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Heart and soul

My first desk at Soundings was a few cubicles down from publisher Jack Turner’s. I didn’t know much about him when I started my job in the mid-1980s, and he didn’t seem that involved in day-to-day operations. So it took some time to fully appreciate what I had become part of.

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Soundings and Jack were pioneers. A boating newspaper was a rather novel idea that flew against conventional wisdom. It wasn’t a slick magazine and didn’t focus on products or destinations — the bread and butter of the other magazines. It focused on news. Many of us who worked there came from newspaper backgrounds, eager to continue news writing, but about a pastime we enjoyed and without the awful hours.

Jack, whose desk was hidden behind a rather large plant, was the heart and soul of what we did. He was always puttering with something, whether it involved a new publishing idea or something to do with technology. At the time I worked at Soundings, Jack had one of the first Epson QX-16 computers, a radical concept at the time. Its attraction was that it bridged the gap between CP/M and DOS.

If you got time alone with Jack, he would recount the origins of his enterprise, including the many stories about sitting around his kitchen table dialing for dollars, stories, distribution channels, etc. I don’t know how many near-death experiences the publication had, but it persevered, sometimes due mainly to Jack’s sheer determination.

At the core of the effort was his dogged belief that people wanted to read news about boating issues, not just product reviews and destination pieces. Each day, piles of newspapers came into our Essex, Conn., office from cities and towns that had active boating communities. In each issue was usually a nugget or two of info on some waterfront incident or a feature on some local character doing something interesting that involved boats.

Thus it seemed only appropriate that one of the first people I got to interview was Havilah Hawkins, someone cut from the same cloth as Jack Turner. Capt. Hawkins, based in Camden, Maine, created and patented a windmill-driven boat. It was one of many such inventions of his. I interviewed Hawkins in his home, alternately inspired and perplexed by his novel creation. I thought the idea of a windmill-driven boat was pretty creative, but I wasn’t quite sold on how it would feel to have the blades whirring above my head. I never did get to sail Capt. Hawkins’ boat, so while I got to write about the idea, I never got to experience it.

Jack and Capt. Hawkins are both gone, but it’s good to see that Jack’s vision lives on. And if Jack were still with us, I am sure he would be thinking up the next great idea.

Charles Barthold was Soundings’ regional editor from 1985 to 1987. He was editor of Yachting magazine until 2000 and now works in corporate communications for a management consulting company and is a member of the Stamford (Conn.) Yacht Club.

See related articles:

- 50 years of Soundings - Jim Flannery

- Forever grateful - Eric Colby

- From ad sales to J/Boats - Rod Johnstone

- Pioneering at Soundings - Keith Taylor

- Out of the blue, into the mix - Steve Knauth

- Soundings flashbacks - Bill Tuttle

May 2013 issue.