LIFE STYLES CHARTING THEIR OWN COURSE BY RICH MORRIS
THE OLD MAN AND THE FISHING BOAT
In honor of Father’s Day, a son pays homage to the man who
quietly instilled his love of the water
Rich, with his dad and
sister, setting out from
Ship Bottom, New Jersey
(circa 1975). INSET: Rich
in college sailing attire
from the 1970s.
As captain of my college sailing team, I was pretty full of myself when it came to sails and
stuff. I was sure that if we could hold our heading, we’d make Absecon Inlet around 6 p.m.
Then, we could motor to the dock while enjoying a perfect sunset. The doctor was steering,
and while we were chatting, he asked me if my whole family were sailors. I said no, my sister
sailed a little, but my father was a fisherman. He pressed on, curious to hear how I’d built my
world around a sport without a family history.
My father loved the sea and boats, I told him, but he’s always loved the thrill of the deep-sea hunt more. His 30-foot Ulrichsen, Wanderer, was well-known as a fishfinder. You could
hear the chatter on the radio when he hit the inlet, with people guessing where he was going,
boats following at a respectful distance. If I decided to sneak out on the bay and bottom-fish
some afternoon, I’d have to get on the radio and explain that Dad was not aboard, because an
THE DAY WAS PERFECT, 15 knots of wind, the end of a glorious weekend. The Morgan Out Island’s genoa was full and taut, the mainsail a nearly perfect airfoil. We were close-hauled about 10 miles southeast of Atlantic City, and I was driving the heavy boat hard and loving the ride. It was May 1975, and I had the perfect
summer job from college. I worked for a marina out of Brigantine, New Jersey,
and was crewing for an orthodontist and his young family, a long weekend cruise
to Cape May and back.
armada would form behind me.
The boats would disperse, leaving
me to look fruitlessly for fish. My
father was the fish hawk, not I.
When I was small, my dad
worked two jobs, teaching physical
education in the Philadelphia school
district, and moonlighting as a sporting goods salesman. Most times I wouldn’t
see him from Sunday night until Saturday
morning because of the hours he kept. When
I was 6, he brought home a new product,
a Styrofoam boat with a sail. It was 11 feet
long, and he’d paid 50 bucks for it, with
his discount. I was thrilled! No one knew
anything about sailing at our house, but Dad
had noticed that when I was on Wanderer, I
loved watching the sailboats more than the
After we rigged the small boat on the
grass, I sat in it for hours dreaming of what
it would feel like on the water. My family
nicknamed my penchant for doing this “corn
going,” a mix of “Hornblower,” sailing the
cape in my head, but actually being in a field
on a boat.
On Sundays, his day off, my dad would
throw the boat on top of the car and take me
to one of the little ponds around our home
in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Then he’d rig
the boat, put me in, and push me off like a
little toy. I’d sail across the pond, ground on
the other shore, and dad would stroll around,
turn the boat, and push me off again. I’d
do that for an hour or so, then he’d load us
back up and we’d go home. Eventually I fig-