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George H.W. Bush: An American Yachtsman

I try to avoid politics in this column, and I’m not about to change that now. But indulge me a moment to reflect on a president and his love for the water.

Those of you who watched the funeral service for President George H.W. Bush at National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., in December witnessed the solemn majesty with which the military lays to rest a veteran and its commander in chief. You may have choked up, as I always do, hearing the Armed Forces Chorus and the U.S. Marine Orchestra perform the stirring “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” also known as the Navy Hymn. You saw an audience composed of people from every facet of the political spectrum lay to rest a president—always a somber ritual.

But you also heard some lighthearted stories about Bush, among them, at least two that referenced his love of boating and fishing. Bush took sly pleasure in leaving the Secret Service and U.S. Coast Guard chase boats in his wake as he sped away in one of the high-performance muscle boats and steroidal center consoles he owned over the years.

You might think a guy who was fished out of the Pacific by a submarine after his Avenger bomber was shot down in 1944 would have some issues with the sea, but not Bush. During his time as president and in the years that followed, the otherwise genteel Bush owned a number of boats better suited for a more macho mind-set.

The first boat I remember seeing him photographed on as president was a 28-foot Cigarette, from which he fished for the bluefish and striped bass that inhabit the waters off his family compound in Maine. The idea of anyone fishing from such a boat is a bit odd, but I guess he wasn’t into wasting time getting the lines in.

From there, he moved to a series of Fountain center consoles. His last, Fidelity V, was 38 feet long and had a trio of 300-horsepower outboards hanging off the transom. He looked a bit fishier on that boat, but it still was a fire-breather, and by all accounts, he still loved to go fast.

Other presidents have been yachting enthusiasts; in fact, most in the past century have taken to the water to escape the rigors of the office. Most, including Bush, also have spent time chasing the little white ball. Maybe I’m biased, but I’ll always see him as a boat guy and a fisherman first, and a golfer second.

No matter your politics in this severely partisan era, I propose that there is common ground to be found—on boats and the sea. When we’re out there on the waves, we’re not defined by red or blue. We’re defined by the colors of the ensigns on our transoms. On the water, we’re all brothers and sisters.

The rest of us may not be able to give back on such a grand scale, but the efforts of owners such as these will shed benefit to us all. They may not need our money, but they surely deserve our gratitude and support.