"There is no real danger," said Alter. "The sense of danger is an illusion built into the boat to provide someone with a natural high."
Alter has been on the trail of natural highs all his life, first as a downhill skier, then a surfer and most recently as a motorcyclist. He pointed to his knees, just healing and scarring after a spill from his Husky 360. "Motorcycling is danger enough," he said. "As for flying my own plane, well, that's no illusion, the danger there is real. The only way you can fly is safely—and I don't like that. You can't fool around while flying. If I thought that I could crash and walk away laughing, it would be all right. But in sailing you can clown around a bit and still be safe."
Alter comes on with a world-weary, growly Lee Marvin sort of voice audible all along Apollo Beach. He showed up for the races wearing a pool-hall-type eyeshade with his hair tumbling out the top. Under that he wore wraparound dark glasses and a cigarette in the middle of his mouth and, finally, ragtag bits and pieces of a wet suit: rubber socks, one rubber sleeve and rolled-up pants legs.
For the championship, Alter's Coast Catamaran had crated and shipped 60 of its boats to Tampa for those entries who couldn't ship in their own, and Hobie had looked over the crates and then decided, "I'll take a gold and white one."
"Best kind of sailing," he said, "is when all boats are identical as possible and it's the man who wins or loses." It takes a lot of identical boats to make a class, he allowed, "and that's why we're pushing the one-design regatta theme in American sailing. We've held more than 200 so far in 1971. Two years ago, at the Atlanta Boat Show, a dealer told me, 'Hey, you get a class going and we'll buy.' And I told him, 'You buy and I'll get the class going.' "
Well, the class is going now, and currently there are more Hobie Cats under sail than any of the six official Olympic classes. And anyone can win on a given day. "Last year I sailed in one regatta," Alter rasped, "and all the guys in it were 60 years old. And I came in 11th. In my own boat! I knew the boat, all right, but they knew the local conditions."
At Tampa the range was even wider. Forty-three years separated the oldest and youngest entrant, the latter a 10-year-old girl. Loufek won three of the eight races, each set up for some 4� miles around varied courses. There was plenty of glory, but even better, some new hardware to mark his triumph. One award, the Hobie Cat Perpetual Trophy, is a brass model of a Hobie Cat. Really a nice-looking, solid little rascal. Seems a shame that he'll never get one hull up on it.