A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

Ode to owners, builders, wet dogs or husbands — and bad jokes

Today’s dispatch covers some new ground as well as some familiar ground but from what I hope is a fresh, slightly different perspective.

In last week’s blog, I wrote, in part, about the hundreds of thousands of boats still on the water from some of the big model years in the 1980s and ’90s. In particular, I pointed out that there were roughly 369,000 boats built in 1988 still registered and presumably being used.

That afternoon, Trade Only associate editor Jack Atzinger came up to me and said: “I’ve got one of those ’88 boats.” And he proceeded to tell me his story.

Jack bought a 17-foot Sea Sprite I/O bowrider from its 80-some-year old owner in the fall of 1995. The owner paid $10,000 for it new; Atzinger bought his little pride and joy for $6,000.

“It was well maintained,” he said. “I could tell he was a good owner. I’ve gotten 17 seasons out it. That’s a lot of years.”

The boat lives on a trailer in the editor’s garage. He uses it on local lakes, the 120-hp MerCruiser pushing it along at a nice 25-mph clip. The wood trim is in good shape, but the vinyl could use an upgrade.

“It’s the right size for the garage, right size for the kind of boating I do,” Atzinger said. “Twenty-five years old this year. I better buy it something to celebrate. Maybe I’ll get it that vinyl for its silver anniversary.”

With Jack Atzinger as her owner, that little boat has a good bit of life left in her.

* * *

I recently opined about how the future was bright for those small companies building quality legacy brands, particularly if they keep a close eye on the bottom line, aren’t carrying much if any debt and don’t forget the painful lessons of the last several years.

Coincidentally, I spoke with just such a builder yesterday. He produces three semicustom models — 22-, 25- and 27-footers — and the quality of the work is superb. He’s working on a 25 right now, and after that he has an order for a 27, which will keep him busy into 2014.

At the moment, he runs a one-man shop, which means he’s chief cook and bottle washer. He toys constantly with the idea of adding a couple more guys because potential customers don’t want to wait three years for a boat. But after what we all went through, he also worries that demand might dry up. And, he says, he has his standards, and he’s had trouble finding help capable of working to them.

“My expectations are so high for what I do,” he told me. “Hearing it’s ‘good enough’ would drive me crazy.”

My friend is destined to stay small but busy.

* * *

There’s been a lot of talk of late about the aging fleet and aging owners. Jeremy is the flip side of that coin. He is a 19-year-old kid who works at an auto body shop in Connecticut and is mentoring under a marine mechanic. He thinks well with his hands and his head. He’s eager — and he just bought a late-1980s 34-foot Sea Ray Sedan Bridge cruiser for $8,000.

The owner had been trying to sell it for five years. He’s happy, and the kid is pumped and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.

“What kind of varnish do you use,” he asked me the other day.

“Captains,” I told him.

“I knew it. Me, too.”

He took out his smart phone and proudly showed me photos of the wood trim he’d recently dressed up.

At 19, he’s the youngest boater in the 110-slip marina where he’ll keep his first boat.

* * *

A story broke earlier this week about a fishing boat that picked up four people and a dog Monday from their capsized vessel about 100 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas, in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Coast Guard was particularly pleased because the boaters were rescued by a good Samaritan vessel 40 minutes away, which had followed the coordinates of the boat in distress from the Coast Guard’s urgent marine information broadcast.

The skipper of the good Samaritan boat later spoke by phone with the wife of the owner of the capsized vessel.

“She seemed to be more concerned about the dog,” he told the press, “than the husband.”

* * *

My mechanic friend and my boatwright brother-in-law are walking repositories of hundreds of jokes. They’ve got the kind of memory that stores and retrieves them by the score. I don’t, but I’m going to share this one (with some minor editing) that was sent to me by a retired marine entrepreneur.

Five surgeons from big cities are discussing who makes the best patients to operate on.

The first surgeon, from New York, says, “I like to see accountants on my operating table because when you open them up, everything inside is numbered.”

The second surgeon, from Chicago, responds, “Yeah, but you should try electricians! Everything inside them is color-coded.”

The third surgeon, from Dallas, says, “No, I really think librarians are the best. Everything inside them is in alphabetical order.”

The fourth surgeon, from Los Angeles, chimes in, “You know, I like construction workers. Those guys always understand when you have a few parts left over.”

But the fifth surgeon, from Washington, D.C., shut them all up when he observed, “You’re all wrong. Politicians are the easiest to operate on. There’s no guts, no heart, no cojones, no brains and no spine. Plus the head and the buttocks are interchangeable.”

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