Adult sisters Melissa Clifford and Tasha Bredeson don’t have to crank the memory reel to take them back to childhood. instead, they hop on their parents’ Boston Whaler 315 Conquest and let their father push the throttle. Squishing their bare toes in sand, squealing as they plunge into sparkling Minnesota water and letting the wind whip their hair when the boat gets up on plane will never go out of style.
“They’re really jazzed about us having this boat so they can come out and enjoy the same things with their kids that they remember doing with us,” says their father, Tim Clifford. “They have the opportunity to recreate some of that.”
When Melissa and Tasha were growing up, Tim and his wife, Melanie, spent every summer weekend they could onboard a boat. But then, as children tend to do, the girls became adults and moved out. The boat sat idle while the Clifford daughters were busy starting their lives as in-dependent young women, so Tim and Melanie sold it.
But eventually, both Melissa and Tasha had daughters of their own. Tasha and her husband, Erik, have Taytum (8) and Makyla (5), and Melissa has Kennedy (2). Suddenly Grandma and Grandpa sensed it was time to get everyone back together in one place.
That place is the St. Croix River, which runs along a portion of the Minnesota-Wisconsin border just east of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. “It’s a gorgeous river,” Tim says. “It’s one of the cleanest in the nation.”
For their adventures, Tim and Melanie bought a Boston Whaler after they saw a 320 Vantage at a boat show. Tim had never seen a larger Whaler before and was immediately smitten. “I said, ‘You know what? I don’t think there’s anything here that’s going to sway me away from a Whaler,’” he recalls.
Although they liked the Vantage and spent nearly two hours looking at it, Tim and Melanie wanted a cabin for overnighting near the state parks they frequent. “The Conquest was the obvious choice for us,” Tim says, “and the 315 just seemed like the nice sweet spot between the 285 and the 345.”
They bought their boat through MarineMax Bayport and slip it at the facility’s marina, located right on the St. Croix River, just 20 minutes from the Cliffords’ home. “They’re great,” Tim says of MarineMax, “just a first-class operation, top to bottom. Everybody we interact with is professional and enjoyable to deal with.”
The Clifford family routine is good, simple fun — as it always has been. They cruise the Minnesota-Wisconsin shorelines and find a spot to anchor, or they scout out a beach where they can pull up and let the kids off to play. Tim says that Erik is the resident chef in the family, so he’s often in charge of manning the pull-out cockpit grill on the boat’s optional Summer Kitchen.
Naturally, everyone gets into the water — except for Harry, Tim and Melanie’s Pomeranian. “Harry’s content as long as he gets to come along,” Tim says. “He’s not much of a swimmer, but he likes to sit up on the dash and look out the window. He loves to travel. If he’s moving, he’s happy.”
Everyone’s happy out on the Conquest. Melissa and Tasha reminisce about endless days spent splashing in the water until their skin turned to wrinkled gooseflesh and they climbed back aboard to let sun and snacks warm their bones. They watch with knowing smiles as their own girls turn the beach, the river and the boat into their personal play kingdom.
Grandpa likes to pull the kids around on the tube, and he’s thankful for the Conquest’s versatility. “It’s just so much fun and it’s fast,” he says. “It handles like a runabout, so it’s kind of like you have a sport boat and a cabin cruiser all in one.”
Long before they had their Whaler, Tim and Melanie used to have a large cruiser with a double cabin, but they say it was just too much boat for what they like to do. “I see no reason to have something big just for the sake of big,” Tim says.
The notion that the Conquest is often purchased as a ﬁshing boat isn’t lost on him. “I hate to admit it, but I’m not much of a fisherman — yet,” he says. He expresses an ambition to get more serious about the sport he dabbled in as a child. “Well, you know, when you have a platform as good as this, it becomes almost a necessity.”
For now, Tim is thrilled with the Whaler’s layout, perfect for entertaining his family. “It has a lot of flexibility for where people want to sit or which way they want to look,” he says. “And it’s more than adequate for overnighting as a couple. And, of course, we have the mid-cabin, where the grandkids can camp out. It’s their little domain.”
The twin 300-hp Mercury® Verado® Four-Strokes are also a huge plus. They provide the best dose of get-up-and-go, durability, and ease of use on the St. Croix. “The engines are quiet,” Tim says. “And they’re extremely responsive and smooth.”
The St. Croix joins the Mississippi in a scenic region called the Great Rivers Confluence Area that encompasses the towns of Hastings, Minnesota, and Prescott, Wisconsin. The confluence offers the Cliffords the opportunity to go on longer adventures, but they’re in love with their native state. “The sky is the limit if you want to put some miles under the keel,” Tim says, “but we like hanging around here because the water is so beautiful and the setting is nice and natural.”
Mother Nature ushers in some epic Minnesota winters, equally as beautiful as the summers, but the idea of tucking the boat away for the season makes the Clifford family appreciate every day they can of sunshine and fun. “In the summer, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be,” Tim says. “The weather is warm, but it’s temperate. The place is green and lush. I like the quality of life here and the general attitude of the people; they have a very health-conscious mindset. It’s just a great place to live.”
Using the boat as a way to wrangle the family on weekends also helps Tim maintain a good work-life balance, something that’s hard for the always-on entrepreneur. Tim runs his own construction company, focusing on single-family residential homes. His builder’s eye came in handy when choosing a boat. He recognized good craftsmanship when he saw it. “I just thought, ‘These people speak my language,’” Tim recalls. “You know, it’s the whole premise of how they approach building a boat. It just spoke to me—the quality and the thoughtful touches and the purpose-built mentality.”
He lauds the Whaler’s durability and reliability, but he’s also noticed that his Conquest has turned a number of heads for its clean, classic lines. “The compliments that I get are just nonstop,” Tim says. “We’ll anchor out, and people will motor up in their dinghy just to tell us how impressed they are with the boat. They’ll say things like, ‘Now, that’s a real boat!’ And this is a river that’s full of big cruisers.”
When the whole Clifford clan can’t go along, that doesn’t stop Tim and Melanie from getting out on the water. The Conquest is a frequent fixture at Wisconsin’s Kinnickinnic State Park. There, they can find a protected area to anchor, relax on the beach, or enjoy the company of those circled around a fire ring. “Most of the people we know on the river, more often than not, we’ll run into them at the Kinni,” Tim says. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Melissa and Tasha love the boat as a springboard back to their childhood and a way to craft the same cherished memories with their own daughters, but Tim and Melanie are also finding that it’s a springboard to fresh horizons, where they can make new friends and traditions and reinforce the strong bonds they have with each other.