Rhumb Lines May 2014 Issue

Share Your Hobie Memories with Us

Photo by Frank Lanier
Photo by Frank Lanier

Capt. Frank Lanier’s Union 36 glides through the Alligator-Pungo Canal in North Carolina. (

When Hobart “Hobie” Alter died at the age of 80 on March 29, I thought about how Hobie Cats touched my life. I grew up just a few miles from Miami’s Hobie Beach, so the boats were a staple of my summers. One sharp impression kept coming back, an afternoon at Magens Bay on St. Thomas, USVI.

We had not been on St. Thomas for long when my girlfriend’s long-time friend arrived. Though her bag was stuffed with sunscreen and beachwear, I wasn’t fooled. She was an ambassador—of this I was certain—sent by my girlfriend’s family to ensure that their middle daughter, not two years out of college, was in good hands. No matter that Theresa and I had sailed 1,100 miles from Miami without being kidnapped by pirates, jailed, or driven on a reef. There were questions (the nettlesome details of my intentions, etc.) that needed answering.

After the friend had settled in, Theresa proposed we take her for a sail. I suspected this was something the friend had suggested. This was to be a test.

Our 53-year-old wooden ketch was tired and beaten by the windward bash from Puerto Rico. The auxiliary diesel had rattled through two of its mounts. Once her threadbare sails went up, any one could see she was a disaster, not fit for sailing. I desperately looked for an escape and found it: a local business that rented Hobie Cats on Magens Bay.

We’d go sailing alright. What better way to impress a doubtful ambassador from Cincinnati, Ohio, than to fly a hull in paradise?

Although a few more houses crowd the hills these days, Magens Bay remains one of the most stunning spots in the islands. The aquamarine finger of water is flanked by green hills with low saddles that let the trades come funneling in. Those saddles—and the venturi gusts that whip through them—would be my downfall.

I never learned what the friend reported to the good people in Cincinnati when she returned home. Which event of the afternoon did she decide to highlight? How I naively locked the mainsheet down only seconds before sailing out of the wind shadow? The way the three of us, hollering roller-coaster oaths of fear and joy, catapulted into the sky? Or the way I feverishly righted the boat to keep my dignity intact?

Since my girlfriend is now my wife, and the good people of Cincinnati have always welcomed me like family, I assume the friend refrained from mentioning my recklessness. Perhaps, she’d simply written off a corkscrew-capsize as “just one of those things that can happen” when you climb aboard a Hobie Cat. Or maybe, just maybe, she found it fun.

Most of the encomium I’ve read since Alter’s passing have focused on how he helped shape surfing and sailing. In my eyes, it was more than that. His “toys”—as some obit writers referred to them—helped shape our lives.

If you’ve got a Hobie memory to share, send it our way; email practicalsailor@belvoirpubs.com. We’d love to read it and share it.

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