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My Little Black Book

Sightlines - March 2013

A short, sweet boat ride down memory lane.

Michael Peters (left) and Harold Halter (center) at the Grand Isle Fishing Tournament, 1978.

Michael Peters (left) and Harold Halter (center) at the Grand Isle Fishing Tournament, 1978.

Looking around my office you would see boat models, framed magazine covers, various awards and trophies, and lots of photos and renderings covering the walls. But perhaps the most interesting artifact of all you would simply overlook: My little black book, the same phone index I’ve used since starting my design business in 1981. It reads as a virtual “Who’s Who” of the boat industry and a personal diary of my career over the past 30-plus years. Each entry was made in chronological order and I am often taken aback by how obsolete much of it is. The entries include boat companies long gone, projects since launched, and a surprising number of people who are now dead. Some of these people helped give me my start.

As I began to compile a list of the deceased, I Googled a few names of people I thought were dead. To my surprise, Joe Mach, Jerry Jacoby, John Kelly, and a few others are still living. We really should keep in touch more often. I was about to write their eulogies. 

Starting with the absolutely dead is Don Aronow. I know this for certain, because I witnessed his death. By the time of his murder in 1987 I had been doing his design work for nine years. A year before, he told me he got along better with me than any of his previous designers, including Walt Walters, Jim Wynn, and Harry Scholl. I told him it was because I always knew he was an asshole, so he never disappointed me. He broke into a big grin, because to him “asshole” was a term of endearment. I liked Don. 

Lars Bergstrom, known as “Lars from Mars,” was a brilliant but quirky sailboat designer and inventor. He rented me office space for three years and his aluminum space-frame structures became the inspiration for my aluminum offshore racing catamaran designs built by CUV in Italy. If you were Lars’s friend, he would introduce you as “the best in the world” at whatever you did.

Ted Elliott was a West Coast builder and innovator in sportfishing boats. Ted allowed me full access to his boatyard in 1974 to photo-document the building of Legend for a USC school project. I learned cold-molded construction from him, which allowed me to build the first prototype of my patented stepped hull.

Just months after writing my Sightlines column “Still Cruising” [August 2012] my dear friend George Griffith died aboard Sarissa. I’d planned to have lunch with George at the Isthmus on Catalina Island this past September, but he passed away that morning. He was my greatest mentor. 

I went to meet Harold Halter on my honeymoon in 1978, in an effort to sell him on the idea of a stepped-hull Cigarette. After running out of time at his office we continued our conversation at a barber’s shop, during which time he popped up from the chair and said, “You really love boats, don’t you kid?” and offered me a job.  

Commander Attilio Petroni was a former Italian submarine commander stationed in China during World War II, as well as a famous offshore racer dating back to the beginning of the sport in the early 1960s. He served as my trusted advisor and Italian translator from 1987 until the time of his death in his late 80s.  

Harold “Smitty” Smith was racing for Benihana’s in the mid 1970s when I asked him some questions about his race boat. He brushed me away as a pesky kid that asked too many questions. I reminded him of this years later when he asked me to design the superboat Dirty Laundry for Joe Mach. Built in 1990 by CUV, Dirty Laundry could run 165 miles per hour with 600 gallons of fuel onboard. Smitty became my strongest supporter and a good friend.

Still living on in my phone index are: David Albert, Craig Arfons, Al Copeland, Peter Croke, Clive Curtis, Jim Douglas, Tommy Dreyfus, Tom Fexas, Gary Garbrecht, Dick Genth, Rod Gerrard, Bob Greenberg, Bob Hobbs, Fred Hudson, Mike Kelsey, Rick LaMore, Willie Meyers, Jerry Michalak, Gerhardt Moog, Don Pruitt, Bill Sirois, Ron Thibideau, Gene Whip, and Jim Wynn.  

I think I will keep using my little black book, so I don’t forget the history that it holds and it’s never obsolete. If you made my list, but are not dead, please let me know.

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.