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Pioneering at Soundings

In 1967 I spent the best summer of my life in Newport, R.I., covering the America’s Cup for Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd. of Australia newspaper group and contributing a few pieces to Soundings. The first Soundings editor had departed for fame and glory at Life magazine, and in the fall Jack Turner offered me the job of editor and sole editorial employee.

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The original Soundings office was in an old colonial storefront on Main Street in Wethersfield, Conn. As the paper grew, we moved nearby to Rocky Hill and a small contractor’s building with two small offices in front of a cavernous space suitable for a machine shop. In no time, Jack had carpet on the concrete floor, paint on the walls, and he’d built a darkroom for photo work and processing page films. He liked to stand for page makeup, and along one wall he slung hollow-core doors between beaten-up old filing cabinets to provide angled tables.

Jack was a big, cheerful, outgoing man who loved life and lived it to the full. He was something of a gourmand — loved to cook and relished big, hearty meals, with a jug of whiskey never far away. Invited to sail on Al Constantine’s trimaran in an overnight race on Long Island Sound, he was appalled to discover the evening meal was cold, greasy fast-food hamburgers. When he went to whip up eggs for breakfast, he found that Al had hard-boiled them.

Jack was an inventor and an entrepreneur and enjoyed working with his hands, especially carpentry. After I left Soundings he built a trimaran in his spare time. While I was still there, one of his unfinished projects was a machine that would photo-typeset headlines. The advancing digital age buried that idea, but the advent of personal computers allowed Jack to catch the wave as he took Soundings online with Web-based classifieds and editorial. Along the way he also published a cooking blog.

When it started, Soundings was a thin black-and-white advertising tabloid distributed free at boatyards and marinas. Its biggest virtue in a pre-Internet age was its classified advertising section. Editorial coverage was part of the mix but only became significant as the publication grew.

When I started, there were already two editions — the original Connecticut, New York, New Jersey version and a second one stretching through Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine to the Canadian border. Later we pioneered the Chesapeake Bay edition. By the time I left in the summer of 1974 we were printing five sections every month. There was the so-called national section, into which was stuffed a big classified advertising section featuring thousands of used boats, plus one of the three regional editions with local news and advertising.

We were at a sea change in publishing. If you wanted to sell or buy a boat, you looked in the classified pages of The New York Times or your local newspaper. For big boats and dealer sales, Yachting magazine was thick with advertising, but far from timely. Boating news was sparse in newspapers and two or three months late in the glossy magazines.

Jack understood the attraction of classifieds to readers and advertisers alike, and he developed a mantra we took to all new marinas and dealers we tasked with distributing the paper. We dumped an introductory bundle of newsprint on their counter, along with a small tin can with a sticker reading “Soundings — 25 cents.” Then we told them they’d just earned three free classified ads and any silver collected in the can. When they couldn’t think of anything to advertise, we’d suggest a service or an abandoned boat or an old mast and engine. It invariably worked. A few months later, they’d be buying advertising space.

New Zealand-born marine publicist Keith Taylor was editor of Soundings from 1968-74. He left for the editor’s job at Sail magazine. In 1988 he became editor-at-large for sister publications Sailing World and Cruising World and later for Yachting magazine.

See related articles:

- 50 years of Soundings - Jim Flannery

- Forever grateful - Eric Colby

- From ad sales to J/Boats - Rod Johnstone

- Heart and soul - Charles Barthold

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

- Soundings flashbacks - Bill Tuttle

May 2013 issue