Chet Aero Marine

The wings of flight in an age of adventure…and much more.

Sailing Away: Some Thoughts on the Century and More on the Water

It’s not easy “putting a wrap” on such a long story, but it’s something that at least needs to be tried. In an age where people are said to have an average of three careers in their working lifetime, the whole concept of a family having a company for 144 years (with one break) and pursuing a sport such as yachting whose relation to the business is, in many ways, symbiotic is almost unheard of. To a large extent the culture that produced the three career norm is also responsible for bringing this continuity to an end, and some examination of this is educational.

One thing needs to be stated from the start: the family’s time on the water didn’t end with the Goldengirl being sold in 1969. While that was going on, the family business was well into its greatest and most profitable adventure: producing equipment for the offshore oil industry. Although derrick barges and supply boats weren’t exactly the Thistle, the marine experience gained in the maritime years was invaluable in servicing this industry.

Vulcan’s Executive Vice President, Pem Warrington (right,) with the metallurgist from the Blaw-Knox Foundry in E. Chicago, IN, during a field repair in the Gulf of Mexico in 1979. In addition to yachting experience, Pem added four years in the United States Coast Guard to his maritime credentials.

The benefits of that were alternately tangible and intangible. On an everyday level, Pem and I were used to diesel generators going all the time in the background, while the “landlubbers” we had with us found it hard to sleep. Beyond things such as that, understanding the marine environment made it easier to design, sell, and service equipment for use at sea, even if “at sea” was in sight of land.

When the Warringtons were designing, building and sailing yachts and other ships–and in reality when they were taking to the skies in Washington thirty years later–they were at the cutting edge of a society which had a general faith in two things: technology and progress. It’s easy, listening to the rhetoric of people on both sides of the “culture wars” that have dominated our public life for the last two score, to think that we were all religious fanatics until “enlightenment” came from post-modern secularists. But that isn’t what the U.S. is all about. It’s true that the country’s Christian heritage had a deep impact on society at large. The fact that George Warrington would set his ode about the “yacht club’s burden” to a Christian tune is testament to that. (The fact that Protestant churches until recently had poetry, some little better than that my ancestors dashed off, as a common feature of sermon, Sunday School lesson and devotional is a testament to the deep influence of nineteenth century culture on same churches.)

But, just as the types of yachts changed with each succeeding generation, so also did profound changes in American society affect the Warringtons, the place they held in society, and the way they looked at it. The two major events whose impact is still not fully understood were World War II and the move to the “Sunbelt.”

Most Europeans are used to World War I as the “watershed war” where the civilisation they had built began to unravel in the carnage of Verdun and like places. For them, World War II was just Part II of the same drama. For Americans, the involvement in World War I didn’t last long enough to really make the kind of broad based impact on society other than to make the 1920’s roar.

World War II was another story. To mobilise an entire generation (men in battle, women on the home front) and send at least the former around the world to both fight and experience new things and places and them to return everyone to the same society as before resulted in culture shock on a broad scale, one that had to be buried in the need to rebuild an economy and provide for a new generation coming up. In my father’s case, he spent the war in the Coast Guard in the South Pacific, putting up Loran stations and participating in some of the suicide-mission amphibious invasions against the Japanese. Coming back to a world where the most exciting maritime event was the Chicago Yacht Club Fleet Review, this had to be something of a letdown. Running a private Navy or Coast Guard is a common conceit amongst yachtsmen (as should be evident from what’s presented here) but, having experienced the real thing, veterans either rejected the old ways, projected their wartime experience into their civilian floating craft, or both.

My father, on the bridge of his father’s yacht, 1946, looking fresh out of the Coast Guard, as he was, striking almost a “James Dean of the yacht club” pose.

Another change wrought by World War II was an underscored sense of egalitarianism and shared responsibility amongst Americans of all backgrounds and socio-economic situations. World War II was the last war (Korea was a “police action,” remember?) where all classes of Americans served more or less equally in the military. That, in turn, led to a stronger bond amongst Americans of different backgrounds. It’s difficult to imagine the civil rights movement getting the traction it did without this experience. It’s also difficult to imagine the income flattening we saw in the 1950’s without it. Liberals today take as an article of faith the proposition that equalising taxation will take us back to this time, but it takes more than tax rates to produce a more egalitarian society. As long as we live in a country where elitist snobs look down on vast portions of society and our military is drawn from those portions to do their bidding, a truly fair society will be beyond our grasp.

In our story most of the yachting took place within the confines of exclusive clubs. The new spirit engendered by serving shoulder to shoulder took much of the lustre off of exclusive institutions, be they private clubs such as the ones shown in this story or even the Lodge.

The returning veterans were a part of another change the U.S. was going through after World War II: the shift (one still ongoing) of the economic activity and population of the country to what used to be called the “Old Confederacy” and what is more broadly referred to as the “Sunbelt.” It’s hard to think of a country where the wealth generating portions were primarily in the Northeast and Midwest (with some help from the West Coast) and the South was locked into an economic and cultural slumber that came in the wake of the War Between the States. The decision to move the family business to Chattanooga, TN, in 1960 was part of a trend of manufacturers attempting to escape the expensive, highly unionised and frequently corrupt environments they experienced in the North.

But here is where our country’s Enlightenment heritage failed it. We were started on the proposition that “all men were created equal,” but failed to grasp that just because this was so didn’t mean that all were created alike. The companies that moved into the South found a region that, although was part of these United States, had many characteristics of a Third World country and the politics to go with it, even in a place like Tennessee that, technically at least, escaped Reconstruction. Ultimately the South was and is a region that plays by a different set of rules, and many of those who entered it found themselves, to use one of my father’s favourite expressions, “too soon old and too late smart.” The confident agenda exhibited in both the aviation and maritime pursuits shown on this site somehow fell flat in a world where monuments to the “Lost Cause” abounded.

In the 1960’s, the place not to be was “on the fence,” as was the case here.

All of this was sucked into the social vortex that was the 1960’s. We think of that era as a rejection of “traditional” society, but it was also the rejection of the modernity that characterised the family’s adventures–recreational and commercial–on the waterfront and in the skies–from the start. It’s not an exaggeration to say that many of the “-isms” that characterised the era–especially environmentalism–were a frontal assault on the ethic that had carried the family from success to success for more than a century. That progress already had its doubters (as Chet noted in his 100th Anniversary speech at Vulcan) but they very much went front and centre in the turbulent times of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

In place of the kind of modernity represented in these pages rushed in ideas, all of which are at their core religious in nature. Evangelicalism is the best known (and most griped about), but we also have the aforementioned environmentalism, Islamicism and post-modern secularism. Tony Blair was right when he said that “Religious faith will be of the same significance to the 21st century as political ideology was to the 20th century,” if for no other reason than that the alternative of the past has been swept away.

The products of the Warrington family business, pile drivers for the installation of offshore oil platforms, waiting at the Port of Palm Beach for shipment. In the background is Palm Beach Inlet, the “starting point” for many of the family cruises to the Bahamas. For both recreation and commerce, the sea beckoned the descendants of Henry Warrington for more than a century, as it had done for millennia and will continue to do for so many others.

In such an environment one must find “…a new and living way,” (Hebrews 10:20) and that way, at the end of all of these adventures, is that of the Saviour.

“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.
For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.
They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end.
Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.
Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.” (Psalms 107:23-30)

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