When Jack Paar was at the height of his fame hosting the Tonight show, he visited Nassau, where the Bahamian government took him sailing on a 40-foot Abaco-built charter ketch called Traveler. By way of welcoming him aboard, the skipper, a pipe-puffing American named Art Crimmins, inquired politely as to just what line of work Paar was in. "Imagine," Paar huffed as he showed film of the ensuing cruise to his television audience, "this fellow never heard of Jack Paar."
Hugh Downs, the Ed McMahon of those days and a cruising sailor himself, was amused at the response. "We got a number of letters from around the country that said, "We don't know this fellow Paar, either—but we sure do know Cap'n Art Crimmins.' "
This mutual nonrecognition by two superstars of their respective industries was understandable. In those days of poor reception, Crimmins did not have a television set aboard. (Neither did he have built-in stereo, air conditioning, a deep freeze, two showers or a number of other amenities he offers today.) And for his part Paar could scarcely be expected to realize that his host was probably the third-best-known charter sailboat skipper afloat. After all, who can name the first two?
They are, as a point of reference, Irving Johnson, whose Yankee charters are financially secondary to spin-off lectures and books; and controversial Mike Burke, whose chain-store approach to windjammer cruising has put boats on—at last count—six reefs around the world.
Crimmins' fame is less tangential, and if it is not the sort of renown that awes autograph hunters, headwaiters or talk-show hosts, with yachting men it carries weight. Ocean racer Dick Bertram, whose yacht brokerage handles charters worldwide, calls him the dean of charter skippers. To Burl Ives, a frequent Bahamas gunkholer, "Crimmins is the best sailor I know." Many stars have sailed with him (his favorites are Frances Lang-ford, Jonathan Winters and Phyllis Diller), and his guest log is, additionally, a roll call of executives from FORTUNE'S 500 largest corporations. Pickle King H. J. Heinz Jr. sailed with him to the Exumas and stayed to buy a $1 million piece of property from actor Hume Cronyn. John F. Kennedy sent Secret Service men to check him out in anticipation of a cruise, canceled by what Crimmins calls "some big crisis or other" (from the deck of a sailboat in the Bahamas, world problems all look pretty much alike). His first two ketches, Traveler and Traveler II, were as much photographed as Onassis' Christina: under full sail or anchored in emerald-colored coves, they appeared in national magazines everywhere from front cover to back-page whiskey ads. "Crimmins is one of our natural resources," says Joe Edwards, director of information for the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. Harry Kline, editor of the Yachtsman's Guide to the Bahamas
, has called the fiddle-playing captain "part of Bahamian folklore."
Thus, if it did not rival Nassau's Junkanoo or George Town's Out Island Regatta for high excitement, it nevertheless created a stir along salt-bleached East Bay Street when—after two years in Hong Kong building his "ultimate charter boat"—Crimmins sailed the vessel pictured above, his new 62-foot ketch Traveller III (with an extra l added) into Nassau Harbor on the dying winds of last winter's first storm front.
Only his bank, his Chinese boatbuilder and an equally inscrutable skipper know exactly how much is invested in Crimmins' windblown business, but to visitors clambering aboard at the Bayshore Marina in Nassau, evidence abounds that it is well into six figures. The design—a collaboration by Crimmins and naval architect Ted Brewer—is quite meticulously thought out. Along with improved downwind sailing characteristics, it retains the best of John Alden's beamy 68-foot Traveler II, including a spacious shaded social cockpit separated from the helmsman by a teak bridge deck, a stroll-about main saloon and staterooms that can be airy or air conditioned, according to whim. Yacal keel, ipil frames and Burma teak planks are fastened with silicon bronze, unfamiliar words to owners of plastic boats. Even without spinnaker—Crimmins has a cruising man's hatred of them—there are nearly $5,000 worth of sails. "Take a couple of those winches on deck," he says, "and you could swap them for a Volkswagen." She is a modern yacht with classic lines, an ark of triumph—a boat which in the hands of numerous skippers would sink without a bubble under the weight of her own bank note.
Indeed, Crimmins' chartering fame rests on his ability to maneuver masterfully in the trickiest tide of all: the flow of cash. At $2,000 a week for a party of six or fewer (he considers two couples ideal) he expects to sail at least 28 weeks a year, his average for five years aboard Traveler II. By landlocked standards a gross of some $60,000 is only a modest small business, but to sailboat charterers, to whom mere solvency is an achievement, that kind of earning power is what makes Crimmins a superstar of the game.
Crimmins' peers invariably mention, usually as an afterthought, that he is also an exceptionally skilled sailor, but sailing skill alone is insufficient insurance in a business dotted with the wrecks of old dreams.
"We're a dying breed," says Ron Turner, whose gaff-rigged schooner Keewatin illustrates the Bahamian idyll on the cover of this year's Yachtsman's Guide. "Nobody but another skipper knows how many ways you can fail in this business."