Endeavor -August 2012

by: Dean Geddes

photography by: Jim Powers

As far back as he can remember, Jim Genthner always knew he wanted to be on the water. With that purpose in mind, he made his dream a reality, building the 31-foot Friendship Sloop Endeavor in his parents’ back yard and sailing it in and out of Nantucket Harbor for the past 30 years.

The Endeavor rounds Brant Point and returns to port after a day on the waters of Nantucket Sound.

In those three decades the Endeavor has become more than just a sailboat. It’s become part of the fabric of Nantucket Harbor, where at any given time in the summer Genthner is likely at the helm, taking groups of passengers on scenic sailing tours around the island.

In commemoration of 30 years on the water, Jim and his wife Sue have published a beautifully-illustrated book, authored by Bobbi McPeak. Titled “Sailing Nantucket Sound: Captain Jim’s Endeavor,” the book chronicles Genthner’s story: from his time at sea as a youngster, to the determined work ethic that helped him build the Endeavor with his father in the late 1970s, to his time on Nantucket where he met his wife and set up his business.

“I started out thinking I’m going to write a book about a boat,” McPeak said, “but then it became evident to me I was writing a book about a man, and then it became evident to me I was writing a book about a man and his wife. Because Sue has such a business head and a sense for marketing and everything, she was such an instrumental part in the whole thing. And it’s fascinating that they could come here and build their lives and have their kids and just how they made it.”

The Genthners have two children: Lisa, who is 15, and 12-year-old James. Both are honor-roll students in the Nantucket school system. Like their father, they love spending time on the water. Lisa is a member of the Nantucket High School sailing team and with Sue took many of the photographs in the book, while James is an avid fisherman, spending his free time aboard his uncle’s sportfishing charter boat the Just Do it Too.

Sue Genthner and McPeak, who has authored five children’s books, originally discussed the idea of writing a children’s book about the Endeavor. They sealed their agreement with a handshake on the docks of the Nantucket Boat Basin last June, but as McPeak began gathering information for the book they realized they had the material for something more.

“We both said, ‘You know, I think we have a lot more than a children’s book,” Sue Genthner said, “and I still think this is a good story for somebody to read to a younger child. But for this generation now, there is so much emphasis on technology and acquiring all this wealth and that’s great, but I think it’s nice to see that a man has found his dream in a very kind of simple way with his family, in a place that he loves and doing what he loves.”

For Jim, it’s all he ever wanted. But it came, as the most rewarding things in life often do, as the result of hard work and perseverance. The hard work came in his early 20s, when he and his father spent countless hours building the boat together from the ground up.

“I have never, ever known a son and a father to be that close. His dad just passed away two years ago. Never have I seen such a wonderful relationship, working relationship, friendship, everything,” Sue said.

The project was finished in two years and in the spring of 1979, the time had come for Jim’s charter business to set sail. Originally it was set up as a weekly or full-day charter in Mattapoisett Harbor. But that wasn’t working.

“That boat just wasn’t built for overnight charters. Down below decks and everything, it’s not comfortable. There wasn’t the market and opportunity to draw people. It was just happenstance that he ended up (on Nantucket),” Sue said.

It was during a family sail to the island when his brother Charlie realized that Jim was doing business in the wrong place, and the wrong way. His brother thought he needed to make the trips shorter, and therefore, more affordable.

“The longer you go out, the less it becomes available to everyone because the price goes up and the duration goes up. It makes it more of a commitment, both financially and time-wise,” Jim said.
Charlie lent Jim the money to get set up on Straight Wharf in the summer of 1982, and that year the Endeavor began taking groups of people out for more affordable 90-minute tours through the harbor and beyond.

It wasn’t easy in the beginning. Jim had nothing more than his boat, which he slept on, and during the day he would sit outside on the dock with a cardboard sign waiting for potential customers to come by.

“He was thinking about selling the boat. In those first lean years, as soon he’d get the money from a sail it would go out the other hand to feed him and his crew,” Sue said.

But in the end, Jim didn’t sell the boat, and his perseverance paid off. As the years passed, the buzz about his harbor tours began to spread. Customers not only told their friends about the Endeavor, they often returned themselves.

“They always get a different trip because of the nature of being outdoors. That’s the key to it I think. This is not like Disneyland where it’s a scripted thing. You never know what you’re going to get. That’s what makes the trip interesting over and over and over again,” Jim said.

For Sue, she knew the Endeavor was becoming a Nantucket tradition when she noticed many of the art galleries in town displaying paintings of the boat.

“There was a boat that used to be called the Sally Bramble, and I don’t know the history of it or anything, but it used to sit out there, and everybody painted the Sally Bramble. It was a really picturesque boat and then we found that instead of painting that, more and more people were painting the Endeavor. I think that was maybe when you felt secure in the fact that people really loved the Endeavor, and it was a part of the Nantucket experience. When you come to Nantucket you go to the Juice Bar, you go to the Brotherhood, you sail on the Endeavor, you go to Surfside Beach, whatever that list is you have. And it was on everybody’s list.”

After 30 years and over 15,000 trips, you can still find Jim and the Endeavor on Straight Wharf, and although his sign is a lot nicer now, not much else has changed. Jim is still doing what he loves to do.

“There’s an old saying that every hour you spend sailing adds an hour to your life. It gives you time to contemplate anything, whatever it happens to be. Contemplate the ocean or contemplate the beaches, or contemplate the meaning of life for you. If you ever look at a sailor out on the water he looks content. He may be off in a daze someplace, not because he’s unhappy but because he’s contemplating a bigger picture,” Jim said.

Dean Geddes is a reporter for The Inquirer and Mirror.

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