Many yacht clubs have a version of this remarkable person among their brethren.
Seek them out, dear reader, while you can.
I walked into my hometown yacht club a dozen years ago, having recently joined the institution and not knowing many of the old-timers. We’ll call it the Sparkling Waters Yacht Club for the purposes of this tale. Thick mahogany deck hatches form the varnished bar, recovered from a local shipwreck, original brass hinges still intact. Brick arches and elegant lighting add class to the space. Against a backdrop of soothing swells breaking on the rocks outside, a tall, silver-haired man in a yellow foul weather jacket sat under a pendant light at the near corner of the bar. He looked liked he belonged there. Hell, he looked like he owned the place.
There is no shortage of self-made men and women around a yacht club bar. In fact, if you’re reading Power & Motoryacht in the first place there’s a good chance you’re one of them. Such is the case with Pete, the guy in the yellow foul weather jacket.
But it takes more than a foul weather jacket to make an old salt. Over seven decades Pete’s life has had many remarkable twists and turns, and boating has been a constant thread sewn through many of them. He’s a Marine. He once owned a classic German sailing yacht. He had a seat on the Chicago Board of Trade. He was the first person to raise Texas Longhorn cattle in Wisconsin. He keeps a big old Chris-Craft motoryacht near my boat at the marina down the street. He’s a rodeo-ridin’ securities fraud investigator and a student of classical philosophy. He adopted three kids and drove the 100 miles to and from the Chicago Loop every day in the 1980s so they wouldn’t be torn from their friends and schools. Pete is the real deal.
Pete’s been married twice, but the untimely death of his much younger second wife left a gaping hole in his world. After a few years he tried dating, and one night he went to dinner with a psychiatrist. Halfway through dinner the hardened doctor had heard enough of his real life adventures and branded him a phony right to his face, not believing that this one man could enjoy such a thick and multi-layered slice of life. Pete smiled and walked out. Boy, did she miss out on an interesting fellow. That had to be a lonely walk for Pete.
As a bachelor, Pete finds solace at the Sparkling Waters Yacht Club, usually on the stool at the near corner of the bar, right where I met him a dozen years ago. Always carrying a quiver stuffed full of interesting conversational arrows, Pete rarely needs to repeat the same story twice. Far from being the lonely old man making love to his tonic and gin, the guy has a sparkle in his eye and a lifetime’s worth of great tales, boating and otherwise. He’s just the type of friend you want to run into after a weekend on the water, to share stories, old and new.
The Sparkling Waters Yacht Club is a friendly, casual place bustling with activity all summer. Between fishing tournaments, voyaging cruisers and racing sailors, there’s hardly a dull moment during daylight savings time. But on those quiet Saturday nights when things are winding down at Sparkling Waters, Pete always respectfully asks the bartender, “What time does the bar close?” Jennie the bartender says, “Whenever you leave, Pete.”
My friend Pete died not long ago. The lights in the Sparkling Waters Yacht Club are still on, of course, but for now there’s a sense that a chapter in the social life of the place has closed. If you know a guy as interesting as Pete, find the time to sit him down on a boat or his favorite bar stool and soak up a few good tales. And if you are the white-haired interesting guy like Pete, keep sharing those remarkable stories.
For the last time: “See you at the club, Pete.