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Tell Tales: Dreamentia

It’s a permanent condition for those with salty souls.

July 16, 2017
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Tell Tales
Illustrated by Steve Haefele. Steve Haefele

My yacht broker pal Tom tells me there’s been an uptick in the “dream-entia” epidemic. Every boat nut dreams of building a boat, but those suffering from dream-entia actually think they’re boatbuilders. Most eventually succumb to the dream, their lifeblood drained by a catheter inserted into their billfold. Yet while the prognosis might be grim, there is always hope.

Tom’s been getting calls and letters for years. Lubberly investors migrating to the sea and folks in stir with time to spare are typical, but occasionally there’s a diamond in the rough. One day they’re perfectly happy with the yachting status quo, and the next they stub a toe on a misplaced cleat or hit their head on a hatchway, and boom, they set about revolutionizing the pastime.

The odds of success aren’t good. One of my yacht-building mentors, the late Mike Kelsey of Palmer Johnson, used to say that if I wished to retire from the boat business with a million bucks, I had better start off with $2 million.

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“The World Wide Web is littered with yacht-design wannabes. I admit that, like most old-­timers, I’ve poked fun at a few of these ‘designs.’”

Those of us who depend on the industry clearly have a genetic disorder. It is not a choice. Those who voluntarily step into it from a successful stint in the real world often find it’s hard to scrape off their shoe. Still, what a loss it would have been if Dick Bertram hadn’t tired of being beaten by the Gulf Stream and hired Ray Hunt to pen a soft-riding, high-deadrise deep-V. Suppose Dick Fisher had done something practical with his Harvard degree instead of seeking Hunt’s help in designing a tough little 13-foot utility vessel (Boston Whaler) and building it with new materials (fiberglass) in a new way (autoclave). What if Willis Slane had stuck to knitting hosiery instead of calling on Jack Hargrave to design a fiberglass “convertible” sport-fisherman?

I spent my first Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show working for Tom Fexas. Since childhood, he’d dreamed of a boat like his Midnight Lace, and there she was, dockside, thanks to a fellow who’d crossed over from the real world and had the coin to build her. Because of her svelte beam-to-length ratio and clever form, she sipped fuel while most chugged it. Her sleek, black, rumrunnerlike silhouette turned heads in the sea of white fiberglass common at the show, circa 1981.

Since then, we’ve wandered past the primary colors. We’ve zeroed out the protractor, challenging the common sense of a raked stem. We’ve replaced portholes with picture windows, and warm and shapely teak interiors have morphed into lacquer-finished cubism. “Let’s face it: Boomers are getting too old to climb in and out of sports cars. We need fresh blood,” said Tom, who’s counting on millennials with dreamentia to pick up the ball.

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The World Wide Web is littered with yacht-design wannabes. I admit that, like most old-timers, I’ve poked fun at a few of these “designs.” But I also recall old-timers laughing at the ­odd-looking 13 Whaler in 1958.

“It’s built of glass!” they hooted.

If we’re lucky, there’ll be no shortage of those who’ve caught the bug and are willing to take the plunge into boatbuilding, even if most just take a bath.

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