A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

Luxury boats, RVs and a little advice: ‘Never marry a stripper’

“Son,” the note read, “whatever you do, don’t ever marry a stripper.”

I was looking through my wallet for the phone number of an old fishing acquaintance I’d met in a bar after many years of not crossing paths. He had some big-fish secrets that he seemed happy enough to share with an old friend.

I pulled out a little piece of paper and unfolded it, hoping to find the number, and scribbled on the back was that little gem about dancers, which I’d forgotten all about.

The quote came from a New York City photographer who was telling me a funny story a couple of years back about an old advertising executive he used to do some business for. We were having breakfast that summer in Newport, R.I., before heading out on the water to cover the elegant J Class sailboats.

I was talking with the same photographer a few days ago, and he told me that he was pretty much done with marine work and was returning to his specialty — high-end still life.

“It’s that saying,” he told me. “Look at where people are not going today. That’s where I need to be.”

There are too many people with digital cameras shooting things “on the fly” to make good money at it anymore, he told me. He was going to concentrate on what he and few others do really well.

* * *

This scene from the Miami boat shows has stuck with me. I was aboard an Intrepid center console, admiring the fit and finish and layout when a couple in their late 40s or early 50s walked up the stairs and greeted the company representative standing in the boat with me.

The husband and wife are having a 43-footer built, and they asked plant manager Sean Wilson whether the sea trial and delivery date were still holding. Everything was right on time, Wilson assured them.

“Yippee,” the woman shouted. Man and woman beamed and beamed.

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The husband, it turns out, had taken his 80-year-old mother to visit the boat under construction a couple of weeks earlier. Talk about new-boat fever — it was like watching a couple of kids on Christmas morning.

“I was very impressed by what you guys do over there,” the man said to Wilson. “Thanks a lot.”

* * *

The RV market usually is a good barometer of the boating market. There’s a long-held belief that the recreational vehicle market leads marine by six or eight months.

I saw a report in The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch last week about how the RV industry was bouncing back, driven in part by what the story called “high-design interiors.”

The article explained that Airstream had commissioned superyacht designer Mauro Micheli, whose credits include the Riva line, to apply to campers the same clean, modern aesthetic he brings to yachts. Micheli’s design can be seen in the upscale teak, light woods and Corian interior of Airstream’s 28-foot Land Yacht trailer, according to the story.

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The report quotes Bruce Bannister, Airstream vice president for product development, as saying the Land Yacht idea came out of feedback from dealers about new high-end models.

“References to yachts kept coming up,” he said.

* * *

One more data point. Recent headline in the WSJ: “What Recession? Americans Regain a Craving for Luxury.”

The story did not address boats specifically but, rather, luxury-goods makers such as Hermes, Gucci and Cartier. Bolstered by an improving economy, including strong gains in the equity markets and recent gains in housing, wealthy Americans are shrugging off uncertainty and “spending freely” on expensive products, according to the report.

“Trends in luxury consumption in the U.S. have continued to outperform overall consumer trends,” a luxury-goods analyst told the newspaper. The same analyst noted that there are limits. “Where some have gone too far is in thinking Middle America is going to be buying luxury,” he said.

That rings true.

* * *

A good lede — a story’s opening paragraph — is supposed to get your attention. I read one recently that grabbed me in a New York Times story about a new nine-part History Channel dramatic series called “Vikings,” which compared the Norse explorers to NASA astronauts or the brash pioneers of Silicon Valley. OK, I thought, I’ll read on.

Near the end of the story, the reviewer describes how the role of high technology — the author makes reference to a “crude compass” — gives the Vikings an “unexpected resonance in today’s society grappling with the cyberfrontier.”

Although the Vikings could not read or write, the show’s creator, Michael Hirst, told the Times that these seafaring adventurers were far more advanced in boatbuilding and navigation than their contemporaries were.

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“They had the technology to build a boat, but it wasn’t about the boat,” Hirst said in the article. “It was about: Where is it going to take you.” He also said people today “are pushed out to sea not really knowing how to cross the technological ocean.”

Cyberfrontiers and adrift on technological oceans — could the Vikings be a metaphor for modern existential man, up the proverbial creek of relentless technological change without a clue or a paddle?

For perspective, a quote from the late mass media visionary Marshall McLuhan: “The future masters of technology will have to be light-hearted and intelligent. The machine easily masters the grim and the dumb.”

Be a Viking. Don’t over-think it. Enjoy the voyage.

* * *

One of the ingredients for success in business and in one’s personal life comes from having perspective. A short view and a long view. A sense of history. Where you and your business used to be, where you are today and how you got there and where you’re headed tomorrow. Viewing life through a sharply focused, wide-angle lens, if you will.

In the most recent issue of Soundings magazine, I wrote about polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his remarkable 800-nautical-mile voyage through the Southern Ocean during the Antarctic Winter of 1916. Hands-down, it is one of the most amazing small-boat journeys ever.

This remarkable survival story was back in the news recently after a small team of British and Australian adventurers re-created what it termed “the double” — Shackleton’s 800-mile sail to South Georgia and his trek over the formidable mountains to the site of an old whaling station, where the outside world, such as it was, first heard of the expedition’s great peril.

I ended the column with a reference to the passage of time: “Clock hands whirl, calendar pages turn, and the sea still holds the trump card.”

The day after I wrote the column I was back in my hometown on family business and drove past my grandparents’ house at 98 Beach St., where the old Norwegian sea captain lived with his thoroughly New England Yankee wife, my father and his sister.

I remember the dusty light coming through the tall window in his grand study, where he kept his marine books, ship models, a world globe, a large brass ship’s telescope and assorted nautical artifacts. A world away, now.

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The first photo here was taken in late March 1933, on my father’s 13th birthday. David Sisson is seated in the middle of the bottom row, surrounded by his gang of friends wearing knickers and trousers. You see them posed in the second photo beside one of the apple trees in the side yard, where they roughhoused the afternoon away. There is a photo I couldn’t find for this blog that shows them hanging upside down by their legs from the tree’s main branches.

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The tree was a victim of the blizzard we had three weeks ago — the heavy snow brought the old limbs down. A more poignant marker of time for me than my earlier reference to calendar pages and clock hands, which in hindsight strikes me as a bit trite.

* * *

There you have it. From RVs and Vikings to luxury spending and an old apple tree that someone has to cut up and drag off. Remember, travel the road less taken; stay light on your feet in the face of the technology monsoon; and, son, never marry a stripper.

Comments

6 comments on “Luxury boats, RVs and a little advice: ‘Never marry a stripper’

  1. Bill

    Good stuff Bill. With regard to Sir Ernest Shackleton….I recently read ‘Endurance’ by Alfred Lansing, as part of a company leadership program. Absolutely a riveting book about Shackelton’s voyage, and must-read for anyone who loves the sea.

  2. Laura Martin

    Hello Bill, it’s been a while, but I am compelled to tell you what great pleasure I got from reading every single word of your post today. I admit the stripper comment intrigued me enough to see how you’d weave it in, but beyond that, the good stuff just kept coming. Vikings, Shackelton, old b&w family photos . . . Well done!

  3. Norm Schultz

    Hey Bill – Haven’t enjoyed a blog so much in a long time. Enjoyable from top to bottom. Thanks.

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