Cruising

From the Editor: An Ode to Hobie Alter

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Hobie Alter: 1934-2014

Like so many others, my introduction to sailing on two hulls came courtesy of Hobie Alter. One sweltering January afternoon in Perth, Western Australia, back in 1978 or so, a bunch of us rode our motorcycles down to the Swan River to go sailing.

The thought of sailing wasn’t actually something that had ever occurred to many of us, surfers and bikers that we were, but we’d heard about these cool things called Hobie Cats that you could just get on and ride without needing to know how to sail, and it seemed like a fun way to spend an afternoon.

We were already dressed for a day on the water—shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops being standard biker gear in the Australian summer—so when we saw the row of brightly-colored sails atop banana-shaped hulls, we were on the water as soon as we’d paid the rental fees and been given a quickfire Aussie-style briefing—“This rope controls the sail. Pull her in to go faster, ease her out to slow down. If ya go over, that doughnut on the end of the mast will stop it from digging inter the mud. Two of ya get on the bottom hull, grab that there rope and lean back till she comes upright, and mind yer heads cos she’ll come down quick. To turn around, put yer sterns through the wind, OK? And don’t break me boats!”

Two or three of us to a boat, we scooted off in a gusty breeze and spent the next two hours either capsizing or swimming around post-capsize, our idea of good technique being to try to spend as much time on one hull as possible. We non-sailors learned little about the finer points of beachcat sailing and plenty about the points of no return, but eventually, sunburnt and sore from laughing and coughing up water, we managed to steer our little cats back to more or less the same point from which we’d departed. Cold beer never tasted so good.

Therein lay the genius of Hobie’s idea for a surfer’s plaything. Fast, stable, easy to sail and above all fun, the Hobie Cat was the ultimate sailing toy for non-sailors. It was the first taste of sailing for tens of thousands of people, many of whom—even bikers—came back for more. Hobie was one of those true pioneers who brought sailing to the masses.

Rest easy, dude.

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