leap from the deck to the dock. Star managed it with ease. She jumped off the boat and back on the boat many times. Soon a small crowd gathered around to watch her, clapping each time she made a successful landing. Star loved the limelight.

Star had another role. She was our office greeter for most of her life. It wasn’t quite Wal-Mart, but she enjoyed her “job.” Her favorite parts of the day were lunch time, walk time, and making new friends. For many years we (unofficially) qualified our charter customers by whether or not Star smiled at them. Yes, this dog smiled. If a client came to the office and Star backed away we wondered about their boating skills and took a little extra time to check them out.

In my opinion, everyone should have a dog or a cat or several of them. Everyone with kids should definitely have a pet. They teach kids about responsibility and unconditional love. Forget the video games. Make a video of your kids playing outside with Rover. Retired people should have a pet. They are good company and great listeners. The benefits of walking are touted all over the news these days. So, adopting a dog can actually make you both healthier.

Star was one of a kind. Running on the beach, fishing, and barking at the water birds were just a few of the things she loved to do. She simply loved to be busy. At age fourteen, arthritis started to limit her mobility. Her jumping and herding days were replaced by more naps on the porch. At age fifteen we had to carry her on and off the boat. However, she still loved to go wherever we were going and do whatever we were doing. She could no longer herd her cat sisters, but she still liked to think she was in charge.

Star passed away in February at the age of sixteen. Our world is not the same. We miss our girl. But looking up at the night sky I see a new light twinkling. Our Star is shining down on us and smiling.


By Barb Hansen
April 2011

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) claims it can keep secrets, but I suspect it's just a matter of time before we start seeing full frontal scans of celebrities in the supermarket tabloids. Some probably won't mind. Well, hello again Paris.

I hope they publish only celebrity images. As you know, our privacy has never been a U.S. government priority. (Can you say WikiLeaks?) We all know that eventually a disgruntled TSA employee will sell his private collection of scans to the highest bidder.

TSA uses two kinds of full body scans -- neither produces flattering results -- and now I read they are considering a third type. The new type doesn't show your whole body from top to bottom, just the anomalies. Uh oh.

Anomalies. I hope they mean just harmful devices like bombs and box cutters. But just in case I'm adding this new TSA scan type to our growing list of air travel advisories, a periodic public service of your friendly charter boat outfitters at Southwest Florida Yachts (Motto: We Don't Scan.)

Air travel advisory number two is air traffic controllers who nod off on the job as one did recently working the night shift at Ronald Reagan National Airport, Washington, DC. Two airliners landed without permission from the tower. I doubt if the pilot even bothered to tell the passengers. I expect at least two pilots and one air traffic controller are looking for new work this week.

These air traffic advisories are our little way of pointing out the differences between planes and boats. If you subtract the time it takes you to get checked in and navigate security, air travel will get you from point A to point B faster than a boat but at what cost? Your dignity, that's what.

Now, contrast all that with another mode of transportation, the boat. Admittedly, a boat can't get you across the country as quickly as an airliner, but it will get you from our marina to a special relaxed place in your mind in record time.

Our charter customers like to cruise on the placid side of the Gulf of Mexico barrier islands like Sanibel/Captiva. There is no turbulence on this dignified flight path. There are no body scans, no insults to your dignity and no air traffic controllers who nod off.

There are no lines to get on board, no bags to check and no packing and unpacking once underway. There’s no waiting for a seatbelt light to go off so you can go to the bathroom. There is no middle seat. You won't go to war for an armrest. A kid won't kick the back of your seat. Your kneecap won't get shattered by the beverage cart.

As air travel becomes more onerous, remember that cruising with family-and-friends is one of the best ways to restore your dignity and zest for life.


By Barb Hansen
March 2011

I just read about a girl, 17, who drank tequila all afternoon then drove off in her expensive sports car. She dialed a friend on her cell phone and, thus distracted, hit another girl who was rollerblading. Later, in court, her parents asked the judge if it would be okay if their daughter spent the summer in Paris, as she usually did.

Cue in the parental lecture: One, Quit coddling. Two, Go boating.

