Share Your Hobie Memories with Us

Capt. Frank Lanier’s Union 36

Photo by Frank Lanier

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 Miamis 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 girlfriends long-time friend arrived. Though her bag was stuffed with sunscreen and beachwear, I wasnt fooled. She was an ambassador-of this I was certain-sent by my girlfriends 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.

Wed 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, Magen’s 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, shed 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 We’d love to read it and share it.

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him at