A guy in a huge pickup truck yelled at me the other night while I, the Wanderer, was walking across Shelter Island Drive, on my way from the San Diego Yacht Club to my 63-ft cat Profligate docked at Driscoll Boat Works.
It turned out not to be some yahoo, but Randy Repass, founder of West Marine. Although it was very dark on the street, Randy said he could recognize me from the way I walked. It’s amazing because Randy and I don’t see each other that often.
A giant truck isn’t Randy’s style at all, but he’d just bought a 14-ft Marshall catboat sight unseen for his place in the San Juan Islands. He needed to trailer the boat from one part of San Diego to another before somebody else trucked it north.
Randy and I go way back. In fact, I like to think we were ‘nobodies’ together.
I first met him about 1976. I was still selling boats and had sold one of the first Freeport 41s — which shockingly proved to be a big hit at the Cow Palace Boat Show — and the owner was fitting it out with stuff from a place called West Coast Rope in Palo Alto. I drove down to the place and found that it was a burgeoning chandlery. It was about 7 p.m., and, as I remember, Randy was the only one in the store, and he was marking prices on knives. The typical small-business owner putting in another 70-hour week.
A year or so later, I started Latitude 38.
The fortunes of West Coast Rope, soon to become West Marine Products, and Latitude 38 grew rapidly together. Although Randy’s and West Marine’s exploded more than just growing.
A bunch of people suggested that I open up local editions of Latitude around the country like Randy was opening up West Marine stores. I didn’t like the idea for two reasons. First, Latitude was and remained my art project, not a business. Without my personal touch, it wasn’t going to be my idea of art. Second, magazines are a very different animal than retail stores.
After Randy hailed me on the street, Doña de Mallorca joined us and the three of us went to a nearby Italian place. We were the only customers when we arrived about 8:30 p.m. That’s never a good sign. But by the time we left, there were about 20 customers. Randy said the food was good. De Mallorca and I just had wine.
Just as Randy and I had pretty much started our businesses about the same time, we sold them about the same time. I sold Latitude about a year ago, and after my employment contract ends with the November 1 issue, I won’t be writing for the magazine any more — except perhaps for the Baja Ha-Ha article. At this stage in my life, I don’t need fixed deadlines. Writing is what I do, however, so I’ll be writing about sailing frequently and at length on my Richard Spindler Facebook page.
West Marine — where Randy had been the biggest shareholder — was purchased by a private company a few months ago.
Having been at our respective gigs for 40 years, Randy and I both thought it was time. The one thing we haven’t given up is sailing and enjoying being on the water. Randy’s Wylie 65 cat ketch Convergence is in Maine right now, and he’ll soon have the catboat in the San Juans. He also has a powerboat there. As most of you know, I have sailboats in California/Mexico and the Caribbean, and a powerboat in Paris.
While Randy and I both admitted to having worked very, very, very hard, we also recognized that we were both lucky to be at the right place at the right time. We hope all of you are as lucky, too.