MY WORK, MY LIFE: Since the age of 5, water has been his world

I grew up in Mystic, Conn., sailing, surfing and swimming, with an occasional detour into powerboats.
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I grew up in Mystic, Conn., sailing, surfing and swimming, with an occasional detour into powerboats.

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Mystic is famous for two things — the Mystic Seaport museum and the movie “Mystic Pizza,” Julia Roberts’ first feature film. The direction was pretty true to representing this eclectic burg, one of the oldest cities in the United States.

My family was the “townies,” and my sister actually worked at Mystic Pizza, which did have amazing pizza. Living in Mystic, Sperry boat shoes, Izod polos and Levis jeans were simply practical wear, not a fashion statement.

Although my father served with distinction in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War and was awarded the opportunity to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, he never really took to water and could barely swim.

I owe my mother for my water gene. I learned to swim when I was 5 by falling through the ice on our pond in the early winter. I was so excited that I didn’t drown, I proclaimed, “Guess what, mom, I can swim!”

She was so horrified that she sent me to the Mystic Community Center to learn how to really swim. I learned pretty well, and I received a swimming scholarship to Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

For my ninth birthday, my mother’s present to me was an old wooden Sailfish by Alcort — basically an AMF Sunfish without the cockpit. I would sail it on the pond behind our house, spending endless hours going back and forth or just lying on it, fishing for bluegills.

The simple lateen rig made it easy to learn the principles of tacking, reaching and running. As I got older we would put it on Long Island Sound and sail between Noank, Conn., and Block Island, three miles offshore.

At 12 it was a surfboard, and at 13 a wetsuit, and so on. Until I was 16 my mother would dutifully drive me to the beaches of Rhode Island, where rock reefs created some terrific breaks at places such as Montauk Point, Newport and Narragansett Bay. The day I turned 16 I bought a 1964 Ford Falcon and was at the beach or on a boat every chance I could get, summer, fall, winter and spring. Every winter we would visit my grandparents in Boca Raton, Fla., and every summer we would take a vacation to Virginia Beach to watch the East Coast Surfing Championships.

I finished college in 1976, amid the OPEC oil crisis. There were few jobs to be had. I applied for an engineering position at General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Division. Think submarines by the sea. The human resources professional that I interviewed with told me no engineering jobs were available.

However, they were looking for welders. I told her I was willing to learn and I did. Within a year I was promoted to systems analyst and was later recruited to Washington, D.C., by Advanced Marine Enterprises to conduct submarine engineering studies.

In 1979 I married Polly Crawford Allingham, a third-grade teacher and my hometown sweetheart. Shortly after, I was recruited by Propulsion Dynamics in Annapolis, Md., where my parents kept their 37-foot Seidelmann sailboat, which I summarily made my own, spending weekends on Chesapeake Bay.

During my stint at Propulsion Dynamics I crossed the North Atlantic on a Knox-class frigate in January. Needless to say, the seas were dramatic. It was awesome to be out to sea. I loved it.

I was recruited by Severe Environment Systems in Chatsworth, Calif., to be southeast sales manager. Three years later I was recruited by Rugged Digital for the same position. It was around this time I discovered the Apple Macintosh computer, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator and the early page layout software PageMaker.

I lost my mind and started a boutique advertising agency, Success by Design, with my highly creative brother. Over 10 years we built a business that had many of the top hospitality clients in Orlando, Fla., and one boat manufacturer, Regal Marine.

We competed for their business when Wanda Kenton Smith, the director of marketing at Regal, sent out a request for proposal to the top area agencies. “Success,” as our agency became known locally, won. I was literally blessed to have met and worked with the Kuck family, including founder Paul Kuck, an extremely remarkable man, as well as getting to work with Kenton Smith, my mentor.

In October 1999, my life made a left turn when my wife of 20 years succumbed to breast cancer after a five-year battle. That’s when I sold Success by Design and took a year-long sailing sabbatical on my Fuji cutter-rigged ketch, which I had moved onto, not wanting to spend time in the Orlando home Polly and I had shared.

I did not go anywhere. I just left the docks of Cape Marina in Cocoa Beach, Fla., and sailed, usually alone, until dark and then returned to my slip.

Being lucky enough to fall in love and have a happy marriage for 20 years is pretty rare, and I was certain I would become that old guy on the docks. Everyone would wonder who that sad figure was. I had planned to be that guy. Then, as fate would have it, another beautiful girl stepped into my life. Louise became my reason to reason and to come back to life. Her two boys, Miller, 6, and Brandt, 4, and parents embraced our relationship.

I spent three years reviving Success by Design. Then I learned Kenton Smith was looking for a creative director for her company, Kenton Smith Advertising and Public Relations, which focused on recreational marine clients, including Regal Marine, Hunter Sailboats, Luhrs, Mainship, Regulator Marine and many others.

After six years with Kenton Smith I thought I would like to focus on a single business and began a journey with Regal Marine as marketing manager. It was a fantastic learning experience, as the world changed from traditional marketing to online marketing.

Between Duane Kuck’s solid, steadfast leadership through the recent recession and his son Paul Kuck’s embrace of the new online marketing channels, I received an advanced education of best practices in the recreational marine marketplace.

After leaving Regal Marine I was fortunate to discover my dream job — marketing communications content manager at MarineMax, the world’s largest and most trusted recreational marine retailer. I get to do what I really love, writing.

Between press releases, MarineMax Lifestyles Magazine, MarineMax eNewsletters, blogging and MarineMax marketing campaigns, I find my days filled with opportunities to learn, grow and stretch, all while enjoying my love for writing about great boats and the boating lifestyle.

Today I own two boats — an ancient 40-foot Sea Ray aft-cabin motoryacht, which keeps me in touch with the latest maintenance technologies, and a 21-foot Hydra-Sports center console. My boys are now in college. They grew up spending weekends living on sailboats and powerboats.

I acquired a USCG master captain’s license while working with Regal. I have operated hundreds of different sailboats, sport boats, fish boats, cruisers and yachts and directed dozens of photo shoots with industry icons such as Forest Johnson and Billy Black.

I’ve captained my father-in-law’s yachts over 10 years. I still swim, but not competitively, surf occasionally with my oldest son and love the fact that I work in an industry that has the common goal of making people’s lives special through connecting with family and friends on the water.

Mark Kellum is the marketing communications content manager at MarineMax.

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