I signed aboard in 1977, long before Soundings was a full- featured, award-winning magazine, long before it would pay for subject-matter experts. It was a monthly newspaper covering boat races and boating issues.
In Soundings’ adolescent years, reporters covered beats, most of them geographically based. In fact, we billed it as “The Nation’s Boating Newspaper” by the early 1980s. Whatever it was, it was an unconventional duck in a sea of yachting journals. First of all, it was fun. We happily worked Saturdays free.
When I first got there, 14-year-old Soundings in many cases was like a scene from “M*A*S*H,” with a carton of Mount Gay rum and other potables in the galley for impromptu parties. I was impressed. Presiding over this ménage was publisher Jack Turner, an uncommonly bright character and sort of a Renaissance man. Soundings was his muse.
I had answered a classified ad in Editor and & Publisher, the trade journal for the newspaper industry. I was working for the Philadelphia Bulletin and was looking to return to my native Connecticut. It seemed a natural fit; I just about always had boats, whether for messing around, working lobster pots or the pure pleasure of sailing. To my delight, I was hired and began my service in an office building with a deck in the Dauntless Shipyard, overlooking the Connecticut River.
At first, I thought it was a world away from bustling daily metropolitan newspapers. Cosmetically, it was. But the workload for me and the young, earnest editorial staff would prove unrelenting, no less than the work at a busy daily.
The big issue in the late 1970s was the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s mandating of something called marine sanitation devices for vessels. Editorially, Soundings was against MSDs, arguing, among other things, that water birds were bigger polluters than the boating public. It was during that period that Soundings expanded its charter beyond race coverage and the odd things at the water’s edge to include government and regulatory news largely untouched by the boating press.
Soundings was in a growth spurt in the late ’70s and early ’80s. We took pride in being a newspaper, with more hard news reporting than a magazine. Eventually we were taken seriously by other news organizations, as well as the myriad recreational boating interests we covered.
Soundings entered the ’80s as a comfortably profitable product. Trade Only sprang from Turner’s fertile imagination. Under editor Christine Born, Soundings took on a cleaner, professional look. I hope I inspired a more professional approach to journalism. Talented young people were hired during that period, two of whom lead the writing and editing ranks today. To be sure, there were bumps, such as zoned West Coast editions that didn’t take hold, the period we couldn’t make payroll and the time our cache of Nikon cameras and lenses was burgled.
The newspaper moniker and the compass rose on the cover are gone, but people will always love their boats and the scuttlebutt that goes along with them. Soundings, always in touch with its base, should continue to thrive in the 21st century.
Bill Tuttle was senior news editor of Soundings from 1977 to 1985. He went on to become public relations manager at Sikorsky Aircraft for 20 years and is now retired.
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May 2013 issue