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Original Issue


Rising costs of labor and materials for ocean racers have brought a shift in the center of gravity of the boating trade and bred a new kind of yachting gentlemen who prefer power

A Boat like Carl Hovgard's Circe (left), in or out of the water, is a fine sight. She is everything a lady should be—sleek, graceful, sensitive. To look upon her is to love her; but, as with many desirable ladies, looking is about all that most men can afford.

This is a very sad fact for quite a number of people, including Carl Hovgard. As a man who owns several large companies, he can afford such a boat, all right, but he also owns Nevins Yacht Yard and could use a lot more business from a lot more big ocean racers than the boating economics of today allow. Circe is 57 feet long—not exceptional for a distance racer—and she costs a staggering $25,000 per year to maintain—also not out of line for a boat of that size. On June 11, Hovgard plans to enter Circe in the Newport-to-Sweden race. It will cost him about $30,000 to go through with the race.

To have fun on the water it is not, of course, necessary to buy a blue-ribbon racer, or to race at all. But it is extremely necessary to have money to own even a non-racing cruiser—the kind the elite generously refer to as "clunkers." One prospective buyer had in mind a clunker of the 33-foot, $14,000 variety and asked his boatyard for an upkeep estimate. The answer was $2,400 per year. He is still sailing a dinghy which he stores, maintains and paints himself, and he ogles large sailing vessels with the same look he gives graceful and expensive blondes.

Some of the reasons behind today's high costs in yacht racing are substantially the same as those in other fields: the climbing prices of construction materials along with the scarcity and high wages of skilled labor. As a result, there has been a shifting of the center of gravity in the boat-building trade and the creation of a new American yachtsman. A great many of the American contracts for big sailboats are now going to Dutch and German yards, where carpenters and shipfitters will work for about 60 cents an hour compared to the $2.80 the men at Nevins take home. Translated into terms of, say, a 40-foot Rhodes sloop, the delivery price of a foreign-built boat, including transshipment, duty and so forth, is at least $7,000 below the cost of the same boat built in an American yard.

As business goes abroad, domestic boatyards go out of business. Seattle, a booming center for boat-building, now has only three small yards making sailboats. Around the Boston area only a bare half dozen yards of major size still survive. The same situation is true of Long Island Sound and, substantially, the rest of the country. And the yard owners who have managed to stay afloat have not done so by building big, new sailboats. Their best business comes in the repair season when they get fat cost-plus rates for overhauling and do a brisk trade in new metal fittings.

Quite a few yards have given up building altogether and transformed themselves into something called marinas, where transient yachtsmen can put in for ice, gas, food, temporary dockage and minor repairs. Finally, among those yards that have stayed in business as proper, boatbuilding yards, quite a few owe their survival to the Navy, which came along in 1946 with orders for a whole swarm of minesweepers. However, the minesweeper program has just about given out, leaving yard owners holding a large, empty bag.

Enter, then—and not a moment too soon—a new kind of yachtsman, whose basic aim is to be on the water but not in Circe. The new yachtsman, if he tends toward sail, buys small; and when it comes time for repairs he does-it-himself. Along the coast of the Pacific Northwest, for example, there are about 2,500 day-sailors being readied for the season. By contrast, Seattle harbors only 25 ocean racers in the 45-foot-plus category; and were it not for the existence of the large Boeing Aircraft plant with its complement of highly paid executives, there might not be more than five. As one Seattle broker put it, "If it weren't for Boeing, the sailboat business around here would really be peanuts."

Other, more optimistic brokers and yard owners in the area are going after the peanut business and making a good thing of it. Last February the Lake Washington Yacht Basin began building a 20-foot strip-built mahogany day-sailer they called the Holiday; and already they have sold 13 of them at $1,485 a copy. Going themselves one better, the Lake Washington people are offering a do-it-yourself package of an incomplete Holiday, plus accessories, for $797; and a further-along Holiday package for $996. Furthermore, the yard owners in the Northwest encourage amateurs to do it themselves and even bring along their own hired help, e.g., the family gardener. The theory is simple: the amateur is bound to get fouled up somewhere along the line, and then the yard comes to the rescue, at a handsome fee.


Even the ingenious Northwesterners, however, are not planning to survive on the sailboat trade alone. In today's economy, motorboats are becoming the thing largely because motorboats are so much easier. It takes at least three concentrated years to be able to handle an ocean sailer, and a lifetime to learn to handle it right. A powerboat, on the other hand, is as easy to drive as a car, and it gets there on schedule whether the wind blows or not. Furthermore, it requires a smaller crew. Maintenance is lower because there are no sails and rigging. And finally, a power yacht suitable for entertaining may sometimes be charged up to business expenses.

But even these coldest of economic facts have done little to dampen the enthusiasm of true sailors. Most of them, like the Boston clunker buyer, simply confine themselves to smaller boats—dinghies, Stars, Snipes, Lightnings and the dozens and dozens of other small-class boats. Some, like Carl Hovgard or the 77 deep-water yachtsmen in last week's Newport Beach-Ensenada race, are able to splurge with their own ocean racers. But even they no longer claim their pleasures are practical. It comes back more to a matter of emotion. Like Jim Cole of Boston, who just bought Folk Singer Burl Ives's 46-foot Bahama-built ketch Abaco Queen. The Queen is beautifully built, broad-beamed, clipper-bowed—a real island boat, completely out of place in Boston Harbor. No one but a sailor could understand why Cole bought her, and when a landsman asked a friend of Cole's—a yachtsman himself—about it, the friend took on a kind of condescending pity.

"Why," the friend of Cole's said, "he loves her." Maybe that explains everything.