When Charlie and Diane Long pack up their Ocean Alexander 40 Dreamtime for a summer’s cruise the most important non-boating stuff to go aboard is his guitar and other musical gear.
Charlie is a folk singer who loves to describe with original words and music the joys and the occasional agonies and frustrations of cruising through Pacific Northwest waters. He shares his music through dockside concerts in remote marinas on the Northwest coast.
Charlie has produced two CDs that haven’t made best seller lists or I Tunes catalogs but which are catching on among cruisers who venture into the San Juan Islands, the Gulf Islands of lower British Columbia and to his “Promised Land,” the so-called Broughton archipelago farther north on the B.C. coast.
On their summer cruises Charlie and Diane take their 40-foot boat into marinas in far-away places, set up the gear and offer a concert. If it rains, they find some cover or other boaters help rig shelter. The show goes on.
Charlie’s at his prime when his voice and acoustic guitar celebrate the joys and frustrations that come with sailing and cruising under power because he has done both – from competing in the sometimes dangerous Swiftsure International Yacht Race in the Strait of Juan de Fuca to “calculatin’ slack water” for the rapids that challenge boaters in the waters of southern British Columbia.
Listen closely though and you’ll discover Charlie’s tunes are about life and living, too. You’ll find those themes in both CDs – the first, “Cruise Away!,” and the recently released “B.O.A.T.!”
I first met Charlie’s music at the Port Harvey Marina in B.C. George and Gail Cambridge, the owners, had “Cruise Away!” for sale and couldn’t stop talking about his performance at the marina a short time before. I had to buy one.
Charlie and Diane live in Gig Harbor, Washington, and he is commodore of the Tacoma Yacht Club. Charlie started sailing when he was a youth but after years of racing and cruising under sail he and Diane, moved – as some say - to “the dark side” with the purchase of a classic powerboat with acres of teak. They are retired teachers and the experiences they have logged as boaters – and stories shared by others - are reflected in the words he sings.
Track 1 of the “Cruise Away!” CD is a tune called – of course – “Cruise Away!” Last summer I played it for half a dozen friends who crowded the saloon of my boat at happy hour while we were in a remote B.C. anchorage.
By the time the first chorus ended a couple of friends were on their feet, waving their arms and trying their best to dance a few steps to the music in the crowded room. Charlie sang of harbors, marinas and passages we all knew well, but that chorus really described how everyone felt:
“Cruise away to the islands.
“Headin’ north in the summertime.
“We’ll be where we want to be, doing what we want to do.
“And we’ll all be feelin’ fine!”
As a six-year-old, Charlie began piano lessons with “a nice little lady around the corner.” His parents, he recalls, waged “a running battle” to get him to practice. Despite that youthful reluctance he moved on to study classical piano at the Cornish School in Seattle. But he favored the guitar and turned to that in high school and the folk music of the 1960s became his true love.
As a fifth grade teacher in Olympia, Washington, Charlie organized and directed a number of “kid music groups.” He teamed up with another teacher, Denny Bailey, to form a semi-professional duo. They were a few years late for club audiences.
While the two friends favored folk and soft rock, the audiences they found in clubs had “gone disco.”
“Everyone wanted to boogie,” Charlie recalls. “No one wanted to sit in a quiet cocktail lounge and listen to two guys singing soft, easy-listening music.”
Good thing he had a day job.
Charlie and Denny still are friends and Denny is backup vocalist on both CDs.
Charlie continued teaching on the grade school level, trying to whet kids’ interest in music along the way. Later, he moved to a middle school to teach math and computers but found the older students more interested in soccer and other activities than music.
Charlie’s boating life began in the early '60s when his parents bought a 24-foot Islander sloop they named Spree.
The family moved up in the early '70s to a 41-foot Sea Tiger ketch and began cruising to the San Juan Islands and the Gulf Islands in British Columbia.
Charlie and Diane bought their first sailboat in 1975, an Ericson 27-foot sloop named Sunday Son for a favored Neil Diamond song. Second Sun, a Newport 30 became theirs in 1983. Their power yacht is named Dreamtime.
Despite their willing move to power, the Longs describe themselves as “sailors who happen to own a power boat.”
Charlie wrote the words and lyrics for four songs on the “Cruise Away!” CD. He performed and recorded others made famous by Jimmy Buffett (“Son of a Son of a Sailor”) and Neil Diamond (“Sunday Son”) and created music to go with words by more famous writers, including Alfred Tennyson (Crossing the Bar); John Masefield (I must down to the sea again) and Robert Service (The men that don’t fit in).
Charlie wrote the words for “Winds of Juan de Fuca Strait” in 1985 after crewing on his brother’s boat in a Swiftsure race. One line in the original text said “The loran can’t find the sky . . .” The wording was updated for the CD to read “The GPS can’t find the sky.”
In the song, the sailboat had a poor finish. In real life, he said, “we didn’t finish at all.”
For his second CD, “B.O.A.T.!”, Charlie wrote words and music for all but two tracks and they are Kenny Chesney songs that reflect a deep understanding of boating. The CD title, if you haven’t guessed already, spells out to read “Break Out Another Thousand”. (We’re talking about dollars here for commissioning, decorating and getting ready to cruise.)
On the “Cruise Away!” CD the song titled “The Cruise From Hell” describes every imaginable thing that can go wrong with a cruising boat while far from home and the agonies and cost of repair and replacement. “Another Cruise From Hell“ spins a similar tale of woe on “B.O.A.T.!” You’ll either laugh or cry, (or do both simultaneously) depending how close to home the story comes.
His fans tend to gush.
“As soon as Charlie starts to sing his love of the water, boating and the Pacific Northwest comes through with a sincerity that makes everyone want to join his musical cruise . . .” said the Cambridges, owners of Port Harvey Marina.
Tom Liebert and I worked years for the same newspaper, but really became acquainted later through boating and cruising. He and his wife, Mary, spend much of every summer on Friendship II, a 50 Ocean Alexander. They love Charlie’s music.
His music, they said, “captures the highlights from South Sound to the Broughtons. Should be on every boat in the winter to dream about summer and in summer to experience the good life. Our new theme song, “Cruise Away!,” will wipe away the winter blues.”
Al and Becca Symnanski, sailboaters out of Poulsbo, Washington, add: “Charlie’s music is something all Northwest cruisers can relate to. We’ve all been there, done that and survived.”
Charlie won’t make a mint from his CDs. He may be lucky to cover the costs of production. You can buy the CDs on line, or when you find him in concert in the islands.
Charlie will be touring those familiar waters come summer. The first show will be at Port Harvey Marina in early June. See you there?
(For more about Charlie and his music visit www.capncharlie.com. You’ll hear some 30-second samples of his singing and find the words for many of the songs featured on the CDs.