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Friends and Neighbors: Ron Breault's voyages known and unknown

It’s an age-old question: what to do about age? Ron Breault found one answer: Write a book. And that is the backstory of his new book, “Voyaging with Marionette.”

What makes “Voyaging with Marionette” a story for the shoreline is that Breault, along with his two grown children Nicole and Michael, are familiar figures in the local sailing world.

What’s more, Breault’s boat, Marionette, a Dolphin 24, has a local story. Breault bought the boat in 1995 when he saw it under a blue tarpaulin in the parking lot of the Connecticut River Museum in Essex.

The book project began in Breault’s mind when he read an article by maritime author John Rousmaniere about how he had decided that in his mid-70s going out on the foredeck of a sailboat in a strong wind was no longer wise. Breault, also in his mid-70s, thought that advice should apply to him as well and he certainly shouldn’t be sailing singlehanded any more.

“I couldn’t sail the way I had, but I could write a book about it,” he said.

And, in any case, Breault, who had retired from a series of management positions at Olin Corporation, had already been thinking about what would come next in his life.

“For me it was writing about sailing, but it can be about whatever interests you,” he said. “As one gets older, life can actually expand with new and even more interesting challenges.”

Breault already had some writing experience, including as webmaster of an Internet site he started, devoted to stories, reminiscences, and lore from owners of Dolphin 24s: Dophin24.com.

How they met

In 1995, Breault saw Marionette in the parking lot of the Connecticut River Museum because nobody had bought the craft at an auction the museum ran. Breault thought that meant he could negotiate on the $3,000 price, but a museum trustee, the late Lew Weinstein of Essex, a one-time Dolphin 24 owner himself, had different ideas.

He told Breault he was certain that somebody who knew what a versatile boat the Dolphin 24 was would ultimately pay the asking price. Breault did.

With the boat still under a blue tarpaulin, now on his own property, Breault renovated the craft himself, but Marionette has far more luxurious quarters these days.

“I heard her telling me she wanted a barn,” he said.

So the boat got one. Breault designed a barn with the help of a computerized architecture program and found a local barn builder to construct it.

Now Marionette has company in the barn. People often told him with such an attractive boat, he should have a far more attractive dinghy than the inflatable he then used.

Breault took a wooden boat building course at Mystic Seaport. The result was Teer, a dinghy he built himself.

For some 23 years, Breault had sailed the waters of New England, both cruising and racing, where to his initial surprise Marionette has compiled an impressive record. There have been many awards along the way, among them the Sparkman and Stephens Association Global Regatta in 2018. Sparkman and Stephens were the designers of the Dolphin 24.

Putting it on the page

Taking the book from manuscript to publication was a new experience for Breault. The first publisher he talked with wanted to cut the text considerably and bring the volume out in what is known in the trade as a standard 8 x 10 portrait format. Breault wanted something else, a landscape format, with a horizontally oriented page, good for the many illustrations in the book.

“I like landscape format; it’s work to hold in your hands and you have to flip the pages one at a time. It takes effort, but there is a reward. People look at the content and once they do that, I’ve got them,” he said. “I was committed to what I wanted to do. I wanted to write the book I wanted to write.”

Breault’s daughter Nicole and her husband Bruce did some editing on the book but more in terms of proofreading than commenting on content.

“My goal was something else. I wanted to know what the objective of every paragraph was, what it wanted to say. Capitalization was secondary,” he said.

Ultimately, Breault decided the best way to create the book he envisioned was to self-publish with the Mariner Media, a group he first had contact with when a magazine it produces ran an article he wrote on his dinghy, Teer.

Breault has drawn some plaudits for “Voyaging with Marionette.” Points East Magazine described the book as “all neat stuff, never boring or overly detailed,” and Good Old Boat wrote that the “sheer variety of clippings, photos, and anecdotes make the book fun to browse.”

Breault says although there are no definite plans, he has already contemplated another book, expanding on material in “Voyaging with Marionette.” Moreover, he admitted that he has not given up singlehanded sailing, though now he does take some precautions.

He wants to be in port by one or two in the afternoon.

“I don’t want to be sailing anymore at 3 or 4 o’clock when the wind comes up,” he said.

Voyaging with Marionette is available through Mariner Media and locally at the Connecticut River Museum bookstore in Essex, Bank Square Books in Mystic, Harbor Books in Old Saybrook and the Bowerbird in Old Lyme.

Friends and Neighbors is a regular feature in The Times. To contribute, email times@theday.com.

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