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.
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 SIs 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 werent trailers for cats, so we had to make our own out of small utility trailers, 2 x 6 lumber and cheap carpet.
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.