Paid to Play?

The benefits of being a BOTY judge extend well beyond test sailing all the new boats at the show."The Roger Henry File" from our November 25, 2009, CW Reckonings.

BOTY judges (and a couple others) can¿t pass up a good photo. The cast includes, from left, judges Roger Hellyar-Brook, Stacey Collins, Alvah Simon, and Tim Murphy, as well as Steve Callahan, Billy Black's assistant, Gretchen Thor (in the light blue

BOTY judges (and a couple others) can¿t pass up a good photo. The cast includes, from left, judges Roger Hellyar-Brook, Stacey Collins, Alvah Simon, and Tim Murphy, as well as Steve Callahan, Billy Black's assistant, Gretchen Thor (in the light blue hat), and Bill Springer (with his arms raised and oddly wearing sunglasses in the rain). Naturally, Billy Black is behind the camera.Billy Black

I think of myself as a good sailor and a bad businessman. Sailing our cutter Roger Henry from Alaska to Seattle, Washington to make a flight to Annapolis, Maryland in time to meet my commitment to be a judge in CW's Boat of the Year contest, supports the first assumption. Completely forgetting to ask CW's editor, Mark Pillsbury, what I would be paid for my services, supports the latter.

I should leave this unsaid, but the truth is I would have gone for free. Being a BOTY judge allowed me to spend hours (both on the dock and on the water) on each new boat at the show. And I got to do this with an exceptional group of people.

Fellow judge Roger Hellyar-Brook is the Marine Systems program manager for the Landing School. In 10 minutes, Roger can absorb and critique the entire technical profile of the most complex of boats. More importantly he floored me all week with his irreverent English humor such as-"A Canadian is an unarmed American with health care."

Stacey Collins is the embodiment of my theory that cruising has the power to transform lives. As a teenage girl, her parents took her kicking and screaming on a cultural cruise around South America. At times she thought she hated it, but that amazing and unique experience was indelibly etched into her soul. Today,she and her husband, Neil, are preparing to take their teenage daughter Olivia on a world cruise. While the modern concept of inheritance has been narrowed down to only cash and houses for many, this family is passing the cruising bug down through the generations; a treasure that I believe is longer lasting and of far greater value.

Tim Murphy used to be my editor, and he often held my feet to the fire to be sure each word rang clear and true. He was often hard on me-and just as often right. Having been the organizer of BOTY for many years, he continues to supply his unique overview of the entire industry as a BOTY judge.

At midnight, upon completion of our long deliberations, Tim suggested a celebratory swim. He said we should all strip down and jump into the sacred waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Steve Callahan, who once spent 76 days in a life raft and wrote a best selling book about the experience, titled Adrift, pointed out that a freezing gale was howling out there. Murphy simply looked around the table, made his assessment and poured me a stiff drink. Then he sat back quietly. At the bottom of the drink I pushed back my chair and said, "Well, we had better get this thing done."

Callahan looked like a lamb being led to slaughter but felt honor-bound to follow us into the breaking waves. The word brisk best describes the experience. I tease him with the nickname Stevie Wonder, but actually, this is no joke. Steve is a gifted author, designer, sailor, painter, inventor, and rumor has it that his African drumming is not too bad either.

Meanwhile, we were all trying to figure out the formula for happiness that photographer Billy Black employs every morning, and how his assistant Gretchen Thor keeps up with him.

When it was finally time to go home, I was anxious to get back to my wife, Diana, and the Roger Henry, 3,000 miles away, but I was also sad to leave my BOTY brethren. Being a BOTY judge not only allowed me to indulge my love of the sea and the craft that ply her waters with an exceptional group of friends, but if I could just learn to keep my mouth shut, I might even get paid for it.