“We had not been on a family vacation since 1977,” Glenn Gortney says. “We’d grown up camping and water-skiing during the summers, but as soon as the older kids started off to college those trips pretty much stopped. It was literally the Sea Ray that brought us all back together again.”
I’ve joined Glenn, his partner, Steven Elliott; his two sisters, Helen and Gale, and their kids for a two-day sampling of their now-annual weeklong family reunion camping trip. The tents have already been pitched, tiny dots of color among the towering ponderosa and sugar pines that surround Trinity Lake in Northern California. Everyone is excited. And it’s not hard to see why.
“We love to take people camping,” Glenn says. “Especially newbies or people long out of camping and boating who have a little bit of hesitancy. We tell them, ‘Look, you don’t need to bring a thing. We’ll have a tent set up for you with an air mattress.’ All of our tents and equipment match,” he laughs. “We call it Martha Stewart camping!” This “glamping” is only part of the palpable buzz here on the shore of Trinity. If you peer out through the massive pines, you can see the sun dancing on the lake. And there, just offshore, hitched to the clay bank, is Glenn’s beloved 190 Sport – the boat that changed everything.
“My Sea Ray and weekends at the lake so changed my life three years ago that I want to share that … to pass it on,” he says. It’s because 2010 wasn’t an easy year for Glenn. He suffered a medical event that landed him in the neurological ICU. “I’ve been successful in my career,” says Glenn, a VP at San Francisco Fire Credit Union. “I’m a perfectionist and a very hands-on person. And while that might have created results that employers like, it made me my own worst enemy. By the time 2010 rolled around, I’d put on 30 pounds, hadn’t exercised in years and had blood pressure that, unbeknownst to me at the time, was through the roof.”
The summer following his medical event, some friends coaxed him into a water-skiing trip. “It was the first time I’d been on the water in 25 years. I’d passed 40, and for some reason I thought the days of physicality and having active fun were behind me. I’d become so involved in my career and work, it was all I could see.” Glenn got up on his ’80s-era slalom ski on the very first pull. “I got up, cut across the wake a couple of times … Then, well, I could only stay up about 90 seconds because I was so out of shape,” he laughs, “but I’d gotten up, and it changed everything.”
As soon as he returned from that trip, Glenn began shopping for a boat of his own. “I saw a lot of brands, but it was Sea Ray that had the quality I was interested in. Right away I bought a great one: a new 2010 185 Sport. We used it all summer – took it on 19 camping trips and had a blast.”
Glenn and Steven couldn’t get enough of their sense of life renewed and wanted to share it with everyone they loved. “What was unexpected about that first summer with the 185,” Glenn says, “is that it turned into a great way to get my family back together. We had so much fun: Steven’s family, my family, young, old, kids and parents, nieces and nephews … The only problem was that all the kids wanted to wakeboard, which is what drove me to order the 190 Sport with the wake tower.”
Remember Glenn’s referring to himself as a “perfectionist and a very hands-on person”? Well, when it came to his 190 purchase, those qualities bled over from his work life. He ended up ordering the craft straight from the factory with almost every possible accessory and upgrade available, including a custom patina and black gelcoat color scheme that really sets his Sport apart. “The customer service at Sea Ray was phenomenal,” he says. “I can be such a pain when it comes to details, and I know I drove them crazy, especially Velvet Richesin, Sea Ray’s western regional sport boat sales manager, but she put up with me and kept me involved during the entire build process.”
From the 190’s first splash, the boat’s been in action, having been towed 7,000 miles and run for more than 80 engine hours this summer. In fact, the couple was towing the boat so much they’ve opted to store it at a facility near their weekend go-to lake: Bullard’s Bar, a famously aquamarine reservoir in the Tahoe National Forest. Glenn admits that in the off-season he makes the 170-mile drive from San Francisco about twice a month just to check on the boat and tinker with it. “When it’s winter I’m just counting the days,” he says.
The family reunion at Lake Trinity is in full swing. Wilma, the couple’s treasured collie-shepherd mix, is always the first one in the boat and the last one off. The fact that their dog gets to enjoy this healthy, outdoor lifestyle with her masters is just one more reason Glenn and Steven love the 190 Sport. “There are no compromises when it comes to boating,” Glenn says. “None. We can take the dog, we can take the kids, we can take adults—everyone has a great time.”
“There are no compromises when it comes to boating.”
The boat goes out many times during the day for ski and wakeboard runs, plus a few white-knuckle thrill rides on a three-person towable tube. There’s something for everyone. For Glenn’s sisters, it’s about relaxing on the Sea Ray and watching their kids enjoy the family connection that a sport boat invariably brings. It was the best part of their own childhoods, and thanks to their little brother Glenn and his midlife epiphany, their own children now know the unique joys of boating under a clear blue summer sky.
As everyone lucky enough to know will agree, one of the most pleasurable sensations of a day spent on the lake is the glorious exhaustion that wraps its arms around you at nightfall. By the time the marshmallows are on the sticks, the air in the Gortney-Elliott campground is heavy with contentment. Other boating campers drop by to chat about the fun they had that day, including Glenn and Steven’s good friends Don and Kirsten Houck, the couple who invited Glenn on the fateful water-skiing outing that changed his life and brought him back to boating.
And in turn, it’s Glenn’s fondest desire to use his Sea Ray to pass along that feeling of reawakening. “This boat and weekends at the lake so changed my life three years ago that I want to share that with as many of my friends as possible,” he says. “For example, we took this girlfriend, Pat, out to the lake. She’s 60, divorced with grown kids. When her kids were young she’d take them water-skiing, but she hadn’t been out since then. She showed up for a camping weekend with her Connelly ski from the ’80s, and you know what? She hopped in the water and got up on that ski the very first pull. Just like me, I could feel her thinking, ‘Wait. I can still have fun. I don’t have to be sitting under an umbrella on the beach somewhere.’ She just lit up.”
Many of Glenn and Steven’s friends, like Pat, are now regulars at the weekend camping excursions to Bullard’s Bar. “Our weekly trips with friends are usually limited to six humans,” Glenn says, “and it’s barbecued lobster and steak, nice wine in the evening and fresh coffee in the morning.” But best of all, he says, is when friends join them for the first time. “We usually get there before our guests arrive so their tent is all set up, with matching mattresses inside and a lantern. We know these people are imagining some nightmare experience from their childhood when they were eating pork and beans out of a can!”
That boat ownership can bring such contagious joy isn’t really surprising, but the way Glenn’s Sea Ray has reunited his family and changed his life for the better is truly moving. “I had a real wake-up call regarding my health,” he says. “And I really feel like this boat – my Sea Ray – was the key to my realizing that I needed and wanted to change my life priorities.
“It gets us out every single weekend,” Glenn continues. “It gets me away from my job and my phone, and back to what’s important: friends and family and fresh air. It’s just a boat, but it’s everything I needed.”