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‘The one thing I was good at was driving a boat’

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The image of the young kid driving the well-worn little tub named Whisper was just what I was looking for.

I’d been browsing through a stack of old Soundings “newspapers” last week, looking for covers to use as part of a layout celebrating our 50th anniversary, which is in another month. This cover photo from March 1974 struck me as particularly evocative of the “old days.”

To my eye, it captured the youth and innocence and spirit of boating in another era. It was all forward motion. And it also pointed to one of the important challenges we’re wrestling with today.

As an industry, we know how important it is to get more young kids out on the water. They’re our future. Looking at the photo, I wondered, Was it somehow easier back then? Surely simpler. Or maybe I am simply viewing the past through a sentimental haze.

Regardless, I was willing to bet that if the barefoot young fellow with one knee on a seat cushion, one hand on the wheel and both eyes on the horizon was still on this planet, we’d find him at the helm of a considerably larger boat. Young as he was, he looked as if he was already well on his way to being every bit as “ruined” as the rest of us, destined for a life in boats.

The dinghy might have seen better days, but I suspect it was a magic carpet for the young skipper. The boy and his boat spoke of pirate dreams, harbor adventures, independence, freedom, fun — and also to a good grounding in the basics of boating, including bailing out the plywood flier after it rained. The boat had an anchor, a paddle and a hand pump, and I bet the boy not only knew how to start the little outboard but also how to keep the balky 4-hp Johnson running.

OK, so he’s not wearing a life jacket, but keep the time frame in mind: It’s 1974. How many of us were even wearing seat belts back then?

I thought it would be interesting to see how this young man turned out. We knew his name from the cover caption. Could we find him?

Managing editor Rich Armstrong and I started sleuthing and came up with several phone numbers. I dialed some of them in Florida and North Carolina and left voicemails.

My phone rang early yesterday afternoon.

“Hi, I’m Sam Paige,” said the man on the line. “I think you’re looking for me.”

We talked for about 15 minutes. Paige had indeed made a career on the water. He had gotten his 100-ton Coast Guard license and had been running boats out of Fort Lauderdale as a paid captain for almost 25 years, including a 90-foot Westport and a pair of 80-foot Lazzaras.

“I was a lousy student,” says Paige, who is 51. “The only thing I was good with is boats.”

Whisper was handed down to Paige by his uncle, Spider Andresen, the former publisher of Salt Water Sportsman magazine, who also used it as a boy. Andresen’s father, John, who was Paige’s grandfather, built it. Small world.

Paige grew up on the water in Marblehead, Mass. The blisters on his feet came from running on the docks at the Eastern Yacht Club. Steve Haesche took the cover photo just after Paige passed beneath the club’s pier.

Paige was about 12 in the photograph, and clearly at home on the water. He says that when he was 16 or 17 he was helping to operate the club’s 42-foot Down East committee boat. He also had a summer job on a private 48-foot Hatteras when he was in his teens. And at 18, he drove a launch in Salem, Mass.

“The one thing I was good at was driving a boat,” he recalls with a laugh.

As far as Paige knows, Whisper is still alive and kicking, being used by some young family member on a lake in his home state. “It’s still running,” he says.

After many years of operating private yachts, Paige relocated to North Carolina, where he is working as a paramedic until his two children, ages 14 and 17, move into the college phase. Then, he says, it’s back to boats and Florida, where he still has a condo in Key Largo.

“My first love,” he says, “will always be the ocean.”

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