A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

A strength undiminished by Greece, politics or time

This is a story about one of my grandfathers that I think illustrates a real strength of our sport and our industry.

Norwegian-born Olaf Berentsen came from a seafaring family, immigrated to New York City in the early 20th century and worked for several years aboard J.P. Morgan’s great yacht Corsair. Everyone called him “Cap.”

He fought for the United States in France in World War I, returned in mostly one piece and during the 1920s worked as a yacht captain for several wealthy families from Philadelphia and New York who had summer homes in Watch Hill, R.I.

The vessels were 35- to 55-foot motoryachts — lovely creations. Mahogany and brass and canvas. All spit and polish. Cap often would pick up an owner and his family at the New York Yacht Club’s dock on the East River and make his way east to Rhode Island.

I have several boxes of correspondence between the good captain and the owners, brokers and boatyards he did business with. Letters, telegrams, boat photos, yacht drawings.

And here’s the thing: These conversations took place 85 or 90 years ago, but they could have happened yesterday. The enthusiasm and passion these owners showed for their boats and for getting on the water is no different than it is today.

They had the same worries and concerns. They wrote to Cap about a balky engine, a storm, the condition of a boat they were looking to buy.

In terms of priorities, it was clear from the letters that during the summer months the yachts were at the top of the list. They often took priority over matters of the office — and they often took precedence over matters of the heart, wives and girlfriends and the family.

We have the raw materials — the ocean, the sky, the boat, the fresh air, the incredible sense of freedom — to make grown men and women spend copious amounts of money and time and psychic energy. That is our enduring strength. It’s the one thing that is not going to go away, in good times or bad. Greek debt woes, fiscal cliff or the sky falling. None of it will permanently alter this course.

In tough times, people sometimes forget the importance of family time and relaxation and getting away. For millions of people, nothing does it better than boating. We just need to remind them why it’s so special.

Cap understood that. So did the owners he worked with. They speak to me from crinkly Western Union telegrams. Gone. All gone now. What would they give to spend one more afternoon on the water, sun on their backs, wind in their faces, slipping down a fairway on board a favorite yacht?

We have the clay. It’s ours to shape.

Enjoy the holiday weekend.

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