Guest Column

Launching a Dream

The bank said yes. I thought they were crazy. On that rainy day last April, we had never been so broke. My husband, Rob, and I are in our early 30s, and we both hold graduate degrees and the school loans that linger thereafter. We juggle multiple sources of income that collectively keep us and our young sons—one infant and one toddler—afloat.

Yet three months earlier, when my father-in-law had offered to sell us his 42-foot fishing boat, neither my husband nor I had hesitated. At half its appraised value, we knew the price was a steal, and we knew we could never let the boat leave the family. What we didn't know was how we would be able to afford it, and whether the bank would approve a loan.

My father-in-law, Bob Yeomans, built the boat in 1980 at great financial risk, on the belief he could earn a living by fishing commercially and, as a licensed captain, taking people out deep-sea fishing. Rob, who at age 8 christened the Erica Lee, has been working aboard her ever since. I, meanwhile, started working at age 12 on the Newburyport, Mass., whale-watching boat, and since the Erica Lee docked nearby, it was only a matter of time before our young romance blossomed. Through high school, college and marriage, I joined him on the boat as time allowed. By then Rob had fallen under her spell. It's no secret that seafarers develop a fondness for their boats. In the end, surviving at sea depends upon the boat that takes you there and home again, and the Erica Lee had proven herself a damn fine boat. Before long, I could not help but sing her praises, too.

On the rainy morning that the bank officer called to invite us in to sign for the loan, another bank employee also called to tell me I had unwittingly bounced not one but two checks and would need to come in right away. As I sat on the front steps and watched my son play in a puddle, I considered the threshold at which we now stood and the financial leap of faith we were about to take. Doubts persisted—were we doing the right thing? We had crunched numbers for weeks, factoring in the ups and downs of running a charter boat business subject to the whims of weather and the market. It became clear that she not only could take care of herself financially, she could even clear a profit. For all our uncertainty, it was a move we couldn't afford not to make.

"Well," I said to break the silence in the car on the way home from the bank later that afternoon, "We just bought our boys a childhood."

We both dream of raising our boys to be fourth-generation fishermen. We hope they will want to spend their summers at sea with us, soaking in the life and lore of the coastal waters off New England—navigating, fishing, whale watching and hauling lobster traps. While they'll think they are just having fun, we will be planting seeds for a strong work ethic, a respect for the diverse clientele—young and old—who step aboard, and a love for the sea and all that a life upon her entails. That's our vision for the years ahead.

Today, however, the boat is no longer my husband's mistress but our third child, and everything we have—including the roof over our heads—is tied to her. Now I understand first-hand what hundreds of fishing families along the New England coast and across the country mean when they say that if they lose their boat, and their ability to make a living at sea, they will lose everything.

So we have spent the year working more hours than I thought was humanly possible, and it wasn't until the Fourth of July weekend that we could take two consecutive days off. A few days later, we took our older son, Jack, out to the Isles of Shoals. For two hours, he occupied himself wading through seaweed and searching for shells in the cool, calm waters of Haley's Cove, as I had first done when I was about the same age.

On the way home, as Rob sped us south along the coast, Jack fell asleep in my arms. I realized that in the final analysis, buying into a small family business, parenting and even life itself are all giant leaps of faith. And there are moments along the way that shout, "Yes! You are doing the right thing. Press on."

And this summer afternoon was one of them.

Kate Morse Yeomans '95 earned her Coast Guard 100-ton captain's license over spring break while a UNH student. She is the author of Dead Men Tapping: The End of the Heather Lynne II (McGraw-Hill, 2004), and lives on the North Shore of Massachusetts.

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