Humans at Sea: Howdy Bailey

Well it was real easy. I was born in Louisiana and raised in Panama. I graduated from school in Panama, and my dream was to go back to Panama after I got out of the Navy – because I did 4 years in the Navy. Well I met a guy who was building a ferro cement boat and I went Wow, I could do that.

Before that I had a canoe that the natives in Panama had dug for me when I was 15 years old. My dad said Hey you got a boat now and that was my only introduction to a boat.

I used to dream about Hey would somebody invite me aboard? – because I’d walk around the marinas and look at boats and everything and finally this lady invited myself and the girl I was with aboard and she give us a tour and everything and we thanked her and she says Well you don’t need to thank me, this isn’t my boat. I’m cleaning it, but you two look like interesting people!

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The Dylan, a 45′ Ferro Cement Ketch

I looked at everything back then like there is no problem, just make it happen. Building my boat I didn’t know how to do much stuff on it, but I did wire it – I did the plumbing – I put the engine in and everything so I had a lot of not-polished talents, but I had a lot of things that I could half-way do and if I could ask enough questions I could get it done. My dad was the kind of person that if you start it, you finish it. I’ll guide you but I’m not going to do the work.

 

 

We floated the spars on inner tubes out to a bridge that they had in Mandarin, Florida and I went up and dropped a block and tackle over the bridge. We got on the news, but we got our mast stepped!

When the boat was finished it was paid for. When I got on the boat to leave I had $600 but I was just going to Rhode Island to the American Cup races and I figured, you know, if you don’t think about it…

I had no idea what it was like when the sun went down and it got dark. I had no idea what it was like out there. It was such a learning thing, the excitement, you just wanted more and more and more.

Well hell, I only made it from Florida to here and that was 15 days to do that because I didn’t know how to sail. That damn little book that said The Sailors Bible didn’t tell me a whole lot of stuff. So when I got to Norfolk, I stayed here a day then ambled up the Chesapeake to Annapolis and finished spending the 600 there, partying and I had to get a job so I called my union and I went to work at the Naval academy as a pipe fitter, so I made enough money to start again, and that’s when I met Joanie.

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She had an apartment in Annapolis, we were living on the boat here (Norfolk), her parents only lived a few miles away

Joanie and I were living on the boat and Joanie was commuting to Dulles in Northern Virginia close to 200 miles from Norfolk. But you know it worked out good, we were both young, we were having a good time. She had an apartment in Annapolis, we were living on the boat here, her parents only lived a few miles away and I really got along good with them and her daddy basically adopted me because he never had a boy, he had 3 girls. It was super. Joanie says you take care of the boat, I’ll make the trips with you when I can – her being a flight attendant. So I would work nuclear plant shut downs when you made a lot of overtime in a short time and pulp mills, it was all in my trade and I was in the union so I had the best of both worlds.

When I left the States she went with me on that first trip and then a few years later we were still together and we’re still together now and that’s forty-something years.

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That was my first bottom job. Someone said you just find a place with a lot of tide.

I found that I didn’t do much work in the Caribbean because when I went there I was sailing I wanted to have fun and party and all of that stuff then come back to the states to work and get serious but you don’t want to work in the Caribbean. I had a trade, no matter where I am in the United States I could call my union and they could place me at a job on a work site. You see I had a back up.

Joanie would go with me on passages then fly to work, then fly back to make the passage back or wherever we were going. We were never apart for very long. I would say that 90% of the passages that I made on the boat, she was with me.

It didn’t make a difference back then if it was summer or it was time to go. You never thought about hurricane season back then. Never thought about insurance. What’s insurance? Eight years no insurance. I never paid taxes for Eight years. I mean I never made much, maybe 6 or 7,000 a year that was it.


I was 35 when I left on my boat to cruise and I wish everybody could do it. I mean to do it at that age is just friggin’ awesome. It kind of slows you down, you’re not really prepared for retirement when you get to the age I am now, but what the hell, it doesn’t make any difference – the best thing to do is to work to the end anyway. But things work out.

HB01The people you meet are unbelievable and especially the ones who have done it that build their own boats because I know what they went through and it was greatly rewarding and I’m glad I did it when I was young. It was a lot easier and I think you have a lot more fun because you’re not as worried about things.

I had the opportunity to sail that boat for 8 years and the only thing I had to do was stop long enough to make enough money to take care of the boat. And I only stayed in the Caribbean and the East Coast. I never did make it to Panama, still haven’t.


to take a million dollars of somebody’s and create a piece of artwork is awesome. It’s all their money and you’re having all the fun. That’s the way I always looked at it.

In 1983 I stopped the sailing and that’s when I sold the boat. I didn’t want to go back to my union and work, I wanted a new venture and that’s when I got my first contract to build and rented the place across from Cobbs Marina.

This guy came up with a scheme and he put a group of people together to build a 64 foot charter boat for the Caribbean and then in ’86 we put it in the Annapolis Boat Show and then after that it was nonstop building for twenty-something years.

