A good, long run for this band of boat show brothers

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It’s not every day that I get to have lunch with six longtime Soundings readers who grew up with the magazine and whose boating lives mirror the arc of so many of our loyal tribe.

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The lunch gathering coincided with the opening day of the Newport International Boat Show, which this group of sailors and sailors-turned-powerboaters have been attending every year for 31 years.

The six are close friends and good boatmen who grew up racing and sailing before most of them made the transition to power. And they’ve introduced their kids and now their grandkids to the watery world, as well.

The kinship was born on the water, but it’s gone well beyond that, says Rick Ermler, 68, the youngest of this band of boat show brothers. “There’s a friendship that has grown and sustained itself over the years,” he says. “It’s an enduring relationship.”

And, he notes, “It all started with boats.”

In addition to Rick, the crew consists of “Young Bob” Weinstein, 70; “Old Bob” Brann, 85; Brook Stoutenburgh, 74; Peter Connal, 77; and Tom Teasdale, who is 79. These guys have done a good job of staying a step ahead of Father Time. Old Bob, for instance, is still flying a sport plane at 85 and recently got married to his longtime girlfriend. And Young Bob owns an Atlantic 47, still races sailboats, pilots a plane and is in the market for a Fleming 55. “Still on the water,” he says.

They remember Soundings when it was the “nation’s boating newspaper” — black-and-white photos on newsprint — and watched with interest as it “morphed” into a four-color magazine on glossy paper. Way back when, we published a photo of Brook standing in a swamped Blue Jay. And 30 years ago, we ran a shot of Tom sailing by the Golden Gate Bridge in our now-defunct West Coast edition.

The magazine and the sailors grew up and changed together. All six are from Southern New England or New York, and five of them have become snowbirds with homes in Florida and New England. And five of the six owned their own small businesses.

“We all worked very hard, and we all played very hard with boats,” says Brook, who owned a car dealership. “We sailed a lot. We raced, and we cruised.”

The sojourn to the Newport show has become a ritual that continues even as some clan members have swallowed the anchor and given up their boats. Rick says their wives understand it’s one day where “grown men get to be boys.”

“None of us wants to be the first one not to show up,” says Brook. Old Bob missed one year for reasons still not entirely clear and was sent the dinner bill. “We have rules,” says Rick.

Young Bob was forced to pass on one show while recuperating from a triple hernia. That didn’t stop Old Bob from punking him the morning of the show by calling and pretending to be the doctor.

They have watched the show change as they, too, evolved. The event was established in September 1980 as the Newport International Sailboat Show; a powerboat show was started later. During an economic hiccup in the early 1990s, the two shows were combined into the one that is held today.

“And we sort of transitioned along with the show to power,” adds Brook. “I was the first club member to go to a powerboat. Everyone thought I’d be the last. It was the only way to keep my wife on the water.” Over time, five of the six made the switch to power.

Although it’s doubtful that any of them has ever had to buy a ticket to get into the event — they remain frugal sailors at heart — they certainly have purchased their share of boats. Old Bob has had four; Tom, Young Bob, Rick and Peter have each owned seven; Brook leads the pack with eight and is looking for his ninth, another Grand Banks Eastbay, which will be his third. 

They met more than 30 years ago, when the Duck Island Yacht Club in Westbrook, Connecticut, was just a paper club, and the six were instrumental in helping it become a full-fledged brick-and-mortar waypoint. They all raced in the Wednesday night series. “The club was the catalyst,” says Rick. “It’s had a huge impact on all our lives.”

Over lunch they joke, tell stories and kid one another.

“We’ve been extraordinarily lucky,” says Young Bob. “We’ve all had a good run.”

As lunch wound down, we clinked glasses and toasted to “next year.”

“As it is for all sailors, my bunk is my home at sea, and now I have a leak in the roof. I have tried to persuade myself that this is meant to be, since the area occupied by my head is to the total area of Albatross as a single star is to the universe, and yet there, right there above my left ear, is the only leak in the entire deck.”

— Ernest K. Gann

December 2014 issue