SPRING HAS SPRUNG and sailors north of the Mason-Dixon line are busying themselves with final plans for getting their boats wet again, and working off the balance of the winter worklist that somehow didn't get done in all the cold weather. Here in Florida, summer-like weather has already descended, with temps in the high 80's and even low 90's occasionally. Many owners here are looking forward (as in, "anticipating") to the start of the hurricane season, which officially begins June 1. Sailing really slacks off here during the late summer as hurricanes become more active and the hot weather really settles in.
I am pleased to publish this second newsletter, later than I had hoped, but here nonetheless. I've been extremely busy setting up a new office for S&J Yachts, located in Palmetto, FL, just 20 minutes from my home. With several new yacht lines represented and access to worldwide brokerage listings, the office will serve boat buyers and sellers in Florida well.
My nearly three decades of working at Island Packet Yachts -- alongside the creative inspiration and focused determination of Bob Johnson, together with a team of dedicated craftspeople and wonderful support staff that made our workplace an enjoyable, mostly harmonious Santa’s Workshop for grown-up toys -- was a treat in so many ways. Every day spent at the office was time with my work family and attending shows and rendezvous’ all over the world was time spent with friends. Bob and I used to joke about business relationships deteriorating into friendships, and that was the case for so many of the talented group of dealers and marine industry colleagues I worked and played with for more than 30 years. And as I gathered materials for these Island Packet Ancestry newsletters, I was struck by the many faces peering back at me from old photos, some of them long gone, and realized what a gift I had been given. My encyclopedic ability to recall owner’s names from their hull number, or vice versa, is long gone, but memories of names, faces, and places all tumble forth in a torrent of consciousness as I look at these treasured images from the past. I hope you’ll enjoy my glimpses into the Island Packet history folders as I share and recount events, travels and people from my many years working with America’s Cruising Yacht Leader.
May the sailing season ahead bring fair winds
and kind seas to you all.
Every once in a while you need to take a leap. Island Packet was safely running on all cylinders and, after the successful launch of the IP35 in the fall of 1988, things had become almost routine. We had entered the export market in 1989 with both a Dutch and British dealer, replaced the IP 31, our oldest model in the lineup with the all-new IP32 in 1990, and the following year replaced the IP27 with an all-new IP29. These models truly were new and followed the IP35 in styling and outfitting as our "Second Generation" Island Packet. Bob had made changes “underneath” the showy parts, too, as pre-tinned boat wire, thru-bolted seacocks, anhydrous rubber-lined sanitation hoses and a higher grade of gelcoat all made their way into the standard equipment list. Now it was time to do something unexpected.
The Island Packet 44 was going to be the largest, best-equipped boat for a cruising couple the world had ever seen, or at least that’s how we looked at it at the time. The 44 had a sexy sheer line, a list of standard equipment to make the European market blanch, and an interior layout that featured a bathtub in the aft head and a ladies’ vanity in the owner’s stateroom! How could we go wrong?
Against Bob’s ingrained sense that boats should be simple, with very few options, the IP44 had a page of options and a long, “unpublished” list of custom upgrades and accessories we were willing to install. This yacht was a direct response to the competition we were experiencing in Europe where factory installed equipment and customization options often ran three and four pages long!
In order to keep things manageable, we opted to make several desirable options “standard equipment” in the base price. Stereo, heat (yep, with an automotive radiator-style heater hooked up to engine cooling water and a squirrel-cage fan behind the port settee), engine-driven holding plate refrigeration system, solar vents, and a few new items that would become standard equipment on every future model: under-sole holding tank installation, dedicated engine and house battery banks and a dual output alternator.
One of our early buyers of the 44 was a surgeon up in the Great Lakes region. One day I had a message to call him as he wanted an update on the build progress of his boat. Calling the number provided I got a receptionist who told me the doctor was in surgery and would have to call me back. When I gave her my name for the message she said, "Hold on! He wants to talk with you!" A few seconds later I was hearing the background "beep--beep--beep" of some heart monitor and the deep rumbling of a breathing machine! "Hi, Bill", was heard on the speakerphone along with some background giggling. His staff was all aware of the new yacht being built and they all wanted an update!
