I had joined the Peace Corps with the hope of digging wells in some bucolic tropical Paradise. Instead they sent me to Tehran, the largest city I would ever inhabit in my life, in the middle of a desert. The Peace Corps Volunteers in Iran had a name for Tehran. They called it the a-----e of the universe—I'm sure you can substitute the appropriate body part. But they needed computer programmers at a government ministry called the Plan Organization. I'd have to quickly learn COBOL, another computer language. Would I do it? I had come this far—I figured there was no turning back.
I worked in Tehran for two years. Two years in Iran went by like 20 years at home! But I got to travel all over the Middle East, three times to Afghanistan and Turkey and to every corner of Iran. Tehran was a tough place to live, but Iran was fascinating and romantic and beautiful, and the Iranians were as good and kind as people are anywhere. And, being in the Peace Corps was an experience that I wouldn't trade for anything. I'd do it again in a minute if I had the health and strength I had when I was young.
As I neared the end of my tour of duty I began to think about my future. I'd continued to sketch boats, even went down to the bazaar and bought tools and wood and made a model of a little yacht I hoped to design and build when I returned. I'd seen the world, survived a difficult posting and a hundred intestinal diseases in Tehran, was becoming a good engineer, knew a lot about computers, and realized if I didn't do it now at age 27—right away when I returned to America—I'd end up just like Chick Street… working for nothing but money for the rest of my life.
And that's exactly what I did. I returned to Boston in October of 1971 via a wonderful overland backpacking tour of Turkey, Greece, and much of Europe. I slept for three whole days on my brother's floor in Marblehead. I ate rare hamburger and bought things without bargaining and had solid stools. Then I got out the Boston yellow pages and looked up Naval Architects. There were four. Two that did only yachts…Dick Carter in Nahant and John Alden downtown. Two others who specialized in fish-boats and military craft. Nahant was closest to Marblehead and Dick Carter was famous. I knew I'd never get a job with him, given who he was, but I had to start somewhere, and I had months, years if necessary, because I simply wasn't going to give up on my dream, ever.
I remember it was a Friday. I drove my brother's Volkswagen van to Dick's office, parking it where I hoped he wouldn't see it. Art was into his countercultural phase at that point and his van was embellished with an all-over psychedelic paint job in day glow colors, with a smokestack sticking out the top. Not exactly the sort of vehicle one of the world's most famous racing yacht designers might expect a prospective employee to drive.
I walked in and met Dick Carter. He was not in a good mood. Seems his number one guy, Jim Hartvig Anderson, the only person who knew how to run the time-shared computer, had just given his notice. I showed Dick my drawing portfolio. He asked a few questions. Money was important, of course—I was once again broke after working without pay for two years. I formed an idea of how much I would ask him for if it ever got that far. He didn't ask. He said, "I'll offer you such and such a salary." (It was a lot more than I was going to ask for). Then he says, "Can you start on Monday?"
To order Chuck Paine's full memoir, My Yacht Designs and the Lessons They Taught Me, go to his website at www.chuckpaine.com.