Hobie Alter, Cheryl Tiegs and a Yard Full of Hobie Cats

Posted by Darrell Nicholson (with Rob Mairs) at 11:05AM - Comments: (6)

Courtesy of Rob Mairs
Courtesy of Rob Mairs

Rob Mairs, his wife, and 1-year-old daughter check out the new Hobie 16 in Ocean City, Md., in 1971.

Editor's note: My recent reflection on the impact of the late Hobie Alter on sailing and a call for Hobie stories apparently inspired PS readers, as we got a ton of mail from racers and cruising sailors who got their start on Hobies. One of our favorites was this gem from Rob Mairs, an early Hobie dealer on the East Coast.

“In November 1969, I was in Miami on business, and one evening, I went to the boat show. I believe it was one of the first shows east of the Mississippi that the Hobie 14 was displayed. In the booth was this continuous-loop 16-millimeter movie filmed by none other than Bruce Brown with Hobie and his friends on the Hobie 14 going in and out of the surf and flying hulls. I had never seen anything like it, and I was hooked! The price was $1,095, which was a lot of money for me, but I wanted one badly!

“When I got home, I convinced my good buddy to go in half with me—after convincing my wife we needed it. I called the phone number on the Coast Catamaran brochure and guess who answers? Hobie Alter himself! I was obviously taken aback, but finally told him I wanted to buy one and wanted to know where the closest dealer was located—I lived in Annapolis, Maryland. Hobie asked: ‘Are you near Norfolk or New York?,’ and I said no to both. He then paused and said: ‘I could sell you one, but if you buy three boats, you can be our dealer in that area.’

Courtesy of Rob Mairs
Courtesy of Rob Mairs

The 1970 Sports Illustrated issue featuring Cheryl Tiegs.

“I clearly was not expecting that reaction and told him I would have to think about it. I then convinced my partner-buddy that we should each get one, and then we convinced another friend to take the third. I called Hobie back a couple of days later. I told him we would do it, and ordered the three boats. He sent them via air freight! Amazingly, it did not cost that much, and as I recall, they fit into a Boeing 727, including the mast.

“We weren’t really too interested in selling boats, we just wanted our Hobie 14s! Two of us had other jobs (both in meteorology and oceanography), but since we were now in the business of selling Hobie Cats, my new ‘business partner’ and I contracted for a booth at the upcoming Washington, D.C., boat show.

A huge stroke of good luck then befell us. Several weeks before the boat show, Sports Illustrated came out with its 1970 swimsuit issue with several really exciting photos of the Hobie 14 sailing in Hawaii with Cheryl Teigs on full display!

Of course, just about every male in the area had seen the issue, and we put multiple SI’s on our demo boat trampoline and around our booth. To our complete and utter shock, we were selling Hobie Cats like they were hot dogs. We sold 70-plus boats at the show, all with deposits plus a long list of potential buyers!

We called Hobie after the show, and he seemed really impressed and excited. He then said: ‘If you order a railroad car full of boats, I will pay the freight.” We said OK, even though we had no idea of how we were going to pay for them. But with a bank loan and borrowing from our parents (we were only a couple of years out of college), we got the rail car full of boats. With nowhere to put them, we ended up putting them in my backyard.

My wife was not too pleased with 140 cardboard boxes (each box holding a hull) in our backyard. She had just given birth to our first child three months earlier! To complicate things, in those days, there weren’t trailers for cats, so we had to make our own out of small utility trailers, 2 x 6 lumber and cheap carpet.

Courtesy of Rob Mairs
Courtesy of Rob Mairs

The new Hobie dealers assembled their stock in Mairs's backyard.

That first sailing season, we spent an inordinate amount of time sailing our boats, calling Hobie with sailing and rigging questions as well as business stuff. We sold boats and organized races for several years, and were practically given a huge multi-space plot at the first Annapolis boat show displaying the then, new Hobie 16. In the early years, Coast Catamaran would provide airfare and room to the winners of the regional championships, and I was lucky enough to win three times, earning trips to Hawaii, Texas, and Michigan for the National Championships (I never won).

When Coleman bought Coast Catamaran a few years later, they didn’t like our ‘backyard operation.’ They gave us a choice to start selling boats full time or sell out—we sold out. Those early years were an incredibly fun time for me as we helped develop the Hobie phenomenon on the East Coast. And the experience I gained racing Hobies, plus my meteorology background led to my being selected as the U.S Olympic Sailing Team Meteorologist in 1976, and subsequently for the 1980, 1984, and 1988 Olympics. So that first phone call to Hobie means a lot to me and was to me a fork in the road as to how my career and life evolved for the next 40 years.

Rest in peace my friend, and thanks for the opportunity provided.”

Comments (4)

Fond memories of my Hobie 16 are brought back, like the time I had taken a buddy for his first ride. He was trapezing as we "buzzed" the stern of a slow sloop when a big gust hit us and we started to pitch pole. With the cat like reflexes build up from years of sailing small boats I was able to dive onto the stern of the windward hull and save it from completing this famous manover. With his momentum my friend went flying forward broke the bungee that retains the trap and splashed in front of the boat which was now balanced on its' bows. As we dropped back on both hulls, I don't know which was funnier at the time, the sight of my bug-eyed buddy being fished out of the water from the end of the trapeze line on the far side of the leeward hull or the sight of the guys in the sloop gagging on their drinks after witnessing this close up and personal!
RIP Hobie Alter, thanks for your vision.

Posted by: Gary B | May 7, 2014 2:45 PM    Report this comment

I too saw the 16 mm video at the New York BS, I was fascinated but penniless, my boss at the time Jerry Wood, was paying the bills. He didn't have the money to spend at that time either. Many years later I took my wife and young son out on a Hobie off a beach in Nassua. When we got back to the beach my wife grabbed my hand and thanked me for taking her sailing which was almost as nice (surprising ) as the sail on the Hobie. I hope Hobies life was as rewarding as my life has been, and is! Capt Bill

Posted by: William J C | May 7, 2014 12:37 PM    Report this comment

In 1967, I had seen an article about the Hobie 14. Being from Ohio, I decided to call the company when I got to the island I going to living on that summer, thinking it might be easier to find a boat near the east coast. I called and when asked where I was told the guy I was talking to that I was near Mystic, Ct. " Is that anywhere near Noank, CT ? A surfing buddy of mine named John Spicer lives there and he has one he might sell you. " Hobie was clearly excited about his boat and I was excited to talk to him and to John Spicer. A pal from the island took me over in his outboard and dropped me off. John sailed me back to the island and the deal was done. I had sailed since I was seven years old, but this was totally different. I never looked back. Catamarans have been part of my life ever since. I thank Hobie for that. I remember John Spicer saying that the whole idea was to get people out on the water and it worked. I am glad he was alive to see the foiling AC boats.
Fair winds and following seas to all, Tim

Posted by: tim patterson | May 7, 2014 6:47 AM    Report this comment

Wonderful inspiring article... by the end i felt it tug at my heartstrings.

My step-dad Pete Utecht had one of the first Hobie 14s, given to him as payment for the official patent he obtained on the H14 for the scruffy young surfer named Hobie Alter who walked into his law firm one day. Being a sailor, my step-dad knew intuitively that Hobie would make it big. He just smiled and said "by all means" when Hobie needed the help.

Eight years ago a former boyfriend of mine who I taught to sail Hobies, gave me a vintage 1970 H14. I just recently gave it back to him in hopes he would get a chance to take his young daughter out. Like old violins, most of these boats have trails of stories, mostly ones of the heart.

Posted by: Linda Kimball | May 7, 2014 2:30 AM    Report this comment

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