A Life Less Ordinary

A Life Less Ordinary

Robert P. Beebe’s self-designed motorsailer changed long-distance power cruising forever.

By Jeffrey Moser — August 2005


Courtesy of Jim Leishman
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• Part 1: A Life Less Ordinary
• Part 2: A Life Less Ordinary
• Part 3: A Life Less Ordinary

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Before Robert Beebe coined the term passagemaking, long-range voyages by small powerboats were almost nonexistent. Long sea passages were all but exclusively made under sail, often in less-than-ideal-conditions. Indeed, ocean sailing was thoroughly soaking, often miserable, and frequently rough. Crawling about on a heaving deck was the norm, and sailors had to rely on winds that could be from any direction and go from dead calm to gale force in minutes. And to refer to these vessels’ amenities as spartan is much, much too kind. This was leave-the-Riesling-and-Roquefort-on-shore-and-work-your-butt-off cruising. Beebe knew this all too well, for he had been tinkering around on boats his whole life.

The roots of Beebe’s love affair with the sea are geographical. Born in 1909, he grew up the son of a U.S. Army officer stationed in the Philippines. His interest in and passion for boats of all shapes and sizes was ignited after receiving a dugout canoe from his father. He recalls those days fondly: “I don’t think one day passed that we were not out on those marvelous, clear, tropic waters right out in front of our quarters.” He became a self-proclaimed “boat nut” and for the next several years pored over yachting periodicals, later noting that the “how to build” articles interested him the most.

Beebe entered the United States Naval Academy, graduating in 1931, and went on to a 30-year career as a Navy man. While serving as navigation officer on the carrier USS Saratoga during World War II, he began to think about a new type of ocean voyaging. He predicted that after his retirement he would cruise all over the world at the helm of a small boat of his own design, and he’d do it under power, something that up to then was virtually unheard of. In fact, the lines for the vessel that would become that boat, Passagemaker, were drafted on the backs of outdated ship charts aboard the Saratoga.

Using observations he’d made while patrolling the Pacific during the war, he asserted that the future of ocean voyaging lay outside the Trade Winds belt. His ideas on long-range cruising under power were first published in a piece titled “Postwar Pacific Cruising” in Rudder’s August/September 1946 issue. Beebe wrote: “The voyager may venture into waters where for long periods of time there is hardly any wind at all…[but] good power is essential, coupled with a cruising range well above what we are accustomed to.” He further stated that cruising under power allowed voyagers to accurately set some sort of timetable and arrive on schedule as opposed to limping into port frazzled, exhausted, and well past the scheduled arrival time.

Next page > Part 2: The 50-foot Passagemaker was launched on March 18, 1963 with a crew of four. > Page 1, 2, 3

This article originally appeared in the August 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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