My one-off friends and what makes them tick

July 2009

By Dodge Morgan

A wandering mind is a troublesome thing, can lead to mental acts of socially incorrect nature – or to a boating column like this one.

Murray Peterson was a magnificent designer of traditional, wood-built sailboats, and was known for his schooners, of which I have owned two. He was also known for his aesthetic awareness and frugality. His vessels are gorgeous: As he once said to me, “I want an able boat. I want a durable boat. I want a boat that is a joy to row up to.” He would mow around the good-looking daisies in his lawn. He built a shed for his little schooner so tight around her that he had to cut the handles short on his paint brushes.

Fenwick Williams was an associate and friend of Murray, a designer most known for his catboats, who also drew extraordinarily precise plans for designers like Alden, Stephens, Nielsen and Herreshoff, despite being so myopic that the tip of his nose brushed his drawing paper.

Fenwick designed a six-foot, pram-bowed, flat-bottomed boat Murray called a cat box. Fenwick could pass her mast through openings bow and stern and spin the boat around so he could paint her completely while standing just on one side. He enjoyed sailing a dinghy on a beat, powered only under a kite on a string. When suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Fenwick happily noted, “I have new friends each day, and I can hide my own Easter eggs.”

Ted Hood is the most likely candidate for being named the most broadly active innovator of the modern age in yachting, sailmaking, rig configuring, hull designing, and racing. Ted seems not able to do anything the way it has been done before. He is also well known for being taciturn. He has nothing to say on any nonboat-related subjects, and his boat talk consists significantly of affirmation grunts and the waving of his huge hands.

I once witnessed him on an hourlong new boat sea test during which he said not one word, but precisely directed a crew while at the helm by hand gestures, pointing at an individual, pointing at a winch, spinning his hand in circular motion, clockwise for trim and counter for start, doing the flat-hand-stop motion, and interspersing all this mute with motivational nods and thumbs-ups. It is, however, an awesome if rare transformation to loquaciousness for Ted when he possesses the evolutionary power of two martinis.

Gary Jobson is known to sailors for his extraordinary tactical racing skills, and is widely known for his image as a TV broadcaster on matters sailing. I am connected to Gary because we are both victors in cancer battles and because he sailed on my Wings of Time for an MS Regatta off Portland. Gary put on a clinic of organization and leadership, directing a landlubber crew to tasks so well described and assigned that the boat wove through the race fleet as if operated by a practiced team of professionals. I was self-embarrassed to consider my boat had never been so efficiently sailed.

Walter Greene is a quiet presence in Yarmouth, Maine, a multihull guru who has designed them, built them, and raced them solo, but whose sailing life has significantly been a ride under the media radar. Walter does not employ a public-relations practitioner.

My favorite photo of Walter is one of him sitting on a log looking, as he always does, like a casualty in an epoxy-weapon war. He was wearing boots awesomely adorned with fiberglass preparations, and the picture was in the newspaper with a story about his being sponsored by Sebago Shoe Company.

When I went to the French Paris to speak with a noted designer of fast singlehanded boats, I asked a cab driver if he was aware of Philippe Jeantot, who then owned the solo-circumnavigation record, and he shot back, “Yes, the guy who sails alone.” I then asked if he ever heard of Walter Greene, and he answered, “Yes, the American who sails alone.” Right then I learned how popular solo sailing is in France and how better known Walter is there than here.

Former record-breaking solo circumnavigator Dodge Morgan holds court and sails out of Snow Island, Maine.