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Boating Isn’t About Excess

When it comes down to it, happiness on the water doesn't have to be flashy.

Steve Haefele illustration
One whose ride was too small insisted on welding the eviscerated shell of a Hughes 500 chopper to the boat deck. Steve Haefele

My career began in 1980 at a yard in Connecticut, working on boat designs that weren’t much different from the exhibits parked down the street at the Mystic Seaport Museum. At the time, a new generation with pockets full of newly minted coin was moving up from Rolexes and Rollers to make their mark on yacht design.

It seemed like living inside a movie. The golf-course comedy Caddyshack had captured the changing of the guard with characters such as Judge Smails, immortalized by Ted Knight, and Al Czervik, famously portrayed by Rodney Dangerfield. I moved from Connecticut to Florida to get in on the action designing large motoryachts and had the good fortune to work for a number of guys Dangerfield could have used as a character study.

I heard it all like lines from a script. “Coyle, all a guy really needs is 100 feet.” “Buddy boy, give me the wheel. Let me show you how it’s done.” “Coyle, make her higher, longer or faster than the highest, longest or fastest.” I decorated some clients’ dream boats with helicopters. One whose ride was a size too small insisted on welding the eviscerated shell of a Hughes 500 chopper to the boat deck.

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There were parties I can’t recall, with private jets and inquiries from yachtsmen in the joint, dreaming of escape. I would learn from an FBI agent why a client had a cash-flow issue: It wasn’t his cash. A broker pal who received similar news thought for a moment and then asked, “Does this mean he’s not buying the boat?”

My father was amused by such stories. He was more a Judge Smails kind of guy. Well into retirement at the time, his only possessions were a boat that he puffed and polished relentlessly and a membership at a golf club. As he liked to say, he played golf in the mornings and saw doctors in the afternoons.

He would arrive at the club in his beloved rust-pocked Chevy Malibu, and the valets greeted him like royalty. “Mr. Coyle, let me find the perfect spot for her,” they’d gush before rolling the car’s remains just a few yards away to join a chorus line of supercars. One member threatened towing, but most were envious—because they realized that here was a man who had no need to make a statement.

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As boating boomers have burned candles at both ends making their statements, I believe generational change is again at hand. Millennials adopting the pastime may wish to do so without the excess expense that excess demands. Instead of another floating Ferrari or Rolls-Royce, perhaps the time has come for a Malibu.

No—a Falcon. As in the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars in 1977. Designed to travel the universe in comfort, it would appear as though it had already tired of doing so. No attempt would be made to fair its steel hull, and its finish would be applied with a mop. With touches of rust drooling from its joints, a mollusk-encrusted boot stripe, and a bit of turf dangling from its ground tackle, it would send lesser craft scattering, knowing its sheer galvanic mass could dissolve their running gear in minutes.

Trimmed with the club burgee, it would have no equal. Movie rights, anyone?

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