as told by Jeff Hammond
Power & Motoryacht’s Founding publisher recalls how the Magazine announced itself all those years ago.
(hint: It involved a lot of pissed-off sailors.)
Well Power & Motoryacht really got started with a bang. It was 1984, and Bonnie O’Boyle was our first editor. She had been the executive editor at Boating magazine before coming on as the first editor at Power & Motoryacht. In her capacity at Boating she had edited some pieces by Tom Fexas, and she really liked them and wanted to get him writing a monthly column for us. Bonnie, by the way, was the first female editor of a national boating magazine to my knowledge, and with good reason, since she came up with ideas like that.
At this point Fexas was a well-established yacht designer. He had designed lots of boats that were being built all over the world. He was famous for building light, narrow boats that went fast. He gained his rep that way. Back in those days, I’ll tell ya, those were Hargrave days, the boats were traditional and heavy. But Fexas was not that. He had no time for things that didn’t have big engines and high top-end speeds.
Anyway, Bonnie and I agreed early on that we wanted to have some humor in the magazine. And we knew Fexas could be the guy to help us out there. He had a rep for being funny and for being really irreverent. He was hilarious in person because he had such offbeat insights and observations. He was great fun to have dinner with, because his view of the boating scene was so different than everyone else’s, but also just spot, spot on. And we wanted and needed that new, different voice so we asked him and he said yes, and he ended up doing a very good job with it, and he did it for a long, long time. He liked it a lot, and even more when we started making money, because then we really started paying him—you know, we paid him enough money that it would even be considered a lot nowadays!
But that first column boy, that first column came in and it was all about sailboats. Why would you want to go five knots? Who wants to sit on the side of a boat? So slow, so boring. That sort of thing. We thought it was perfect for us, real tongue-in-cheek stuff. And as publisher I realized it could get some notoriety, so I sent a press release out on it for the first issue. We mentioned the article, which was entitled “Sailing Is Silly,” and the release got picked up by some newspapers and it ran all over the country. Whew! People interpreted it as a real broadside across the beam of sailing-industry types, who can be a little full of themselves, you know. And everybody knew about us right from the start.
The article was written as a joke, Tom liked fast boats but he of course respected sailing, as we all did. But we were a powerboat magazine. Just powerboats. Back then most magazines were power and sail. We were different. We were making our mark, and Tom’s first column really helped us do that. After that, the Rubicon had been crossed, we sure as hell weren’t going to get any sailboat business, not that we wanted it.
Oh and the letters we got. Sailors were irate. How dare we say sailing was silly? We didn’t know what we were talking about. You can imagine. And of course we ran them. It was good copy. We made a habit of running all our letters. At that time boating magazines ran letters, but they were always complimentary. We thought that was dumb, and not our style. So we made a habit of running negative letters alongside the nice ones. It was our thing, and it was all theatre, all for a good show.
Tom thought the whole thing was so funny. He loved to puncture the old, super-serious poobahs, he was very much anti-establishment like that. There were times later on when he’d start writing about sex in his columns. I remember he wrote one about his favorite boat names, and I don’t even want to say what his favorite one was.
Our reaction on staff to the letters was surprise. We couldn’t believe people took the column seriously. That they didn’t realize it was a joke. People lambasted us, which just showed how unenlightened they were, kind of proving Tom’s point in the first place. They were all so stuffy.
But I’ll tell you what, the advertisers loved it. We gave them exactly what they wanted, a big circulation coupled with cheap ads, and once we had guys like Tom writing for us, really good writers, we were getting eyeballs on the page, which is exactly what you want. That’s how you make a magazine successful.
The whole thing blew over eventually—but Power &Motoryacht had arrived.
Jeff Hammond is the founding publisher of Power & Motoryacht. He lives in Connecticut, and though he’s currently in between boats, he does charter, both power and sail.
This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.