Still Cruising After All These Years

A half century on the water hasn't slowed Arthur and Germaine Beiser one bit. "Herb's Watch" from our August 31, 2007, CW Reckonings

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Arthur and Germaine Beiser keep their 57-foot Ardent Spirit at the Kremik Marina near Split, Croatia.Herb Mccormick

If looks could kill, this is a tale I wouldn't be telling. I was snapping photos of the smart, comfortable interior of Arthur and Germaine Beiser's lovely Moody 57, Ardent Spirit, a few weeks ago off the coast of Croatia and asked Germaine if I might take a picture of her posing in the boat's clean, efficient galley. "Oh, so you get Arthur in the nav station and you want me in the galley," she said, with piercing eyes and a tone that suggested I had some explaining to do.

"Um, well, I didn't mean anything, honest!" I oinked, er, stammered. "It's just a cool galley-love the tile!-and you were already standing there and…"

Mercifully, Arthur came to my rescue. "Why don't you get both of us?" he said, sidling into view. But the point had been made: When it comes to keeping Ardent Spirit a going concern, the Beisers stand on equal ground. And those terms were established long ago, for Ardent Spirit is the sixth cruising boat that Arthur and Germaine have owned in an oceangoing career now spanning, gulp, 50 years.

The most remarkable aspect of that fact, however, is that the Beisers', now in their 70s, show no signs whatsoever of slowing down. When I visited them in the bustling Kremik Marina near Split, Ardent Spirit's homeport for many years, they were waiting for a break in the weather to further explore a coast they've come to love. And while Ardent Spirit is a substantial vessel by anyone's definition, it's clear that the Beisers have little trouble getting the most out of her.

"Bigger is easier, up to a point," said Arthur. "It's more comfortable and less sensitive to bad weather that hits you suddenly. When you do something on deck, you can use both hands. You can carry whatever spares and gear you need so you're more or less independent of the shore. And, of course, it's nice to sail fast and big boats sail faster than a smaller boat without having to exert yourself. A big boat sailing fast is a great pleasure."

If Arthur sounds like an authority on these sorts of matters, it's because he is. A longtime physics professor at New York University, he's the author of such weighty tomes as "The Physical Universe" and "Concepts of Modern Physics." But for many years he was also a regular contributor to the major sailing magazines, including Cruising World, and his book "The Proper Yacht" was one of the top marine titles of the 1970s and 80s.

The Beisers got into sailing in 1957 with a 28-foot woody called Nipinke, and soon after moved up to a 32-foot Tripp design they named Petrouchka. By the time their third child arrived, in 1960, they were ready for something bigger and were seriously considering a brand new boat from Hinckley called the Bermuda 40. Then, by chance, they were visiting their boatyard in City Island, New York, one Sunday afternoon and learned that Minot's Light, a 57-foot John Alden design they'd admired on a cruise to Maine several years earlier, was about to go on the market the next day. The asking price of $35,000 was in the B40 neighborhood, and Arthur exhausted the family's $500 checking account for a down payment. Minot's Light was theirs.

For the next 17 years, the Beisers ranged far and wide aboard the steel-hulled beauty, crossing the Atlantic for summer cruises of the Med and the Baltic Sea. They visited Croatia in 1966 and saw one other cruising boat the entire time. But once the kids were off to college, they decided to downscale (Germaine professes that she never really cottoned to the boat, and both agree that the upkeep, particularly the varnished mahogany cabin top, was "a nightmare"); their next boat was a Swan 47 called Quicksilver. But after a few years, the 47-footer wasn't roomy enough, and they made a big move up, purchasing a Nicholson 70 they called Isle.

The Isle saga, from beginning to end, was a star-crossed matter. After a major refit in a New England boatyard, they set off for the Azores in early November and, in the hardest way imaginable, learned that the work they'd paid for was not only substandard, it was lethal. To cut directly to the chase, Isle sank in the North Atlantic; the Beisers and their crew were rescued by a bulk carrier; insurance covered the loss of the boat; and the boatyard settled for damages midway through the lawsuit that closed the circle on the entire messy affair.

Not surprisingly, the Beisers decided they'd wait a while before purchasing a boat to replace Isle. But only a few weeks passed before they were clambering aboard the custom 57-foot Bill Dixon-design in the Moody parking lot. That was twenty years ago. They've never wanted or needed another cruiser.

The boat had originally been called Kindred Spirit, a name that didn't resonate with her new owners. However, after the debacle in renaming what became Isle, the Beisers didn't want to tempt fate again, so they played with the moniker and came up with Ardent Spirit, the ancient name of whiskey. "And," said Arthur, "it suggests a certain amount of viv that we were rapidly losing, so we thought the name might be helpful."

"I love this boat," said Germaine. "It's fast and really comfortable. It's just been terrific."

The Beisers, obviously, have seen a lot of changes in cruising under sail over the years. "When we first started it was for the elite, the dead broke, or both," said Arthur. "But it wasn't a middle-class thing, which it now is. On the whole, boats are better and cheaper, so that a much larger number of people can participate. This is good."

The bad? "Well, the number of nice places to sail to is finite, and they're filled up," he said, then laughed. "Of course, I have no right to disapprove of others sharing my pleasure, I just wish they'd learn how to anchor!"

In Croatia, the Beisers have room to spread out a bit. "The coastline here is 400 miles long, and there are something like 1,100 islands to explore," said Arthur. "The opportunities are endless."

Fifty years down the road, and not so much has changed for Arthur and Germaine Beiser. Their very proper yacht is sturdy and strong, they know precisely what to do with her, and there's another anchorage beckoning right around the bend.