Once A Captain

Published in the June 2011 Issue Published online: Jun 23, 2011 Feature Ted A. Thompson
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Hard to believe it has been almost a year since we sold our boat, The Phoenix. Our friends ask if we miss it. Apparently they miss it themselves, and who can blame them? If I'd had a good friend with a nice boat 10 or 12 years ago, I might not have bought one myself.

Sorry, that was a mean thing to say and not true at all, except maybe just a little. No wonder my friends get annoyed with me. The point is that almost anyone who loves boats would probably like to own one, at least in an idealized world where money is no object.

My short answer when asked if we miss The Phoenix is, "Of course we do," but there's more to it than that. The whole explanation goes beyond the obvious stock reply and takes much longer to tell, and I'm not going to go into it now. No, this month's column is about being a captain, not about driving a boat. It's about loving boats, not owning one.

Shortly after we became "former" boat owners, I was trying to decide if I should continue writing my After Thoughts column. With no boat, was I still qualified to write for a boating magazine? I asked readers for their opinions and in response, my inbox was flooded with an email, mostly encouraging. To put it simply, the bottom line of prevailing opinion was this: "Once a captain, always a captain."

Hm. Maybe someone should ask William Shatner about that-former captain of the Enterprise, now skipper of The Good Ship Priceline Dot Com. Mr. Shatner seems to be doing fine, but alas, Captain Kirk's fall from the lofty role of starship command was stellar, in my opinion.

In spite of the fact that response from "a reader" was overwhelmingly in favor of continuing the column, I had not yet made the decision. Brady, the editor of PDB, told me that my contributions would still be welcome for the foreseeable future. In his defense, he said this before I submitted Random Realities. No one could have foreseen that.

As Kirk himself put it in one Star Trek episode, "One of the advantages of being captain is being able to ask for advice without necessarily having to take it." He got that part right, although in my 10-year experience as captain of The Phoenix, I seldom had to ask for advice. Everyone always seemed happy to give it freely. I was constantly being advised on which secluded cove to claim for the weekend, which savory barbecue to prepare on the grill, which great music to plug into the stereo, or which liquor to run through the blender.

I might have been resentful about all this advising, opinionating and co-captaining except for the fact that our friends always brought money for fuel, meat for the grill, custom CDs for the stereo and exotic makings for the boat drinks.

So many wonderful friends. So many incredible memories. Yes, I miss The Phoenix. Does anyone really need to ask?

Now we're back where we started-should I continue to write the column, and if so, why? I had a decision to make, and although I could ask for advice, I did not necessarily have to take it. It's great to be captain.

While I was considering, I recalled the first issue from over five years ago when I introduced myself and this monthly column. I explained it would be called After Thoughts for two reasons. First, because it would always be featured in the back of the magazine on the last page.

But more pointedly-and I hope more poignantly-I suggested that it is only in looking backwards that we truly recognize the value of our experiences. It is in retrospect that we fully appreciate our achievements, fully understand our failures, fully celebrate our victories, and fully grieve our losses. It is in reflection that we learn our lessons most effectively, laugh at our foibles most honestly, and adjust our perspectives most appropriately. It is in past experiences that future memories take life.

This column is called After Thoughts because, as I wrote more than five years ago, "In the wake of our existence are the stories of our lives."

We owned our beloved boat for 10 years. We spent countless days and nights aboard, in and out of the dock. We built on treasured, life-long friendships, and developed many new ones. We ate like privileged royalty. We drank like crusty sailors. We made merry with laughter, spirit and joy. And we danced, danced, danced to the music and the rhythm of the lake.

Yes, of course the wake of The Phoenix still trails my life. So I made the decision. For the time being I'll heed the words I wrote myself when this column began, because I still have the memories. When memory fades, I hope I still have some imagination. And if all else fails, maybe I'll just make stuff up.

For better or worse, I'm still here and The Phoenix still lives.

Unless Priceline calls me to be their new spokesman, of course. But that probably goes without saying.

Kirk out,
Ted A. Thompson

Ted A. Thompson is a freelance writer living in North Arkansas. He can be contacted at tedthompson@windstream.net.

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