 

In 1990 we renovated a steel 60 ft Choy Lee ketch for a great business man out of Biloxi Mississippi, that’s 1400 miles from here. This went on to be a lasting friendship and continual work for the next 18 years, moving the boat from Biloxi to Norfolk every year and a half. My son Dylan took care of the varnish at that time and lots of it. We would pick up the boat in Biloxi or the Bahamas or the Keys. One great trip was with the owner, his first every trip to Bermuda – that’s 1300 miles sailing, give or take. Then we’d be flown to move the boat when the time came. And every year and a half I would keep the boat here, then I’d take it back there and he’d keep it a year and a half and when it was my turn he’d fly me down there and I’d take it to Bermuda, I’d go to the Bahamas, so I got a lot of sailing.

And then we were lucky enough for 4 years to take care of a brand new steel trawler for a Harvard professor. So I was always there moving a boat, and then some of the boats that I built for my clients I would deliver to where ever they wanted, so I got a lot of sailing and I got paid for it so that was pretty damn neat.

 

Most people they don’t know what they’re getting into on their first go. I mean they have no clue and a lot of those show up and they break things and they’re under funding it and they don’t have money. I was lucky enough because I had a trade when I built my boat and the stupid things I did when I first started sailing… but when I arrived here and I started my business I told myself at that time “Never turn somebody down just because they don’t have money”.

 

When you see somebody who is struggling and you have respect for them and it’s not really all their fault when you start checking on it, well it’s a different story

 

HB14When I didn’t go to Panama and before I got into building I thought about going to Europe but then as I got into the boat building I couldn’t take no time off and who would want to leave the crazy and fun times of building?… You know I started off with 6 people and ended up with 18 people to take care of.

But I don’t regret any of it, any of it. And to take a million dollars of somebody’s and create a piece of artwork is awesome. It’s all their money and you’re having all the fun. That’s the way I always looked at it.


Of course I had several nasty lawsuits, I lost you know, quite a bit of money. But it was still worth it. When you get tied up with people who have that type of money to build a boat – one was a Finnish guy that worked for the World Bank. We started building him a sixty-something footer, Bob Perry design. He gets part way through the boat, stops paying me. We end up with a lot of problems. For me to get the money you need to have a law suit, law suits take a lot of friggin’ money, so that little project alone I lost a couple hundred thousand dollars.

Then the first lawsuit was with a guy that was totally nuts. We actually were at the point of starting to do the interior and this guy vanished. But he did that to a lot of people. That ended up to be another lawsuit, several hundred thousand more, so after three of those… the third lawsuit I ended up going before the judge and the judge says Mr Bailey, how come you’re not dealing with these people?

I don’t plan to, I can’t win so why deal with it? I said

So he goes through this whole story about how this guy got over him on a similar case to what happened to me.

You can’t fight money if you don’t have money he says but it was in funny words, you had to read between the lines and when we walked out of the court room I looked at the attorney I had I said

Did he just tell us to go bankrupt right now? He said Yeah

Well I went bankrupt, I basically lost the place, but there was a guy there who we were working on his brothers powerboat and this guy George was furnishing the money, so after the lawsuit he bought all of my assets, the building and everything that was there, and he walks up to me and he says

Alright I own it now but I don’t want a boat yard. What do you want to do?

What if we lease it from you? and I check with my office manager Kay and I tell George

George, what if we lease it for 1600 a month?

Okay he says. We should have a contract and he put his hand out and that was the contract.

You can have this place back any time you want, just give me what I have in it (which was $72,000)

So three years later I say Kay, I’m going to buy that building back.

Howdy that mans a millionaire. You don’t even have a contract. He’s not going to give you your stuff back, you’re nuts.

Well I call George

George, Joanie and I are ready to buy the yard back.

Okay Howdy, but you owe me a little more money.

My fucking heart stopped, I said Why?

Kay is behind on the lease money!

So I bought it back.

Now when you meet guys like that it kind of reminds me of what I would do for somebody in my little way. Yeah he was a great guy but you don’t meet many people like that. I met more crooks that have boats built than I have people who want to help you – or have the money to help you – but they’re out there.

Some of the 38 projects in 20 years of buiding…

 

 

Eventually I stopped it myself, I knew it was time to quite. And so for the last 15 years, Larry and I have just been doing service work. Ever since I met him he’s always worked 6 days a week. He loves working so we get along good and we love what we do. If you don’t love it, you can’t do it – you won’t do yourself any justice or the people you work around. I do believe that.

It was easier to do what I did 30 years ago than it is now. Things have got so much more expensive, and for the people on the lower end,….you’ve got to get a special trade these days to survive or get into some kind of niche that works.

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Creating Artwork, always

To do what I did – I mean four years in the Navy, a five year apprenticeship and then working at my trades for another four years plus I had to get a part time business, even back then, to make enough money to build my boat and pay for it as I went.

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