Q&A: Captain Ken Kreisler
Captain Ken Kreisler is a veteran marine journalist and award-winning writer and has been part of the boating industry for over 25 years.
A connoisseur of B&W movies of the 1930's and 1940's, he is captivated by steam locomotives and a big fan—pun intended—of wind farms; can often be totally transfixed by anything that swims, crawls, jumps, leaps, glides, flies, stalks, and slithers; enjoys staring at the ocean, sunrises, sunsets, and surf fishing for fun, and doing what he can to promote sustainability.
An accomplished children’s book author, Ken is currently working on his first nautically themed novel centering on Nathaniel Hereschoff, Sir Thomas Lipton, and classic yacht racing.
How did you get into the yachting industry?
Upon graduation from college with both B.A. and M.F.A. degrees, with concentrations in writing, I was not ready to settle into a ‘job’ and decided to take a bit of time off.
Having worked my way through my university years with summer employment on boats, and armed with my captain’s credentials, I was soon situated skippering private fishing charters and delivering boats and yachts up and down the east coast of the U.S.
I became involved in several business ventures, and while mildly successful, those experiences told me loud and clear, this was definitely not what I was cut out for.
In the interim, I had published several books for children and managed to garner a writing award for one.
And then one day, while perusing the classified ads, I saw this advert: Leading U.S. boating magazine needs writer. Must have fishing background and extensive experience on boats. Captain’s license preferred. Go no further was the theme I presented during my initial interview. 25+ years later, here I am. One very happy marine journalist.
Is it how you expected it to be?
Yes, and so much more. It has opened up the world to me and provided a stimulating, exciting, ever-changing seascape on which to build my writing career on and move forward in life.
I’ve met and gotten to know the best of the best in the industry and continue to have the same enthusiasm for my assignments as the very first day I began this journey.
What do you love most about your job?
The special creative interaction that occurs between people when we meet.
Being with marine architects, engineers, designers, builders, world-travelled captains, heads of companies, yacht owners, company reps, craftspeople, technicians, crew, my fellow journalists, watery wanderers, thinkers, planners, dreamers; well, you name it and I find it interesting.
What is the single biggest issue affecting yachting at the moment?
I would say the economy both on individual country levels and on the world stage.
As we all know, and have seen in the past, when things go bad the boat is the first to go. It’s a luxury item we do not need but absolutely want.
With ever-changing and sometimes volatile markets, especially in the petroleum sectors, and the often-dangerous situations occurring around the globe, it merits a lot of attention.
What keeps you awake at night?
Other than the safety and welfare of family and dear friends, and hoping I got my latest journalistic efforts just right, not too much.
What would you change if you could?
In the industry? As with many of my colleagues and contacts in the business agree, the boat buyer, and especially at the entry level, needs to be totally educated and aware of what they are getting into when they purchase or are having a boat built.
It’s not just about the initial bottom line costs and goes way further than that. Whenever I have this discussion with someone, I tell him or her to think three to five years out and then let’s do the math…insurance, provisions, dockage, fuel, repairs, equipment, storage, maintenance, crew, and so on…and divide that amount by the number of times you think you are going to be out on the water.
That’s when reality sets in. I am not advocating any kind of subversion to boat sales, but I’ve seen many a 20-hour boat on the market for just that reason.
Then, of course, there are the environmental and sustainability issues. But that’s for another conversation.
What could you not do without?
My family, friends, and being hard-wired for creativity. And then there is ice cream.
If you weren’t working on boats, what would you be doing?
Wondering why I wasn’t working on boats.
What is your favorite yacht?
I’m old school when it comes to yachts and really enjoy the classic forms; Trumpy, Elco, Huckins, Consolidated, Hereschoff, some of the Wheeler designs, Burger, original Riva and Chris Craft, and boats and yachts of that ilk.
Of late, Burger launched the 151ft/46m Sycara IV and movie actor Johnny Depp had Vajoliroja, a 156ft/47.5m yacht built in Turkey. Both are retro designs and harkens back to another age of yacht design and building.
However, there was a 90-foot boat built in 1997 by Lyman Morse and designed by C. Raymond Hunt, and christened TUMBLEHOME that I could easily call home.
What’s your favorite port?
I suffer from terminal wanderlust and therefore, was compelled to visit most ports of the world.
From Down East, to Down Home, to Down Under; from the Near East to the Far East to almost all points of the compass.
I have so many great experiences that it is difficult to choose just one. But I have to say, putting into the port city of Marmaris in Turkey to spend some time there before setting out along the Turquoise Coast, is right up there. Exotic, exciting, stimulating, adventurous, the food, the music, the culture, and the people and the history, it was, and still is, an indelible memory of my many travel experiences.
What was your greatest experience on a boat?
Years back I had this idea to revisit the site of the D-Day Invasion that heralded the beginning of the end of WWII.
My plan involved not just going to the beaches of Normandy but to actually retrace the invasion fleet’s crossing from the staging area in Southampton, England. Add to that, and to complete the picture of doing something like this, I wanted to find a veteran of the landing to accompany me.
