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The 84-year-old with a new motorsailer

Charlie Picek happens to be in a business meeting with a yacht designer when he begins complaining about all the fiberglass sailboats that look like Clorox bottles. “They have no style to them,” he says, to which the designer replies: “What do you think is style?”

Charlie Picek happens to be in a business meeting with a yacht designer when he begins complaining about all the fiberglass sailboats that look like Clorox bottles. “They have no style to them,” he says, to which the designer replies: “What do you think is style?”

Start them early, and they're more likely to become lifelong boaters. Here's a loook at some remarkable young and not-so-young sailors. Read the other stories in this package: From Cradle to Grave   The 71-year-old Blue Water Medalist   The 89-year-old designer   The 90-year-old tech wizard

Picek, an engineer, has a ready response. “A clipper bow and an hour-glass stern.” The designer asks for a sketch and thus begins the creation of a new yacht design.

Click ahead 41 years. Charlie Picek (pronounced PIE-sek) is now 84, and his idea of style sits on jackstands in an Annapolis, Md., boatyard. There is a white cap of shrinkwrap hiding most of the vessel’s features, save the mast, painted white. But a peek beneath the covers reveals some startling elements: a nearly plumb bow; a broad, almost rectangular, transom; and — good Lord! — a swim platform. Aurora is a motorsailer. And Picek, who has nearly eight decades of sailing experience, is delighted. Katie would be, too.

Aurora is a Cabo Rico Northeast 400, the very model that had captured Charlie and Katie’s imagination several years ago at a boat show. It seemed like the perfect step back from the cruiser-racers they had owned since the beginning of their marriage in 1961. Boarding the boat in Annapolis, they found it had a commodious cockpit, an airy pilothouse saloon with inside steering, and any number of other features that would make sailing easier as their physical abilities waned.

But Katharine Picek’s eyesight already was failing. She was blind in one eye and had difficulty seeing with the other. So they reined in their enthusiasm and decided that what they should do was charter boats rather than own. For Charles R. Picek, an eternally upbeat fellow, this had to be tough. He had been on boats since his childhood in Baltimore. His first was a “flat-bottom boat with an oar and a bedsheet,” he says. “When I was 16, I built a 16-foot sailboat with jib and main. My dad and I rebuilt a Chesapeake Bay log canoe when I was about 17. We built a 34-foot cabin cruiser from scratch — my dad, myself, my sister and her husband. I was in high school then.”

Picek was 2 years old when the family bought a waterfront place on the Bay. It was called Aurora. He entered JohnsHopkinsUniversity after high school and earned a degree in engineering. Then he went into consulting in Washington, D.C., specializing in sea-water evaporators to make drinking water for ships. He sailed past his 30th birthday still a bachelor.

In the 1950s he had a Chesapeake 32 sailboat, and he was still employed by the consulting company when, one day in 1959, “I was called up into the board room,” by the company owner, says Picek. “He had his monocle and yachting cap on the table beside him. When we got through the business, he took over and said, ‘Now we shall talk about my yacht, the Viking.’ He said, ‘Your next job is to go to Sweden and start up a photo development process that we’ve developed.’ And he said, ‘The best transportation available [for the return trip] is my yacht, the Viking.’ ”

The owner made Picek responsible for outfitting and sailing Viking back across the Atlantic from the shipyard in Sweden that built it. “Three of us sailed her across,” Picek recalls. “We had more fun on that trip.”

A year later and still single, Picek attended a party held by a “service girls’ sorority.” Katharine Edwards, who worked at the Pentagon, was there, and Picek was interested. Later, he agreed to pick her up at home after work for a date. But he had been working through a broker to buy a new boat — a Trumpy motoryacht that was being sold by an estate — and the broker told Picek he could see it the same night as his date. He called Katie to postpone, but she said she’d like to go to the boatyard. She was in frills and high heels when he met her, and they drove to Annapolis. The gate to the boatyard was locked. The broker said they could put a ladder up each side of the barbed wire and climb over the fence, and they did — the broker, Charlie and Katie … in high heels.

“So the very next day she went to the library and got books on sailing,” Picek recalls. A year later, they were married. Then he was named vice president of engineering at AMF in Connecticut. They moved north, and Katie became a housewife.

Next door to the AMF research laboratory in Greenwich was the sail loft of Bill Luders, the naval architect to whom Picek complained about unimaginative yacht designs. “By golly, that was the beginning of the Luders Clipper 36,” Picek says. “He took my drawings and turned them over to his draftsmen. He had a theory how the keel should be made to make a boat go fast. It was a full keel and … the deepest part of the keel was right at the bottom of the rudder. It was pretty effective. It sailed pretty well.

“We had Cheoy Lee in Hong Kong make the molds, and we ran two hulls first and had them sent to the states,” he says. “Mine was the No. 2 hull, the black one. A general from Virginia bought the other hull. They did very well.”

With no children to hold them back, the Piceks sailed. “That was how Katie and I played. She was good,” he says, and “all our friends turned out to be sailors.”

By the time the Piceks arrived on the boat show dock with an older sailing friend, Bill Nichols, and fell in love with the Northeast 400 motorsailer, Katie’s eyesight was causing problems for them aboard the Clipper. Logic won out over passion and they sold their boat and began a new life of chartering. They traveled the world, visiting Cape Horn with about 100 passengers aboard a 100-foot charter yacht and sailing in Malaysia, among other exotic locales.

Suddenly, in December 2005, Katie’s health deteriorated. In January 2006 she was admitted to a hospital with congestive heart failure and died during heart surgery. A couple of months later, Charlie was in a hospital, chicken pox attacking his intestines and surgeons replacing both hips. But he had a philosophy to guide him. “You’ve got to have a dream,” he says, “something to look forward to.”

Before he had recovered from surgery, Picek had asked Annapolis broker John Gordon of Admiral Yachts to begin looking for a special boat. It would be the boat Katie would have liked. Still in a wheelchair and suffering from the chicken pox, Picek got into Bill Nichols’ car with Gordon and rode to the airport. With the broker, he visited Aurora in Rhode Island and signed a contract. And in late June he, Nichols, 92, and King Hill, 80 — Picek’s regular sailing buddies — were toasting each other in Aurora’s big cockpit while a professional captain skippered them from Newport, R.I., to Baltimore.

From June until the boat was hauled in December, Aurora was docked in Baltimore, and Picek was aboard two or three times a week. Sometimes he would leave his senior citizen complex north of the city after dinner, spend an evening on board, and awake to cook breakfast. With Nichols and Hill he sailed by autumn breezes, amazed by his new boat.

“Normally, they [motorsailers] are dogs when it comes to pointing and sailing,” he says. “But this one, the design, even though it has a real wide transom and cockpit for entertaining, she sails beautifully — 7 to 8 knots in a 15-knot breeze. We had her out once going down the Bay to the Choptank [River], blowing 25 to 28 knots. The rail didn’t go down once.”

As he approaches 85 years, Picek is still dealing with the chicken pox. But he sees no reason to ease off his sailing. “It’s something that I like to do, and physically I’m still able to run the boat,” he says. “And this one, I can even run it myself because it has all the power winches, and all the lines feed into the cockpit.” It also has in-mast mainsail furling and a bow thruster. “I don’t like to go out by myself because it can be dangerous,” Picek says. But he notes, “When I take my buddies out who have had boats and don’t have boats [now], I know I can leave them at the helm.”

After all, none of them is older than 93.