In my experience kids who go boating with the family end up as responsible adults. I'm a school-of-hard-knocks proprietor of a boating school and boat chartering operation and for the past 30 years I've been helping families learn about boats and how to have fun on a cruise.

Now hold on. I'm not talking about a cruise on one of those 5,000-cabin, infection-factory ships. I'm talking about calm-water boating on a cabin cruiser that you charter. Just you and your family. If you're not ready to take over the helm, no worries, mon, because the captain will take care of that, even teach you and yours a few things, and then make himself scarce when it's family time.

For safety’s sake there are some serious do's and don’ts on a cruising yacht and the captain insists they be followed. You might say the atmosphere is lighthearted, but disciplined. When you think about it, you could say the rules for a successful cruise are probably the same as the rules for the successful life.

Kids who grow up boating learn that successful boating requires a degree of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility and from my observation post I'd say that most become responsible, successful adults. If the teenager mentioned above had spent her summers on a boating vacation with the whole family instead of in Paris on her own perhaps those experiences might have fostered responsible rather than destructive behavior.

Boating parents are secure in this knowledge. If you're landlubber parents, let me suggest a family vacation that guarantees quality family time. It’s an expedition, an adventure, summer camp, summer school and even manners school all rolled into one.

Instead of crossing an expanse of ocean to dock at foreign shopping districts, imagine your family cruising the sheltered Gulf Intracoastal Waterway past Southwest Florida’s gulf barrier islands and wild mangrove sanctuaries where herons, egrets, pelicans and ospreys roost.

Leave the Ipods and Ipads at home. Bring cell phones, if you must, but turn them off. This is not your vacation. This is the family vacation. WARNING. If your vessel has a TV set, fine, but don't expect a great signal. Many chartering families ask that we remove the TV set from the boat.

This is an expedition into the wild, although civilization is usually less than a few hundred yards away from your boat at any point in time. You’ll see dolphins surf your wake, watch the magnificent frigatebird soaring overhead, and catch a glimpse of a giant ray in the clear water below. He'll be half-buried in the sand, thinking you don’t see him.

Drop the dinghy in the water one morning and paddle to a Gulf beach laced with fine, pink-white sand. Let the little children cover you up with it. Walk the beach and collect some of the prettiest seashells you'll ever want to see. This is, after all, the shelling capital of the world.

After dark call a "family meeting' on the fly-bridge to look at stars. On a clear night, without the glare of city lights, you can see 5,000 stars. Now, look at one star, and imagine that you could be looking not at a star but the light of a star that no longer exists at the light of a star that no longer exists. You’re seeing light that took a million years to reach you. Did somebody just say "Tempus fugit?"

This is the new family vacation. It's the same as the old family vacation. Give credit where credit is due.


By Barb Hansen
February 2011

Fellow Americans. Tonight, the State of the Union is, in a word, stressed.

Too many don't have jobs. Car fuel and groceries cost more. And you will die soon because of man-made global warming.

What happened to the American Dream?

What happened was everybody went online 24/7 and forgot what it was like to sit down together with the family at dinner. Instead they grabbed a take-out pizza and on the way home they texted friends just to say they were on the way home and that they were eating pizza. That's the new normal for dinner, you know.

What happened? Twitter happened. Texting happened. Instead of spending quality time with their family Americans tweeted 100 acquaintances in 140 characters or less.

Tonight, countrymen, I propose that we invest in a national program to rescue the American Dream.

I call it, Race to the Boat.

Tonight we are privileged to have with us in this chamber men and women who represent millions of boaters from all 50 states. Some sail. Some cruise. Some fish. Young ones ride a big inflatable behind a boat driven by their dad. Some paddle kayaks into remote backcountry areas where few have gone before. Some venture out and sail vast stretches of the wild blue yonder. Just for the fun of it.

Please stand, all, and accept the admiration of the American people who recognize, as do your elected representatives, that you live by the creed that made America great. You depend on yourselves. When you need support you look to your family, your neighbors, your close friends. Not the government.

