By Dorie Cox
Long-time yacht Capt. William “Bill” Astras died Oct 4. He passed peacefully with his family by his side. He was 74.
From 8 in the morning until sundown each day, M/Y Norwegian Queen’s colors flew under Capt. Astras’ command. His son, Capt. Randy Astras, worked as engineer on the 164-foot Trinity with his father, a man he described as a “true yachtsman” who was a mentor to many in yachting.
“He had a great focus on giving the little guy a chance,” his son said. “We had long-term crew pulled from shipyards and shops, not the typical types, and we trained everyone ourselves.”
Born in New York, Capt. Astras’ family moved to Florida when he was young. As an adult, he owned Boca Marine, a boat service and sales store in Boca Raton, Fla.
In 1988, a customer asked him to run his 54-foot sportfish boat. Capt. Astras accepted the job, which grew into 24 years of service. The owner’s family later bought a 106-foot Westship, then Capt. Astras managed the build of its 132-foot Westship, and eventually he managed the build of the Trinity, all named M/Y Norwegian Queen.
“There was no varying from the straight line with Bill,” said longtime friend and colleague, Capt. Ken Dobson, who also worked on a Westship. “He was a true professional, very attentive to details. Rules of the road, radio etiquette, call numbers, radio checks, letting mariners know his position; they don’t do that anymore.
“When my flags were not up at 8 every morning, he would joke, ‘Ken, you must be asleep. Your flags aren’t up’,” Capt. Dobson said.
Even with his strong traditional background, Capt. Dobson said Capt. Astras was always up on new technology and what worked best onboard. But he especially liked the community and camaraderie of yachting.
“It was his favorite thing; he was open, friendly and talked to everyone from Europe to the Caribbean,” Capt. Dobson said. “He treated everyone the same, whether you were cleaning the bilge or admiral of the coast guard.”
Bosun Alla Botvina joined the crew for the build on the latest Norwegian Queen and worked with Capt. Astras before moving to yachts in the U.S. Pacific Northwest to be nearer to family.
“He could communicate with crew and he was well-rounded,” Botvina said. “He understood every aspect to run the show and be a human being at the same time.”
Botvina said Capt. Astras changed the course of her career.
“I was looking for the right boat to give my years to,” she said. “It was easy to dedicate and commit to him. He said, ‘See that? One day you will work on that, and I will teach you everything you need to know.’ He shaped my career. He was the base of my entire knowledge of yachting.”
For three years, Botvina volunteered for flag duty when she saw how important it was to Capt. Astras.
“I set my wrist alarm,” she said. “They weren’t raised at 8:01, but right at 8. When you care about someone, even if you don’t care about the topic, you do it out of respect. He had pride in being the boat that does colors right, on time, impeccably.”
Capt. Astras taught crew about traditional yachting through humor and stories with lessons, Botvina said. She laughed at his lesson on tender driving: “You only want to go as fast as you want to hit something.”
Many people benefitted from Capt. Astras’ knowledge, nautical and otherwise, said his son. Barry Zuccarini is someone who worked with him at Boca Marine in the 1970s, and occasionally was hired on as mate on Norwegian Queen.
“Before the time of GPS and other satellite navigation systems, captains from the Royal Palm Yacht Club and Boca Raton Hotel and Club would come into the store and ask for Bill’s advice on how to cross the Gulf Stream,” Zuccarini said. “Remember, it was in the 70s. He would pull a paper chart out in the store and help them plot the course, figuring the differential between the Gulf Stream speed and the speed of their boat.
“You had to respect him; it had a lot to do with his character,” Zuccarini said. “You had to lift yourself to the next level when you were around him.”
Shannon Wiley met Capt. Astras through his sons, David and Randy, when they all attended the Boy Scouts of America Sea Scouts program. Wiley said he worked summers on the yacht doing odd jobs and helping on fishing trips.
“You know the thickness of Chapman’s?” Wiley asked, referring to the hefty “Chapman Piloting Seamanship and Small Boat Handling” book. “He could have written double that in terms of the knowledge he held in his head and heart.”
Wiley said the captain could read the lines of any vessel from afar and name the boat type.
“He was always close on the year, too,” he said. “He just knew these things. He never ceased to amaze me.”
Capt. Astras’s help extended beyond yachting.
“He gave me good business advice and he knew smart decision making,” Wiley said. “He was selfless and never wanted anything in return, no strings attached. He made me want to be a better person.”
Friends said they were surprised to hear that Capt. Astras had died. Capt. Dobson said his friend had been retired but had been an observer for international game fishing tournaments. The two got in touch every week to talk about boats and kids. Bosun Botvina said she will miss Capt. Astras.
“I have never run across anyone that was as passionate,” Botvina said. “I was hoping he would be there to see me when I get married.”
Capt. Astras is survived by his wife of 47 years, Mary; sons David and Randy; and four grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation in his name to the University of Florida Health Shands Kidney Transplant housing and gas fund, c/o Stephan J. Moore, 1600 Archer Road, Gainesville, Fla. 32610-0223. A celebration of his life will be held at a later date. For details, email Randy Astras at email@example.com.
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome below or at firstname.lastname@example.org.