Sunday, January 27, 2013


The train pulled into St. Louis from the Chicago boat show at 0200 this morning thus bringing a close to my favorite trip of the year. Boats, trains, meeting old friends, spending a little $$ on knick-this and knack-that, too much fun. I got me a set of fids, determined to become a line-splicing guru and banishing fraying knots from my boat forever. We also brought home a couple of tethers, having debated the issue long enough. And, having met a vastly experienced sailing friend who put one in his boat, I came pretty close to talking myself into repowering Kintala with a new Beta Marine motor. Not quite there yet, but the idea of replacing our old, worn, leaking Westerbeke of questionable reliability has me polishing my wrenches with a gleam in my eye.

As always there were lots of pretty boats, nearly all of them clearly designed to sit at the dock and impress your friends. Still, Deb finally got on board one modern boat she was forced to admit was rather nice - a Beneteau Oceanis 41. And yet, if I ever get Kintala to the mechanical condition I want, I'm pretty sure our 1983 Tartan will be a better offshore cruising boat than a 2013 Beneteau Oceanis 41. The exception to the "pretty boat" syndrome was the Blue Jacket 40. We climbed on board to check it out and, down below, sat Bob Johnson. Yep the real Bob Johnson, co-designer of the Blue Jacket, guru of all things Island Packet, and designer of Nomad. So what do I do face to face with a living legend of the sailboat universe? Insult him of course.

You see, the Blue Jacket has an interior somewhat like Kintala, but with a unique fold up table that works around the keel stepped mast. Deb's eye went straight to it and she asked Mr. Johnson if he would be so kind as to open it up for us. He did of course, and that was that.

"Thanks a lot," I said "Just two minutes in your boat and you managed to add another two week project to my "to-do" list." I meant it in jest of course, I was as taken with the table design as Deb and already laying out the necessary wood parts in my mind. But I fear it didn't come out that way - ah well, nothing but class - that's me. I doubt Mr. Johnson is too concerned about my opinion on anything - rightly so. And he seemed genuinely pleased at how much we had loved our little Com-Pac 27.

For all of the fun this boat show was a bit of a disappointment. Pretty, "mine is bigger than yours" boats also set the tone for the rest of the show. I wanted to learn about setting up solar panels on a serious cruising boat. There were no solar panels in sight. I wanted to learn about wind generators and hydro generators. There were none of those in sight either. There were no Rocna anchors in the building, a disappointment since we have decided the new anchor we bought simply isn't performing as well as we had hoped. All kinds of inflatable dinks were stacked up here and there, but nothing nested or folding or sailing. Much of the personal gear I examined looked like it had been designed by the marketing department. Looks good, but who sees you standing watch on a dark, cold and stormy night passage? There were lots of fancy furling rigs for main sails, but finding information on bullet proof storm sails? Apparently pretty boats don't sail in stormy weather.

And then there is John Kretschmer. We sailed with John on a Bahama's Bash a couple of years ago, enjoyed dinner Friday with him and 20 others who have sailed with him over the years, and attended his "heavy weather" seminar at the show. I took an instant liking to John when we first met, something that is unusual for me. (There are a few on this planet who wonder if I take a liking to anyone at anytime.) The "Pretty Boat" aspect of this show highlighted the reason why I did. In the airplane world there is a small group inside the small group that are paid to fly airplanes - the truly hard core professional. They often started out nursing rag tag equipment through the harshest weather on merciless schedules for fly-by-night freight companies. They shrug their shoulders and crank-up their airplanes while other "pros" go looking for an excuse to cancel. Enroute thunderstorms, destination weather at minimums, forecasts of turbulence or ice or high winds, for this small group it is just part of why they do the job at all. Any twit can fly when the winds are calm, the sun is shining and the runway is dry. More to the point, if they don't go they don't keep the job, don't get paid, can't keep the kids fed and the wife happy. So when they don't go its because going means the sky will kill them, and this bunch is notoriously hard to kill. Some lucky few of this group find their way to jobs that are not nearly as harsh, but the hard-core bred into them over countless dark and stormy hours in lightning-lit cockpits is forever a part of their soul. If they make it to the good life they live easy and, at least among themselves, laugh a lot and tell good stories. There is no easy way to join their ranks and they have no patience for pretenders.

Contrary to what you might think this group is not well liked by "the industry." They don't write articles for the popular flying magazines, sell a lot of books, or get quoted in the popular press in regards to aviation matters. They tend to be gruff, don't much care what other people think, and raise the ire of the talking experts for one simple reason, this small group actually are the best at what they do. They fly airplanes, make flights, and handle weather that gets other people killed. They do it time and time again. And they know from the close calls they have had and the friends they have buried that the sky is not always blue and accommodating, that challenging the elements in man-made machines is not a marketing ploy for advertising shiny new airplanes on the cover of "Flying".

John Kretschmer is of that kind in the sailing world. Touching bases with him again was a breeze of refreshing air during what was otherwise a "Pretty Boat," kind of show. I know that's what sells Beneteaus and Hunters and Catalinas, keeps magazines afloat and people employed. But if that's what I really thought sailing was all about, I wouldn't bother.

And probably, if you are a reader of this blog, neither would you.


SailFarLiveFree said...

Well said, TJ. I've always respected the honesty of you and Deb's writing, but I really connected with your "pretty boat" sentiment in this post. Wish we would have thought to round up a "bloggers" meeting at the show. We went on Friday and enjoyed the time together more than the boats, but it's still a good "sailing" experience for late January in the Great Lakes.

Pau Shard said...

Very sorry we didn't go to the Chicago Show. We'll get there next year!

Glad to read your comments on John K - one of my favourite sailing personalities!

Deb said...

Kevin so sorry we didn't know you were there. Would have loved to meet you!

polehiker said...

Well said at the end, my feelings in my career after 41 years.