We now understand that boaters and their lifestyle – work hard, then relax – show us the way to reclaim the American Dream.

Tonight I am proposing that all Americans follow your example and go boating at least seven days every year. Because, as you have said, when you're on the water everything feels right.

Every state in this union has lakes, rivers and bays or boating. I recommend a one-week cruise in the beautiful barrier island paradise of Southwest Florida where the subtropical weather is comfortable all year long.

If you don't have a boat of your own remember you can rent or charter. Here's my recommended itinerary for seven days in paradise.

On day one cruise to beautiful Sanibel Island, shelling capital of the world.

Day two. Put in at Cabbage Key where you can order the famous Cheeseburger in Paradise and tack a dollar bill on the wall with your name on it. Hey, it goes to charity.

Day three. Watch dolphins surf your bow wave. Watch roseate spoonbills, herons, storks, hawks, kingfishers and ospreys.

Day four. Anchor up behind Cayo Costa Island and take a swim in the Gulf of Mexico. Return to the boat. Take a nap. Catch a fish and grill it fresh for supper.

Day five. History buffs will want to see where some of America's infamous pirates held sway 200 years ago. Gasparilla Island was named for Jose Gaspar. His band of buccaneers stationed themselves so they could quickly approach ships and relieve them of their valuables.

Day six. Useppa Island is a must-see. Accessible only by boat, it takes its name from Jose Gaspar's significant other, Joseffa. This island recently opened The Collier Inn, an elegant b-n-b with 11 suites.

Day six. Cruise again. Stand on the bow and let the subtropical breezes blow remnants of stress away. See if you can spot the manatees.

Day seven. Welcome back home. Landlubber again, give yourself permission to return calls to your friends, check your Facebook postings and Tweet away. They'll want to know what happened to you. Tell them you've been recapturing the American Dream.


By Barb Hansen
January 2011

At least 76 died in Florida boating accidents in 2010. The count does not include two men who slammed their airboat into a tree on dry land.

This was Florida’s Fish and Wildlife’s Dec. 15 total. We can assume that just before midnight on New Year's Eve a few more fell off wobbly boats and drowned even as they held firmly to a cup of good cheer. It will be determined that about 85 percent of these "victims" were not wearing life jackets.

I think Florida's stats, times ten, are a reasonable proxy for U.S. totals. The United States Coast Guard reported 736 boating deaths in 2009.

Boating fatality reports are usually accompanied by a recommendation -- I vigorously concur -- that boaters take a boating safety course.

I would add only that fools and/or drunks need not apply. I just read about one bass boater racing to be first to his honey hole. Speeding 75 mph in a narrow creek he failed to navigate a sharp bend and accompanied the boat on a high-speed cross-country expedition.

Boating how-to instruction is also about boating safety. At Florida Sailing & Cruising School almost everything taught during our three-day liveaboard course, Basic Powerboat Handling (P-101), concerns boating safety. It includes instruction about how everything on the boat works and what to do if it doesn't.

Lessons: Bring spares. Become a do-it-yourselfer. Know how to get rescued and how to keep everybody alive while you wait.

You can also go to "school" by reviewing previous boating accidents to determine what should have been done differently.

The case of the Gouge family rescue – four men and three male children – is one such accident. In September, while fishing 21 miles offshore of Charleston, S.C., their 38-foot boat started taking on water in the engine compartment.

Could the leak have been prevented? Could it have been fixed or minimized after it started? What about a manual bilge pump or a bucket brigade?

The flooding got worse. They called for help on a marine radio but the signal heard by the Coast Guard was garbled. The boat was 21.5 miles from shore but the Coast Guard thought it was 1.5 miles from shore. Were there no backup radios? Could the call for help have gone out sooner?

As the water poured in one person onboard collected cell phones and flares and stowed them in a forward compartment. But later a wave rushed aboard and swept all of it into the water. Where would you have put them?

The Coast Guard restarted the search at 10 p.m. after one of the wives phoned from home. Sharp crew eyes aboard one of the CG copters noticed a break in the moon’s reflection on the water. Bingo. They were able to save all seven. They were wearing life preservers. But why were they not in a lifeboat?

