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Yachtsman or Boater?

Our columnist gives his thoughts on the difference between a yachtsman and a boater.

December 10, 2020
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Steve Haefele illustration
“While I was weaned as a stinkpotter, my education in design required that I learn the ways of wind-blown vessels. I did so aboard a small daysailer.” Steve Haefele

My pal Ed was deep into a rant about sailors. Ed skippers a king-size sport yacht. For him, a sailboat on the Intracoastal Waterway is little more than an obstacle to making the next bridge opening. His is a common view these days, but such disdain for a fellow boater? Surely, we must share some common genetics.

Since the first motor was screwed onto a boat, sailors have politely looked down their noses at stinkpots, but a boom of newbie powerboaters in the 1980s left them outnumbered. Sailors saw the swarm of stinkpotters as an impatient, lazy, beer-swilling cast of miscreants (fair enough). Many stinkpotters saw “rag baggers” as wind-driven freeloaders in the pastime (I suppose).

As a powerboat designer, I admit that I can’t recall a single client who didn’t insist on shoehorning as much horsepower into a boat as possible. By the 1990s, even respectable displacement brands peddled semidisplacement rides to keep pace. Since then, horsepower has only increased, and those who pay for it often have little patience for spending their quality time astern of a lesser vessel, particularly a sailboat.

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The rules and signals for overtaking are clear, and proper etiquette calls for a parley by radio. Oftentimes, the only intentions signaled are issued after the fact by hand or hollered over the VHF radio. The offender typically shrugs and yells, “I’m at idle!” as he rumbles by just under planing speed. The victim is left wallowing in the wake and, if fitted with a mast, often claims the rights of a privileged vessel even if under power with the laundry in the hamper.

While I was weaned as a stinkpotter, my education in design required that I learn the ways of windblown vessels. I did so aboard a small daysailer. It was little more than a canoe, and I spent more time in the water than in the cockpit. With my diploma in hand, I didn’t give sailing much thought until years later when I received a call from my yacht-broker friend, John Weller.

“Coyle, you wanna join me for a sail on my catboat with Dick Bertram and his son Morgan?”

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“Yes!” I replied.

Dick had been John’s mentor in yacht brokerage and an inspiration to me as a designer. Dick was neither a stinkpotter nor a rag bagger. Dick was a yachtsman. Aside from helping to invent modern yacht brokerage and launching the iconic Bertram Yachts brand, Dick was an America’s Cup sailor and a pioneer in offshore powerboat racing. The Ray Hunt-designed 31-footer he built, raced and put into production influenced a generation of design.

Inspired by the sail, I invested in a catboat I called Puss. At first, my stinkpotter pals laughed, but they soon begged for time aboard. I reminded Ed of his time before the mast.

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“Hell of a boat,” he admitted. “With wind, the waterway was ours and that one-lung diesel cost little more than time.”

Ed was beginning to get it. One day, he might be a yachtsman. Until then, he’s just jealous.

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