Loose Lips Sell Ads

Although a year has passed, the infamous magazine spread still lingers in the consciousness of the Broward County yacht crews.

Readers who opened up the first issue of Dockwalk, a periodical aimed at yacht crews, were greeted by the headline "Infidelity and Yachting" over an advice column that advised a yacht-crew member worried that her boyfriend was "having sex with the steward" to "sniff his underwear." A nearby photo showed a grinning man trying to roll a giant condom over his head. Another photo featured a gaggle of near-naked crew members lounging in the absent boat-owner's jacuzzi, toasting each other with raised beers.

That first issue caused some in the industry to wonder whether there would ever be a second. Recalling her first sight of the paper, yachting industry spokeswoman Sydney Williams says, "I took a look, and I went, 'Oh man.' People were certainly surprised." Recalls Dockwalk publisher Greg Mullen, "There were some people who thought we couldn't survive that."

Well, the skeptics were wrong. A year later Dockwalk, the only publication on the eastern seaboard targeted directly at yacht crews, has not only survived, it has become the de facto trade magazine for the yacht-crew industry. Even as it has grown, however, so has the criticism of what some see as the paper's leering, salacious, and unprofessional tone.

"Why not call it Dockwalk Enquirer?" one reader suggests. "It sends a negative image about yachting. Help change the image of yachting, not promote what we already know goes on."

Dockwalk is the brainchild of Mullen and his partner, Gil Pinkham, both of whom were long-time yacht captains with no professional experience in publishing when they launched the paper in the fall of 1997. The lack of experience shows; editor-in-chief Pinkham's name is misspelled in the current issue, and the layout remains an ad hoc jumble of text and graphics.

More disturbing to Williams, however, is the cheesecake that remains a Dockwalk staple. The subject of sex in the yachting industry is a sensitive one for Williams; as secretary of the newly formed Association of Yachting Professionals (AYP), she feels a responsibility to portray the industry in a positive light.

Especially now, when the marine industry is expanding, yacht sales are increasing, and yachts are getting bigger. Since 1987 the annual growth rate for the marine industry in Broward County has been 7.9 percent, according to the Marine Industries Association. Five years ago a 150-foot yacht would have been called a megayacht. Not today; today a 150-foot yacht would be just a big boat that was less than half the length of the Limitless, a 315-foot behemoth currently undergoing modifications in Port Everglades.

Membership in the AYP has more than doubled in the last year alone, Williams says, and the need for trained, professional yacht crews is only going to keep growing. She wonders how many women will choose to enter the industry if Dockwalk is its guidebook.

Until now the AYP has lent Mullen and Pinkham a helping hand, allowing them to reprint articles from the AYP newsletter and running a huge ad in every issue. But now Williams is wondering whether cooperating with Dockwalk has been such a good idea. "We'll just have to decide how closely we want to be associated with them in the future," she says.

To those who really know the industry and its jargon, even the name Dockwalk has its lecherous undertones. Explains Pinkham: "'Dockwalk' is that morning walk that you take when you maybe stayed on board all night and now you've got to slip away and go to work -- or home. He pulls out the first issue to illustrate. On the front page is a photograph of a blond woman standing on a dock and slipping on her shoe as she reaches up to steady herself against the rail of a docked yacht. "If you look, you can see that the morning shadows are really long. That's a real dockwalk," Pinkham says, happily. He says he tries to run one "dockwalk" photo per issue.

To this day Mullen and Pinkham remain cheerfully defiant about the tone of their paper. "Hey, this is the reality," says Mullen. "And our job is to reflect that reality, not to duck the issues that crew members really face. Infidelity? It happens; better that we address it than sweep it under a rug. All of this is a part of yachting reality."

Mullen and Pinkham are experts on yachting realities. Both men have captained yachts for the past decade; indeed, they conceived Dockwalk in the wheelhouse of a yacht northbound on the Intracoastal. The trip was long and slow, and at night the two men were so bored they "broke out a pad and a pen and started conceptualizing," Mullen recalls. "We practically drew the whole paper out right there on the notepad. Our main criteria: It had to have something for everybody who works on a yacht -- everybody from chefs to engineers." The two men kept in touch for a year until both could find the time and the money to put their plan into action.

At first neither Mullen nor Pinkham had any clear idea what they were doing. They recruited acquaintances to submit articles and sell ads. They sorted through piles of photographs sent in by friends. Then they sat down at Pinkham's personal computer and started learning how to assemble a publication using a ten-years-out-of-date desktop publishing program.

The result was a mishmash of first-person sea tales ("Bump in the Night"), news-you-can-use articles ("Record Keeping"), and lighthearted features ("How did You Get into the Yachting?"), not to mention spelling errors, grammatical train-wrecks, felonious layouts, and large doses of titillation.

But the paper also contained a breezy and endearing refusal to take itself too seriously. In an initial message to the reader, the editors explained, "We hope to receive the majority of impute [sic] from those on the job, so don't be shy and take part, network! As we go through the learning curve, we apologize for spelling mistakes, layout mishaps, and getting a few names wrong."

On occasion the paper has even offered commendable journalism. For example, one of its major themes this year was coverage of the arrest and seven-month imprisonment of Fort Lauderdale yacht captain Michael Churchward in Turkey on a charge of boat theft. While Churchward was incarcerated, the paper included an update in every issue; when he was released, it was the first paper to interview him and publish a long account of his ordeal.

Now, as summer wanes and the Fort Lauderdale boat show approaches, Mullen and Pinkham have thrown themselves into focusing on getting Dockwalk off the ground and in the hands of the crew members who are already pouring into the county for the coming season.

Next spring they hope to expand distribution northward along the Intracoastal and then shift the bulk of distribution to Newport, Rhode Island, for the summer season.

And after that? "I want to blanket the Med for the summer season," says Mullen determinedly. Already he's been getting requests from overseas for copies of the magazine, requests he's happy to grant for the cost of shipping. So far the magazine can be found on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca and in South Africa.

And as for his critics? "Hey, what can I say?" Mullen grins. "This is part of what yachting is all about. These are the things that are talked about in yachting circles. And we're all sailors, after all.

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Paul Belden