The Lasting Allure of Boating

As Sea Ray owners for more than 33 years and boaters since childhood, Tom and Linda Crider have a love for the water that runs deep.

Growing up near Lake Ontario in Upstate New York, Tom Crider acquired his first boat at the ripe old age of 12. He’d seen an older friend enjoying the watercraft his parents had bought him, and wanted a piece of the action. “I saved up all my lawn mowing money and got myself the little boat that started the whole thing,” he recalls. “I’d caught the bug. I can truly say I’m a diehard, lifelong boater.”

Tom’s wife, Linda, learned to appreciate the water early as well. “My dad had a small boat he used mostly for fishing. When I turned 16, I was allowed to take it out. Cruising along, looking for guys … ” she laughs. Years later, she found the guy to spend forever with: “When Tom and I met-well, I love boating just as much as he does, so it was a match made in heaven.”

Tom and Linda savor every moment on their Sundancer.

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By 1982, the Criders were married and living in Clarence, a suburb of Buffalo, New York. They had owned a few boats together, but none truly captured their affection until their first Sea Ray, a 270 Sundancer. “We loved it,” Tom says. “We haven’t bought anything but Sea Ray since.”

Now, 33 years later, they’re on their fourth: a 510 Sundancer they’ve had since November. And they’ve carved out a life in sunnier climates, having moved to Florida in 1996 and eventually settling in Fort Myers. The Criders say they’re fortunate to have a fantastic Sea Ray dealership nearby, MarineMax, where salesman Brian Kemmis has attentively guided them through three trade-ups and into the 510.

“We met Brian about 10 years ago. He’s a prince!” Tom raves. “He’s become a personal friend. We’ve traveled with Brian and his wife, Trudi, we’ll do dinner, go to events, some boat-related, some not. There are not too many people you buy a high-ticket item from that you become friends with for years and years afterwards.

“He absolutely takes care of his customers. The epitome of a perfect-I hate to use the word ‘salesman.’ The perfect person you want to deal with in making this kind of a purchase and making sure you enjoy it for the rest of its useful existence,” Tom says. “MarineMax is a great organization, great people.”

He also credits Trudi Kemmis with organizing memorable MarineMax events like docktail parties, Getaways and special dinners. But perhaps the most memorable MarineMax interaction occurred as the Criders finalized the purchase of their 510 Sundancer: “I will never forget General Manager Ryan West serenading us with a guitar solo that day,” Tom says.

When it comes to enjoying their Sea Rays over the years, the Criders heartily endorse their Gulf Coast home. The land of manatee and mangroves ranks right up there among the most boat-friendly areas in the country.

“We love Fort Myers because it’s a perfect place to own a powerboat,” Tom says. “There are so many places to go within a three- or four-hour run.” He lists off waterways and destinations galore-including the Caloosahatchee River and the Intracoastal Waterway, and nearby Captiva and Sanibel Islands. “The beauty of boating here is that there’s always a place to run that’s protected and smooth, no matter the weather.”

Longer-distance jaunts aren’t off limits with a boat like the 510. This August, the Criders are planning to join a group of 12 or 14 other boats on a MarineMax-led trip to the Dry Tortugas. The cluster of seven islands, located about 60 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico, are part of the U.S. National Park system and are only accessible by boat or seaplane. One of their most notable features is Fort Jefferson, a massive but unfinished coastal fortress composed of more than 16 million bricks.

Protected lagoons, colorful coral reefs and a distinct lack of commercial development make the Dry Tortugas a desirable getaway. “No facilities; no docks, no power, no water, no food,” Tom says. “You bring your own provisions. It’s fantastic! That’s one of the great benefits of having a boat: You can go to places most people don’t get to see.”

“We try to vary it up and do different things,” Linda says. “But we do end up returning to some of the same places, our favorites.”

Among the more “different” things undertaken by the Criders was a five-month journey they made in their previous Sea Ray, a 2009 470 Sundancer. Departing from Fort Myers, the couple ran up the Intracoastal and along the East Coast to New York City, then up the Hudson River, through the New York State Canal System and into the Great Lakes, hopping the Thousand Islands en route to their northernmost stop, Montreal, Quebec. They lived on the boat for the vast majority of the trip.

“It was incredible,” Tom recalls. “We stayed up there for three months, then reversed the trip and came back down through the Hudson when the fall colors were out. We circled the Statue of Liberty both coming and going … Amazing. A once-­in-a-lifetime kind of thing.”

“All my friends kept saying, ‘You’re sure you’re not going to kill him up there?”‘ Linda says, laughing. “Five months is a while. Now and then he’ll ask me, ‘Are you ready to do it again?’ and I’ll say, ‘No!’ But secretly I’d probably be willing to do it again. There was a nostalgic element to it, too, since we both grew up in New York. And it was a treat to see Lake Champlain by water; I never got to do that as a kid.”

The Criders are keen on sharing the Sea Ray lifestyle with their three adult children and seven grandchildren, who range in age from 6 months to 20 years. By May, with water temperatures up in the 80s, the family starts looking forward to lazy days spent out in the Gulf, swimming, catching rays and catching up. “It’s very relaxing, anchoring out in the Gulf. And of course I love it when the kids are around,” Linda says.

The 510 Sundancer was made for long hours on the water. Tom notes that one of his favorite features is the retractable, remote­controlled SureShade® awning that extends over the aft cockpit’s U-shaped seating. “Too much sun’s not necessarily a good thing, so it’s great being able to sit out there on a really sunny day and still be comfortable,” he says.

Linda cites the airy salon as another favorite aspect. “We love the way it’s laid out,” she says. “To be able to go down to the boat, walk in and relax right away-it’s the best. If we’re out at night, we don’t have mosquitoes or anything because it’s enclosed, but without feeling confined. This boat has it all. It works so well for us.”

They often invite friends out for Sunday afternoon cruises, anchoring up to enjoy good conversation and a cocktail or two. They’ve started a few traditions, like their annual Christmas cruise, or docking at a waterfront restaurant to watch the NCAA Final Four. “The dock where we go is quite busy, and last year we had to back the boat in sideways into a tight spot. All the people are watching us going, ‘That’s the best docking job I’ve ever seen!”‘ Linda recalls. “They didn’t realize we had the pods on there. The joystick control makes you look pretty talented.”

Tom describes plans for his upcoming birthday, an itinerary that sounds about perfect: “It’s supposed to be 75 degrees with not a whisper of air movement-air flat as a pancake. We’ll enjoy a bottle of wine, grill something for dinner, watch the nest of osprey that live above the marina. We may not even leave the dock! Just being on the boat is a wonderful experience.”

He pauses, a pensive expression crossing his face. “Then again,” he adds, breaking into a grin, “it’s not hard to like this stuff.”

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