The 44 also was the first Island Packet to feature a pedestal mounted steering wheel as opposed to the reverse wheel shaft that entered the helm seat on previous models. I recall vividly taking hull number one out for her inaugural test sail with several magazine editors, a couple of dealers and a couple of potential buyers onboard. As we prepared for departure from the dock I walked aft to take my position at the wheel; I had drawn the short straw and would be the first to handle the yacht under power. Like every other Island Packet I had ever sailed, I deftly lifted my leg up and over the steering shaft – which wasn’t there! Old habits die hard and most of those onboard witnessed my little folly. But all witnessed the way the boat backed in a straight line. Again, with years of experience handling an Island Packet, I knew how prop wash and thrust affected the yacht in reverse. In fact, experienced owners would use that side thrust to help maneuver their yacht when backing down. I had planned on that side thrust as I backed out of the slip but this first IP44 had been equipped with a feathering prop and the sideways thrust was almost totally absent. Instead of nicely backing to port as I had expected, the 44 went straight as an arrow towards the boats and docks on the adjacent finger pier! Some quick wheel work saved the day and the lesson was learned. Once we got away from the dock and the sails were up and engine turned off, we were all quite amazed at the sailing performance of the yacht, thinking we had defied the laws of physics somehow. But then we noted that the jury-rigged knotmeter was reading in “miles per hour” instead of “knots”. That fifteen percent boost to our actual boat speed was pretty impressive! 😉
Reviews of the new model were overall very positive, with Sailing Magazine titling their review, "The Volvo of Cruisers", a term of endearment we could live with as "safety and seakeeping" was our number one mantra, much as safety had become Volvo's main message. I got to go sailing on the 44 for a number of days with the "Reader Tested" feature in SAIL magazine just after the Miami Show in February 1992. The article, published in October of that year, profiled three boats against each other as four couples and the SAIL editors switched from boat to boat over the three day trip from Key West to the Dry Tortugas and back. The IP44, sailing against the Taswell 43 and the new Crealock 44, was clearly the best sailing boat there, as we continually outdistanced our rivals, all while pulling the lone dinghy!
The 44 enjoyed a brief, semi-successful run. Just 35 total yachts were built, the least number of any model to that date, save the original IP26. But the long list of options was quietly pared down over the next two years, and we felt that the sense of “entry”, as one walked into the forward stateroom, was a bit understated, as the forward head bulkhead crowded the starboard side of the cabin, robbing the owner of a sense of “grandeur” and space. The IP45 released four years later corrected that perception, and added 25-40% larger tanks for fuel, water and waste for those wishing to venture further afield.
The Island Packet 44 was a sweetheart to sail, gorgeous to look at, and provided us with the platform to learn several lessons about bigger sailboats, and ourselves, that would help guide us over the next several years. There were never any regrets over this beautiful creation.
One of my duties at Island Packet as VP of Sales and Marketing was developing a print ad budget each year and soliciting quotes from the national magazines for ad space. When I had started in 1987, we were running quarter and half-page black and white ads in the back of the magazines. Fast forward to the early '90's and we were running four-color, full-page ads towards the front of SAIL and Cruising World (12x per year) and in magazines like Ocean Navigator, Sailing, and Blue Water Sailing three to four times per year. The annual budget was well up in the six-figure range and how we doled this out to each publication was based on several factors, including magazine circulation, reader demographics, ad costs, and feedback from our own owners and buyers.
Each winter a "pilgrimage" to Florida, by all the New England-based publications, would occur so they could thaw out from the snow and sell advertising to us southern boat builders. We could count on four or five presentations over a couple of months as each magazine tried to capture as much of our ad dollars as they could. But for us, the most eagerly anticipated "event" of the season was from SAIL magazine’s publisher Don Macauley, along with his southeastern sales manager, Tom Casey. Tom was an outstanding rep for us, but it was Don we would have paid money to see in action. Each year he would arrive with various props in hand to illustrate the “power” of SAIL magazine. One year he pulled a ball peen hammer out of his bag, saying that it represented Cruising World magazine. Then he would pull out a full-sized sledgehammer from his duffel and explain how that represented the marketing power of SAIL! Tom admitted much later in our careers that Don had taken a personal liking to us (Bob Johnson always sat in with me for Don’s presentations) and would spend weeks preparing for the “pitch”. He also would arrive a day early and make Tom take him to whatever store held the props he needed; Ace Hardware for the hammers for example. After the presentation, Tom had to return the props to the store for a refund.
One Olympic year I printed up scorecards from 1 to 10 that Bob and I held hidden until the end of the pitch. Holding up two “9’s” at the end of Don’s presentation got everyone laughing and set the tone for ever more raucous annual meetings between our two companies.
The following year, Don wanted several minutes to set up his presentation before we could enter our conference room. With a flourish, Tom swept the door open and there, on the floor, were model battleships of two different scales. The beautifully detailed, larger scale models of the destroyers and aircraft carriers were clearly representing SAIL, while the smaller scale, toy-quality troop carrier and frigates were clearly Cruising World. Bob and I quickly dropped to the floor and, like gleeful seven-year-olds, started playing with the models in a mock war of “You Sunk My Battleship!” Poor Don was devasted with our childish behavior and started yelling at us to grow up and listen to his spiel. We refused and I handed over our schedule with our budget; it was the largest ad purchase we ever made from SAIL and helped appease Don somewhat as he watched us “toot-toot” around the floor with his models.
Don was more than a publisher, or salesman, for SAIL. He was a true mentor, and both Bob and I learned a tremendous amount from him over the many years we advertised in SAIL. Don was the one that commanded us to “own a phrase”, like North Sails’ “FAST”, and it was his direction and advice that prodded us to create, “America’s Cruising Yacht Leader”. Over the many years we advertised in SAIL, we spent more than a million dollars with them, and when Don retired, we took the chair that Don always sat in for his pitch and had it embroidered with “The Million Dollar Man”. We sent it to him and, to this day, he reports it has a place of honor in his home study.