Living a Good Annapolis Life
If you suspect
that people whose job titles include the word "recreation" might
have more fun than you do, meeting journalist Angus Phillips will
confirm the notion. It's not easy catching up with him, though,
since he's in the middle of the ocean, racing towards Bermuda.
Next week, you might find him in Newport. In July, Sweden. In
August, if you're lucky, you could spot him locally, zipping past
in his white motorcycle helmet in Eastport. If you see a white
Capri 25 with a red stripe rounding the mark during a Wednesday
night sailing race, that's Angus, living what he calls "a good
Phillips didn't always have this much fun. He had no idea what
he'd become after school. With an English teacher mother and a
newspaperman father, the Roslyn, New York, native claims, "All
I knew how to do was write." He launched his journalism career
as principal assistant national editor for three years at the
former Washington Star. The world of political coverage didn't
feel like a natural home for him. "I didn't really understand
or like it," he admits.
A one-year hiatus and the consequent depletion of funds led the
writer to the sports department at The Washington Post. His initial
coverage of recreational sports stories coincided with the departure
of the staff's outdoor writer. Although he wasn't an angler or
hunter, Angus inherited the job. Becoming The Post's first recreational
sports editor enabled him to fashion a writing niche around his
own interests, which would soon encompass fishing and hunting.
Sailboat racing, seeking out the best duck blinds, finding schools
of rockfish, and even breaking his arm falling out of a tree while
deer hunting became the stuff of Angus Phillips' column. For more
than two decades, his work has involved various levels of multi-tasking
and more than the average angler faces nine-to-five. He had to
balance his chosen topics according to reader demand. He explains,
"Early on, I started writing about fishing. Then when I didn't,
they'd raise hell and say, 'Why are you writing about sailing
"When I came into this, my aim was to be as egalitarian as possible,
not to end up being a snob," he laughs. "So I've spent an awful
lot of time fishing with worms for crappies in Triadelphia Lake.
Twenty-five years later, I find the things that interest me are
fly fishing for trout in Venezuela, grouse hunting in Vermont
and sailing the America's Cup. I guess I'm a snob. That stuff
isn't the royalty of outdoor sports for no reason."
He would know. The columnist has traveled down under to cover
every America's Cup race since 1980. Unlike the early years when
a journalist had to be out on the water all day asking questions
and relying on hearsay to piece together his story, extensive
television coverage has made it so that reporters can accurately
assemble their stories from shore. Phillips continues to spend
as much time as possible on the water, anyway. He's passionate
about it. "Besides, I need to see it with my own two eyes," he
adds. "I don't believe anything I hear and only half of what I
One of the benefits of covering the Cup for Phillips, a blue water
sailor, is his first-hand knowledge of how tacticians and crews
think, which makes for higher quality questions and responses.
"Sailing events haven't been ruined by professionalism, which
makes them fun to cover," he adds.
"Basketball, baseball, football and hockey players live in a fishbowl.
They're interviewed all the time. They've got their answers all
figured out, pre-programmed. Whereas for sailors, if they're in
the America's Cup, this is a rare experience for them to be in
the spotlight. They're more willing to think through questions
and be more forthcoming. You don't get canned answers."
Is the America's Cup as glamorous as it sounds? "In Fremantle
in 1986-1987, my wife and the kids came down. I think to this
day, it's one of the most enjoyable things we've done as a family,"
Phillips remembers. "Great parties, beautiful weather, extraordinary
sailing, a terrific crowd of 13 challengers from seven countries,
and we were in the middle of it. So yeah, it's spectacular, glamorous,
beautiful. It's a wonderful event."
Phillips has been an ocean racer himself since the mid-70s, acting
as navigator or as watch captain, once winning the Annapolis-to-Bermuda
race. Noting the peculiarities of racing, he adds, "You spend
months planning and preparing and dreaming, and then you rush
to get to your destination as soon as possible." He thinks he's
evolving more into a "cruiser mentality," since he's beginning
to wonder why he's hurrying in the open sea.
One aspect of ocean racing that might surprise landlubbers is
"the fact that you get more sleep than you do on shore," he says.
"Unless things are going terribly wrong, you're on half the time
and off half the time, so while you only get little spurts of
sleep in two-or three-hour increments, 12 hours a day, there's
really not much else to do. Offshore racing, once you get into
the time warp, is restful and soothing. I always lose a little
weight and come back feeling energized."
This racer doesn't seem to be losing too much sleep on land these
days either. What was intended as "early" became "semi-retirement"
from The Washington Post two years ago. His Sunday column and
contractual coverage of the America's Cup continue. With fewer
deadlines to meet, he has more time to mess about in kayaks, canoes,
fishing boats, crabbing boats and sailboats.
Phillips has become an avid bird hunter as well. He's hunted quail
out west, woodcock in New Brunswick and Maine and wild turkey
in Florida and New Mexico. One aspect of hunting he appreciates
is that you don't have to spend large sums of money, or in his
case, to travel too far from home for a quality wilderness experience.
In the Chesapeake Bay region, he enjoys duck, goose and turkey
Annapolitans for 21 years, the Phillips family has found a true
home here. The acting fire chief for Anne Arundel County, Frances
Phillips has been married to Angus in the 25 years since they
met as neighbors in Georgetown. Their daughter Madeleine, a graduate
of William and Mary, is a social worker in Baltimore. Son Willie,
an All-American lacrosse player and recent graduate of the University
of Pennsylvania, is playing lacrosse in New Zealand this summer.
"Both my kids went to Annapolis High, and they turned out fine,"
notes Phillips. "I'd like to see that in print."
One summer evening, if you do come across Angus Phillips within
earshot in Annapolis Harbor, ask him how one applies for this
recreational job thing, especially the America's Cup part. It's
the one question I forgot to ask.