Relaxing millionaire-style at anchor off Sandy Cay just beyond Nassau's pastel skyline of hotels, with two days to loaf before his next charter, Crimmins wears the contented look of a prospector who has struck gold—an impression he takes pains to correct. "It's not the money. I could take what I've invested in this boat and make a better return with a hamburger franchise." His fiscal policy remains the same model of simplicity he outlined 21 years ago, before marrying his raven-haired wife Peggy, a former Chicago fashion model: "Whatever we make goes into the boat. If there's anything left, that's ours."
In boom times, he concedes, "almost anybody who knows the pointy end from the roundy end can make a profit," but to charterers the Dow-Jones industrial average can be as ominous as a plummeting barometer, and in stormy times "we separate the riff from the raft." For truly desperate times, when all around are foundering, Crimmins has always carried a special emergency pump, carefully primed. "Credit is everything," he says, a Midwest value passed down from his father, an Irish auto worker who regularly hocked family silver on Saturday nights in the saloons of Saginaw, Mich.
With his own boat well stocked from a checklist of old-fashioned virtues, the onetime Lake Michigan Sea Scout is unabashedly candid in criticism of freer spirits who sail off into the sunset leaving merchants—and sometimes guests—waving from the dock. "Those are the people who hurt all of us," he grumbles. "They'll buy some old tub, put an ad in the boating magazines, and right away they're charterers. They make a little money, then get lazy, and pretty soon somebody's stuck. It's amazing how many people come in on a shoestring, convinced it's a lazy man's game."
Perhaps not so amazing. Abetting the belief, certainly, is almost everything printed about the charterer's world of azure skies and gin-clear waters, including some 50 pounds of clippings and photographs in Crimmins' own bulging scrapbooks. Typical was an article about Crimmins several years ago in
The New York Times
, which began by asking: "What does a man do when his working days are behind him?" Such stories flabbergast Crimmins, whose workweek on charter is a minimum of 112 hours.
A former Traveler mate, Mike Manning, says, "He's not choosy because he's successful, he's successful because he's choosy. He's the only charter skipper I ever knew who could spot a loose buck and leave it lay."
Now a delivery skipper out of Fort Lauderdale, Manning recalls the late 1940s when Crimmins, an ex-World War II Navy chief and prewar boatyard operator, was first chartering from downtown Miami, afloat on an audaciously secured government loan ("They just laughed at first. They said, 'You really want us to loan you money to go sailing?' "). On Miami's old Pier 5, fishing captains were tied stern-to at the dock, screeching at tourists like rickshaw drivers. "The skipper always had more class," Manning says. "Those were days when a $10 bill was something to get excited about, but I've seen him turn down people with dough when we hardly had enough for groceries."
Crimmins explains: "People who are difficult ashore are impossible at sea. I decided early that the only way to work steadily was through repeat business and referrals. If somebody thought they wanted to go cruising and I could tell they wouldn't enjoy it—heavy drinkers, old people, quarrelsome couples, that sort of thing—it was better in the long run lo pass up their money and wait for someone else to come along.
"Once we had five cents left and Peggy wanted a candy bar. I said let's stop by the post office first." A letter with four cents postage due gobbled up Peggy's candy bar, "but it contained a deposit check for $250. For a long while, life was a series of cliff-hangers like that."
Success means Crimmins no longer must contend with guests like one swarthy paranoid who skulked aboard with a .38 revolver to protect a treasure map—which turned out to be a Bahamian government advertisement ripped from a national magazine.
Today most letters, cables and marine-frequency calls come from guests with fashionable addresses, but Crimmins still likes to inspect first-time sailing companions before they come aboard. New guests spend their first night at a Nassau hotel, paying for dinner and the opportunity to become acquainted, an added expense to the customer that Crimmins deems well justified. "That's when we become friends," he says. "The ice is broken—it's an entirely different atmosphere from having total strangers aboard." After the voyage he suggests another night ashore: dinner, dancing, a show and perhaps a visit to a casino with the captain and his wife. "It's a nice transition between the boat and home. It rounds out the cruise."