Newly minted Gen-X powerboaters talk about their decision-making process in becoming boat owners.

The couple decided that this 23-footer offered them the right combination of fishing and family time onboard.
The couple decided that this 23-footer offered them the right combination of fishing and family time onboard.

My daughter Katie Ligibel Grey grew up washing worms on the deck of my rusted-out pontoon boat in the middle of Kansas. Her husband, Eric Grey, spent many an hour fishing off the banks of Loch Raven Reservoir or put-putting around with his dad in a beat up old skiff in Baltimore County. Little wonder that when the two moved to Annapolis nine years ago the prospect of some sort of watercraft was in their future.

“It was always a question of when… not if,” says Eric. 

Katie’s take on it is a little different:     “New house. New car. Two kids under the age of seven. Preschool bills to pay. Tennis. Swimming. Larosse. Soccer. Daisies. Who has the time for another hobby? But Eric’s arguments were convincing.”

True to his roots as a man who makes his living on K Street in Washington, DC, by utilizing his powers of persuasion, Eric marshalled just the right amount of cajoling and hard facts to win his wife over.

 “I convinced Katie we could spend a lot of quality family time on the water. The kids are at an age (4 and 7) that they can have fun on the right kind of boat. This isn’t all about me and my buddies getting up at four in the morning and going fishing. It’s all about being together and building memories.” (Did I say Eric had a touch of blarney in his personality?)

Happy new boat owners aboard their 234 Sea Hunt Ultra.
Happy new boat owners aboard their 234 Sea Hunt Ultra.

The trick was to find a family-friendly boat that satisfied Eric’s desire for a comfortable fishing craft and Katie’s prerequisite for ample seating, safety, and shade. The hunt started at last year’s U.S. Powerboat Show in Annapolis. The couple parked their kids with their all-too-willing grandparents and spent a full day exploring every option on display at the show. With more than two dozen center-console boats on site, the task was a daunting one.

Pretty soon, Eric zeroed in on the Sea Hunt line. He considered Scouts, Robalos, Edgewaters, Prolines, and Grady Whites. Eric’s quest took him to the Baltimore Boat Show last winter as well as the Miami Boat Show in the spring.

“I kept coming back to the 23-foot Sea Hunt as the ideal combination of fishing and family.”

Sea Hunt dealer AJ Bowden of Kent Island’s Wye River Marine tells it like this: “I met Eric at the show. Then, he and his family came over to Kent Island for another look-see. They brought the kids. I knew I had a sale when we hoisted those two girls up onto the seats and let them jump on the cushions.”

Eric isn’t the only fisherman in this story. AJ snagged the young couple “hook line and sinker.” Now he just had to reel them in. The two would-be boaters weighed the pros and cons of new versus used.

“If this had been a couple of years ago, I probably would have gone the used route,” says Eric. “Back then, there were a lot of good boats around, and you could save quite a bit. Now, that inventory is gone. A two-year-old 23-foot Sea Hunt is selling for 80 to 85 percent of new. And when AJ threw in an additional two-year engine warranty, that sealed the deal.”

Emmy and Caroline enjoy their new boat.
Emmy and Caroline enjoy their new boat.

“It’s worry-free boating,” chimed in Katie, the couple’s keeper of the purse strings. “I felt better about spending the money on something with a long warranty particularly since we didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into.”

The 234 Sea Hunt Ultra model, complete with a full Navionics package and a 200-hp Yamaha motor, cost around $65,000.

“This is a great starter boat,” says Bowden. “The mistake most new boaters make is they buy a boat that’s too small. I see them coming back in a couple of years wanting to trade up. This 234 will be all the boat Eric and Katie will need for years to come.”

The couple picked up the boat just before Memorial Day. After a brief orientation, they set out across the Bay on a flat day to bring her “home” to the South River’s Oak Grove Marina.

“I’d scoped out the approach to the high and dry pickup earlier in the day,” says Eric. “But I wasn’t prepared to navigate the close quarters with other boats parked all around, especially on my first day as a boater.”

Katie admits it was a little nerve wracking. “No problem going across the Bay. It was those last 20 feet that were a little hairy.”

Knowing that small boat handling was a skill best honed over time and with proper instruction, the two had made arrangements with Annapolis Powerboat School’s John Cosby to take a full-day’s lesson in boat handling on their own boat. The six-hour course cost $550.

“It was money and time well spent,” says Eric.

John gives Eric boat handling tips.
John Cosby of Annapolis Powerboat School gives Eric boat handling tips.

Cosby, who is the managing director of the school, is one of three powerboat instructors at Annapolis Powerboat School (a division of Annapolis Sailing School).

“We were one of the first schools to teach sailing. In fact, we’re older than the American Sailing Association. But we also saw a need for powerboat training. I’m a sailor to the bone, but I love teaching powerboating because some of the same boat-handling principles and rules of the road apply.”

John met the couple at Oak Grove a week after their initial trip across the Bay. The first thing he taught them was how to use bow lines and reverse thrust to handle the boat in close quarters. Then, he demonstrated how much easier it would be to back out of the alley into the river than to turn the boat around in the narrow turnaround. With a wink, he told Katie to “back her out.” You should have seen the look on Eric’s face. Here was his wife backing his new $65,000 boat up in the same narrow space that caused him so much consternation just a few short days previously.

She handled the challenge like a veteran.

“The kinds of things I teach to new boaters are tried and true approaches that work every time,” says the affable Cosby. “You just have to get used to doing them. It sounds trite, but practice makes perfect.”

Case in point: John had Eric and Katie make no fewer than 10 approaches to the dock under his watchful eye.

“The biggest mistake new boaters make is they let their ego get in the way. You are going to screw up. That’s how you learn.”

John Cosby of Annapolis Powerboat School helps Katie with navigation.
Cosby helps Katie with navigation.

The day’s instruction included some chalk-talk at Annapolis Sailing School’s headquarters just off Back Creek where John went over the rudiments of chart reading, buoy nomenclature, and nautical knots with a dose of celestial navigation thrown in for good measure.

Then it was off for a trip down and mistake-free turnaround in a crowded  Ego Alley; all culminated by a slick approach to Harris Creek’s Cantler’s Seafood Restaurant with a little anchoring practice immediately after lunch.

“I was a little skeptical about spending an entire day learning basic seamanship,” says Eric. “But John made a believer out of me.”

Eric and Katie’s new Sea Hunt is now part of the family. Everyone is chiming in with name suggestions. Current front runner is: GreyT Catch. 

Whatever she is called, I doubt seriously if either of Eric and Katie’s girls will be washing worms on her deck. So much for Kate’s nautical heritage.

By Craig Ligibel