I posted my all expenses paid proposal on several social networking sites and got a call from the Tennessee-based Scanlon family, indicating that their dad was indeed a veteran of June 6, 1944 and would be available on the preferred dates of the visit, June 5 - 8.
In the end, former combat medic, and highly decorated war hero Tom Scanlon and his son Jerry, himself an army veteran as well, were on the plane with me for our trans-Atlantic flight to Heathrow Airport and then by car to Southampton, there to meet with a local historian for a tour of the city before boarding our vessel—a private yacht that had been involved in the 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk—for the crossing to Cherbourg.
It was a beautiful calm day as we passed the White Cliffs of Dover and Tom and I sat up on an outside deck as he explained what was going on back then.
At Cherbourg, and a day before Tom would take us back to the beaches, we were invited to stay at a chateau that had been taken over by the German high command during the war.
From the beach where he actually landed, through the bloody and horrific battles that took place there, to the hushed reverence of the American Cemetery, to a nearby WWII museum where Tom received yet another medal from the French government for his service, to the nearby towns and villages that his unit liberated, to the stories and remembrances of fallen comrades, and finally as his unit joined Patton’s Army and participated in doing whatever he could with the survivors of the Buchenwald death camp,
I knew I was in the presence of not only history, but a true American hero.
My time with Tom was a life-changing experience and now, every June 6th since we met, I stop whatever I am doing during the day and give him a call. His family tells me he always sits by the phone, waiting to speak with me. Tom Scanlon is 94 years old now.
What was your worst experience on a boat?
While heading home and being caught several miles offshore in a 42-foot, single engine boat right in the path of a squall line.
There were seven people aboard, including myself. During the height of the storm, the waves at times looked, in my mind’s eye now, to be half the length of my boat and while in the trough, I could not see the sky.
When we finally were free of the fast-moving storm and back safely in the dock, we all shook hands and the beer we had never tasted to good.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen or heard on a yacht?
It’s not really that funny—mal de mer, sea sickness in any form is no joke—but on one particular fishing charter trip, I had warned the crew that with the wind up as it was, our day on the ocean was not going to be very comfortable and that I would gladly refund their deposit and give them another day, hopefully a bit calmer.
They were very adamant about going out; after all, they were rough and tumble guys and could take it. In less than two hours, six grown men were down on their knees, begging me to take them back to the dock.
I did, of course, and refunded their deposit. After that, they became regulars and relied upon my weather prognosticating abilities before setting out for a day of fishing and always had a good laugh about that particular outing.
Who do you most admire in the world of yachting?
While I’ve come across many personalities in well over two decades of industry reporting, and have done scores of interviews and written numerous profiles, one of the most memorable was that of Captain John “Pop” Rybovich, Sr.
His story is that of an immigrant carpenter and cabinetmaker, who went on to overcome adversity, both from financial ruin in the late 1920’s and a disastrous hurricane that wiped out his home and business.
Undaunted, he went on to lay the foundation for one of the most respected and admired names in sportfishing boats and his life and accomplishments are a continuing inspiration.
What does the future for yachting look like?
Setting aside any disastrous, world-changing event taking place, or aliens returning to re-claim their property, and given how fast the rate of technological advances is changing the way we use our leisure time, things appear fairly optimistic.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
From where I sit, there is no greater accomplishment in life than having a family. Whatever is in second place is way off in the distance.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
Quality family time is important as is being with close friends. I enjoy surf casting during the summer months at our New Jersey shore home with some of the regular locals. (Everything goes back as it’s not about the catching but more about the fishing.)
I like to play golf, have a killer recipe for chocolate chip cookies—down the shore where we live, it’s Cap’n Kenz Cookiez that are expected at anyone’s home we may be invited to—search for sea glass and other treasures on long beach walks with the dogs, sharpen my photographic skills, and spend time writing my children’s books and finishing the first draft of my first novel.
Which three objects would you take to your desert island?
I would need an electric generating system to power my laptop so I could finish my novel and keep my ice cream frozen. Generator, laptop, ice cream. That’s three. Once the generator ran out of fuel, it would be time to leave the island. I mean, what’s the point of staying?
What is your favorite book or film about the sea?
I was raised reading the likes of Jack London, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway, Stephen Crane, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jules Verne and many others…I was and still am, a rabid reader…and have enjoyed more contemporary writers such as Nathaniel Philbrick and Patrick O’Brian.
One seafaring tale I still think about is THE VOYAGE by Pulitzer Prize winning author Philip Caputo. With its intricate plot, amazing detail, and characters whose lives one gets totally involved in, this highly recommended maritime tale of deception and murder will become one of your favorites as well.
What will you be doing in five years?
I pray to Poseidon, Neptune, or whatever deities or divinity there may be that have dominion and sway over the watery world, that I can always be a part of it.
What is your motto?
Don’t wait. Don’t hesitate.
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