By Dorie Cox
The yacht that Capt. Larry Hastings works on is for sale. It has been home to him for more than half of his life.
Capt. Hastings is 75 years old. He set down his cigar, stopped sanding the yacht’s old nameplate and talked about his 43 years working for the same owners on M/Y Buckpasser.
“If new owners are smart, they would want to hire me,” Capt. Hastings said during a tour of the yacht. “But at my age, I can’t give them a long-term commitment.”
And he is used to long-term commitments. It was 1973 when Capt. Hastings started work on the owners’ first Buckpasser, a 98-foot Burger. Now he runs their 120-foot Jack Hargrave design built by Hitachi Zosen, and he knows both yachts like no one else.
Capt. Hastings is what many people envision when they think “old salt”. Decades of sun exposure has weathered his skin. Years of climbing ladders, lifting hatches and hoisting anchors keeps him lean and muscular.
“Don’t need to go to the gym, everything is manual,” he said as he pointed to the anchor chain.
Just like running this boat, most of what Capt. Hastings does is for the long haul. He and his wife have been married 52 years.
“Our deal was that she takes care of the homefront,” he said. “I was on boats and I said I’m not going to quit. That was our arrangement, so she raised our family of two boys and a girl.”
He’s comfortable with things staying the same. Even down to the dark hunter green-colored wall of the main salon.
“I’ve been living with that color for 40 years,” he said.
In an industry that often sees crew change jobs fairly frequently, Capt. Hastings is too busy doing his job to think about moving around. Plus, he really likes what he’s doing. He believes his common-sense ways of doing things have contributed to his longevity.
“If you’re right, you’re right; If you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” he said. When there was an issue onboard, he said all parties “just sat down to talk about it”.
He is serious about doing a good job.
“I may not be that smart, but I’m observative,” he said. “There’s not a nook or cranny on this boat that I can’t point right to.”
He keeps work as work and never mingles it with time off.
“I didn’t socialize with the owners and it worked great,” he said. “They never interfered, they let me run the boat.”
Operations onboard have mostly stayed the same for four decades. He prefers to measure fuel levels with a stick instead of a computer reading and he likes tried-and-true methods, especially when it comes to navigation.
“If you rely on GPS it can get you in trouble,” Capt. Hastings said as he pointed to decades-old equipment on the helm. “It can be off, and just a degree or two can set you off course.
“If you know the time-speed-distance equation, you can navigate,” he said, as he pulled several coffee-stained, pencil-marked paper charts out of a full cabinet and pointed to the courses of regular trips to the Bahamas.
Crew stick with the program
Longevity runs through the Buckpasser crew, also.
“I know some captains that stay on the job for 30 years, but not their crew,” Capt. Hastings said.
Stew Raymond Bottomley has worked onboard for 35 years, cook Glenn Brannock for 33 years and even their Bahamas guide, Kenny Gardner, has been a regular for 14 years.
Eng. Marshall Tolderlund, 67, has been with the crew for nearly 28 years. Tolderlund started after he was laid off from his job at a machine shop in the 1980s in Newport. A customer suggested he go to Spencer Boatyard in West Palm Beach and that was where Capt. Hastings offered him a job.
“I thought if it didn’t work, I would go back to the yard,” Tolderlund said by phone. “But I guess it stuck.”
He attributes his longevity to the captain and the crew.
“Larry wanted things done right, but he didn’t interfere,” Tolderlund said. “Everyone has their own opinions but he let you do your own thing. Everything was done and we did it right.
“We had five guys that really made it work together,” he said. “Of course, we had discrepancies, but keep your mouth shut and take a deep breath. You’re in a 121-foot aluminum box floating in the middle of nowhere. You get over it quick.”
Tolderlund met his wife, Amy, in the parts department at the yard in 1981 and they married in 1989.
“She is my first and last wife,” he said.
Even the newest member of the crew has been onboard for a longer run than most crew in yachting. From the enclosed aft deck, Mate Philip Upstill instinctively straightens cushions. It was in July, 16 years ago, on the same aft deck, under the same paint shed in Bradford Marine, that he was interviewed for his job on M/Y Buckpasser.
“I started that day and I’m still here,” Upstill said.
At 50 years old he said, “I’m the rookie of this crew.”
Upstill grew up sailing and worked on a sportfish boat in high school before embarking on a corporate career. But he took an opportunity to leave the office to get into the marine industry.
“I could live in a bathing suit,” Upstill said. “Can you imagine being in a cubicle for 20 years?”
He said working with Capt. Hastings doesn’t require superfluous words.
“With Larry, everything is clear cut,” Upstill said. “Just do your job and be respectful.”
Upstill said he has seen some crew come and go, about 15-20 deckhands.
“I advised crew to stay on, but on a boat like this, it’s the little things. Like if you leave a mess…,” he said. “Getting along with crew is the most important thing.”
Although Capt. Hastings respects how things have been run, he does aim to improve where he can.
“On the first boat, for 12 years, I wrote everything the crew said to fix in a spiral notebook,” Capt. Hastings said. When it was time for a new boat, he handed the book to the owner and said, “I am a boat captain, not an architect.”
Capt. Hastings hopes to stay onboard, but if the new owners bring their own captain, he’ll get by. The captain has taken a Buckpasser from Newfoundland to the Bahamas and down to Venezuela, including a 250-mile trip up the Orinoco River. At 10 knots.
“This goes, ‘boogety, boogety, boogety’, and burns 28 gallons an hour,” he said as he spun his hands to demonstrate. “It’s a slow boat.”
And Capt. Hastings will continue, slow and steady, just like Buckpasser.
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.