Written by Jennifer Chesak | Photography by Steven J. Conway
“Everyone’s life is an accumulation of events from the days when they were young,” Jerry Perkins says. Yes, he states the obvious, but Jerry’s unique on-water childhood is what ultimately led him to the well-appointed helm of his Meridian 441 Sedan, where the retiree relaxes with his wife, Jeanne, and their friends.
“It has everything I like,” he says, “plus lots of modern, luxurious systems and options. We have been surprised at how often we have used the washer and dryer, for example.” The couple opted for the upgrade and even asked MarineMax Naples, their local Meridian Yachts dealer, to help them install a dishwasher. Other customizations include underwater lights below the swim platform, and a wood floor in the salon and galley, which gives the yacht an even sleeker interior and adds a home-like feel.
Jerry’s boating life hasn’t always been so lavish, but it never lacked excitement or passion. “I loved the water and loved to swim before I was even in grade school,” he says. Sadly, at the age of 11, Jerry lost his father to heart disease. “My father’s friends became my fathers and my guiding lights,” Jerry explains as he preps the boat for launch. “They gave me the opportunity to do a lot of things in life that the average guy would miss out on.”
Jerry and Jeanne keep their 441, called Perkin Up, at a marina slip on Naples Bay in the gated waterside community of Windstar. The yacht overlooks the club pool and offers the perfect spot for watching Naples’ sunsets, known for their palette of oranges, violets and every shade in between. The couple often invites Windstar Club friends to join them out on the gulf for a VIP view of the sun’s epic performance. Today, they enjoy the company of longtime friends and neighbors Tom Watts and his wife, Janeen Macrino.
Jerry swivels the helm seat slightly and calls down the bridge stairs. “Hey, Jeanne,” he says, “there’s a line on the port side.” He then turns to Tom, who sits opposite him in the cockpit. “Jeanne has this down pretty good.” Sure enough, she wrangles the dock lines with ease and then settles in for the ride.
Jerry takes a moment to maneuver out of the slip and into the bay before continuing his story. “One of my father’s friends was a World War II Navy Frogman,” he says. “He started me in scuba at 12, and I helped him with underwater recovery.”
Jerry grew up boating on Lake Texoma, south of Oklahoma City. He chuckles a little, recalling an early experience at the helm, which involved him “borrowing” the family skiff. “I was kind of adventurous as a kid,” he says. “I admired that little boat and took it across the lake to some islands without my parents’ permission. The trip went fine, but I got into a heap of trouble.”
Eventually, at the age of 23, Jerry bought his very own 16-foot fiberglass boat, which he says he used for skiing circles around the lake. “If you do something enough, you get good at it,” he says.
“Dad actually built us our first boat,” Jeanne chimes in, relating her own childhood on the water. “We even built our first skis.” She describes her family vacations to Gulf Shores, Alabama. With a hearty “Roll Tide” and a raise of her Champagne glass, she quickly makes her allegiance known. Her toast turns the topic to college football. Jerry favors Oklahoma State and even displays his team spirit on the Meridian with an orange and black aft deck rug.
Tom and Janeen, on the other hand, are Nebraska transplants who say they proudly cheer on the Cornhuskers. “Though, we’re not fans anymore,” Janeen jokes with a grin, lamenting a recent loss.
Although equally passionate about the sport, Jeanne expertly diffuses the football discussion by turning the topic back to her family’s old vacation cabin on the water. She reminisces about crab traps and the gumbo they’d freeze so that they could indulge all year long. Her early penchant for fishing has stuck with her. She’s now part of the Windstar Fishing Club and heads out with fellow anglers as often as she can. “I like deep-water fishing and catching anything I can eat.”
Jerry captains the Meridian through Gordon’s Pass, lined with tangles of mangroves, and out on to the open water. Despite some hefty rollers, the Meridian masters the chop with ease. The Perkinses were adamant that they retire in a destination that was not only great for boating, but also had access to the Gulf of Mexico. “Boating here is 10 times better than on the Pacific,” he says.
Originally, their Windstar home, which they bought in 1995, served as a vacation spot whenever the couple needed respite from hard work on their Oklahoma ranch. “I never thought I would see the day when I would sell the ranch,” Jerry says. “But here we have the marina and the private access to the beach, which is right across from the Naples Botanical Garden.”
Jerry ran a cow and calf operation for 40 years in addition to many other entrepreneurial endeavors. He’s owned and managed various businesses, ranging from a pharmacy to an art gallery. At one point, he even manufactured ski clothing. “It’s all easy to get into and hard to get out of,” he says, smiling. Before retiring, Jeanne taught in the public school system. “The wonderful Florida lifestyle sure does make it easy to get our kids to come visit,” Jerry adds of their adult children.
Jerry and Jeanne were introduced to the Meridian lifestyle at the Miami International Boat Show. They’d owned cruisers previously, but instantly became enamored with all that a Meridian has to offer. “The diesel engines give me more dependability and range, and the prop tunnels give this boat a shallow draft,” he says. “The second bedroom and bathroom were a must. Dual GPS, the radar, autopilot, the SmartCraft™ system and satellite television were all added luxuries.”
The post-Christmas 80-degree weather heats up the enclosed bridge and prompts Jerry to mention the six air conditioners onboard. Janeen fakes a shiver and laughs at the thought of all the years she and Tom spent enduring Nebraska winters. “I can’t imagine the cold up there,” she says, “because we’ve been down here for 16 years.”
A hush falls over the yacht as the sun sinks toward the sea. A pale pink morphs into a crimson blaze, and the light casts a purple hue on the gleaming Meridian’s long bow. All eyes remain affixed on the stunning horizon. Tour boats filled with sightseers turn their attention from the colorful show before them to the Perkinses’ Meridian as Jerry skillfully captains the 441 back inside the bay.
“Oh look, there’s our eagle,” Jeanne says, pointing to a divine creature perched high on a bare tree trunk. “Isn’t he beautiful?” The bird is a regular fixture inside the pass, and the four friends always make a point to keep an eye out for it.
Jerry turns the boat in the direction of Port Royal, famed for having some of the most extravagant real estate in the nation. The couples gawk at a home with a vast infinity pool that overlooks the water. They are unaware that a resident, lounging on the veranda, casts an equal amount of curiosity in the direction of the Meridian.
Jerry asks Jeanne to take the helm for a minute, and she eagerly obliges. “I’ve had the opportunity to take a class at MarineMax,” she says. “I was so overwhelmed when we got the boat, but they really helped me. I learned how to dock, and they made me feel so comfortable. Now I am going to have them come over so I can learn more about the electronics.” Learning all the ropes—not just the dock lines—is Jeanne’s goal for the couple’s upcoming trip to the Bahamas.
She and Jerry acquired a taste for the excitement and adventure that longer rides have to offer when they traveled to Key West earlier this past year. “It takes the same amount of time by water as it does by land. Much better on a boat,” Jerry says.
After retaking the helm, Jerry maneuvers the Meridian around the bend and expertly docks it in the couple’s slip at Windstar. The moonlight now reflects off the club pool and beckons the crew.
As they disembark, Jerry flips on the 441’s underwater lights. With Champagne flutes in hand, they head out onto the deck. He looks back, admiring his Meridian—the fantastic result of a lifelong joy of being on the water. “At night, we love the colored lights underneath the swim platform,” he says, pausing for a moment before continuing. “They’ll definitely look good in that Bahamian water…”