Some people say stop it already with this fear stuff. They say that nobody will ever buy or charter a boat if all they hear about is what can go wrong.

I say confront these issues before pushing off. You'll have a lot more fun knowing you are prepared.


By Barb Hansen
December 2010

Airport body scans and pat downs have spiked the debate about how far we should let government intrude on our personal and private spaces.

Are these procedures really necessary? I don't know. If they stop a terrorist then I suppose we can say that the procedures did what they were supposed to do.

But we don't have to like them. In fact, the airport hullabaloo and other worrisome developments in the world have given me that "Stop the world I want to get off" feeling. And when I get that feeling, I know just what to do. Get on the boat.

Plop, plop. Oh what a relief it is.

Chartering boats is my business but after all these years (26 going on more) of being in the biz it still feels great to be on a boat, even when I'm not going anywhere. Fortunately, Vic and I share a passion for cruising. So, start the engine. Untie the lines. Goodbye world, for now.

In an imperfect world with an increasing lack of personal freedoms, water draws an exemption. Water is the wild blue yonder, the great escape, the last frontier.

Of course, boating has rules and regulations, too. But it doesn't feel that way. This is a world where you rarely see a law enforcement officer yet everybody pretty much obeys the laws anyway. On the water the feeling is that we are in charge, not Janet Napolitano.

At the airport if the attendant says "Have a nice flight" it sounds too automatic. When our friends in the next slip say "Have a nice cruise" we know they mean it. We don't have to file a float plan with the government but generally we do leave one with marina friends … just in case.

I know, I know. We can't completely escape this crazy world on a boat but boaters know that it comes pretty close. Just sitting on the boat rocking gently in its slip or at anchor is like being in a different world. Scenery is different. Sounds are different. The marine radio doesn't broadcast the news of the day.

I also get a thrill helping charterers plan their boating vacations on the water and another thrill hearing their excited stories when they return.

The new airport screening procedures are sure to generate transportation winners and losers. Airlines will be losers, I suspect. Auto travel will be a winner.

In my world boating is always a winner. You don't have to buy a boat to be a boater, you know. Increasingly families are passing up boat ownership in favor of boat chartering.

Chartering yachts is what we do. Airline travelers who have had it with security procedures will be glad to know we don't have any metal detectors or full body scanners and nobody will pat you down. We don't charge extra for luggage, either.

Welcome aboard.


By Barb Hansen
November 2010

The other day I watched some warblers twit about the shrubbery and I was reminded of an enduring scientific certainty: We are animals. I mean that in a nice way, of course.

It’s easy to forget this while sipping merlot and emailing friends, but it’s true. Ask anybody. We belong to the kingdom of animalia, the order of primates, the genus of homo, the species of sapiens, the advanced species of wine lovers and the super-duper family of sailors. (The last two are just theories at this point. Mine, actually.)

I also believe that like warblers we humans are hard-wired to do certain things like, for example, migrate to Florida during the winter months. However, because we have advanced brains and central heat, many in the kingdom of animalia ignore those signals. And that is such a shame, because those who live in cold climates could be having so much fun outside in the sunshine and stay warm, too. Not listening to those health signals, I suspect, is one of the primary causes of the growing pandemic that the researchers call Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Warblers are hard-wired to fly to Southwest Florida in September and depart for Central America in November. We’ll miss them, of course, but it’s okay because they are listening to their inner selves and doing what they are supposed to do. Anyway, more snowbirds are on the way. Flocks of white pelicans from Canada will soon be floating in sheltered coves, diving on thick schools of minnows and taking graceful winged exercise together. Belted kingfishers will whistle and zoom through mangrove passages. Here and there a loon from the land of frozen lakes (Midwest and Canada) will pop to the surface with a fish wiggling in its beak. Our resident bald eagles and hawks always invite their cousins to visit from up north and they all come.

None of these snowbirds to the best of modern scientific knowledge suffers from SAD. Nor is there a documented case of SAD among our permanent populations of herons, ibises, egrets, willets and bitterns. All of these happy creatures are on display in the winter months to watchful sailors. Vic and I especially like to cruise the skinny backbay waters of Pine Island Sound because we can observe so many birds doing what their instincts tell them to do.

As scientific observers of the barrier islands of biodiversity at certain times of the year we hypothesize that we are also obeying silent neural instructions up to and including the part when we put the cork back into the tall, brown bottle with the dark red fluid. When summer returns to Florida each year Vic and I, still obeying said neural system signals, break open the chardonnay and migrate to cooler climes to visit relatives in New York City, Vermont, Indiana and other points north.

As a young history student in Indiana I remember learning about and feeling so sorry for the native Americans of the upper Midwest who had to try to stay warm through those brutal winters wearing only those meager garments. But I later learned they didn’t stay there in the winter. They went south, following the sun, eating fresh fish and going where the weather suited their clothes. They were the original Florida snowbirds of the homo sapiens persuasion.

Vic and I and the visitor’s bureau warmly invite you and yours to do what warblers, ruby throated hummingbirds and all birds of a certain feather do enthusiastically when the temperature drops -- vacation in Florida.

People, listen to your inner selves. The heating bills that arrive at your home this fall and winter will remind you of that.


By Barb Hansen
October 2010

The full moon in late September this year was as big and as beautiful as it can be and it was accompanied by the most delicious breeze from the north, a harbinger of well-deserved, cooler weather for those of us who live in Southwest Florida.

Now for at least nine months more the climate will be exceptionally good, proving again the area deserves its "paradise" title.

This is the time of the year when I have to remind myself not to phone friends up north and brag about our weather, especially not when they're getting cold fronts and, with autumn's shorter days, must turn on their car lights at 4:30 p.m.

People say Florida doesn't have seasons. That's incorrect.

The temperature differential may not be as dramatic in Fort Myers as it is in Fort Wayne, but signs of seasonal change are just as unmistakable if you are tuned in to the sights and sounds of the subtropics.

Winter is wonderful, of course. I think of it as the season of roseate spoonbills, herons, egrets and wood storks feeding on mud flat at low tide. Natives get chilly sometimes but those who know how cold it gets in other climes are comfortable and so grateful they are not shoveling snow. Personally, I like a wind chill of 75 degrees and break out the winter jacket when the temperature drops into the 60’s.

By late March, the cold fronts seem to lose their punch and the flora and fauna of spring emerge. April and May are a special time of the year when tired, tiny tanagers and warblers hitch rides and a rest on your boat railing before flitting off in search of a berry tree on Sanibel Island. Our eyes and noses delight in the flowering trees -- fragrant yellow frangipani, fire-red poinciana, lavender-blue jacaranda.

Summer arrives with the first thunderstorm and the “full moon in June” as the saying goes. Shy cereus cactus flowers make their one-night-only appearances in June. Summer mornings are clear and clouds build throughout the day. On the water, the tarpon are rolling and a fishing frenzy ensues in the waters of Southwest Florida.

Summer is relaxing on the flybridge, in the shade of a Bimini, with a cool drink in hand, watching a pod of dolphins circle in on their fresh fish entrée. This is the "low" season. Okay. Whatever.

I love it here in Southwest Florida, as you can tell. Still, I’ve come to the point of view that no one place is perfect unless you make it so. I like to read and when I’m wrapped up in a great novel I don't care where I am so long as the chair is comfortable. In fact, if it were snowing outside and I was close to a crackling fire, that would be just dandy.

But dyed in the wool boaters logically migrate toward Florida (and they will leave their woolens behind). Snow skiers probably want to be close to the Rockies, High Sierras, or the Cascades. Surfers prefer the Pacific. We have traveled to all of those places and beyond, but as Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.”

So maybe no one place is perfect but, like those snowbirds on the yacht pulpit, we can fly to some other place and suit our changing weather whims.

As a Floridian who spent her first 20 years in the Midwest, I can tell you that I feel the change of seasons in the Sunshine State just as much as I did back in Indiana. Whatever the season, Florida suits me just fine.