Warren Miller: Gas shortage changed my life
Vail, CO, Colorado
For some top secret reason when Jimmy Carter was president, gasoline speculators were able to dry up the source for adequate amounts for American automobiles. Carter declared an emergency and didn’t allow any gas to be sold on Sundays. This instantly dried up the ski business and the powerboat sales and weekend travel.
I had to send a camera crew to Alta, Utah, from Hermosa Beach, so I had two large, extra fuel tanks installed in our high-mileage, Ford Pinto station wagon.
All they had to do was take out the back seats and install the two big tanks, and the crew could drive from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City without stopping for gas.
I didn’t want them to get stuck somewhere over a weekend. I forgot that they would have to stop at an occasional men’s room on the way.
Naturally, I had the low bidder install the tanks, so they leaked a little bit. The gasoline smell was so bad that the car could only be driven with both front windows wide open, even when it was snowing.
With dedicated cameramen Don Brolin and Brian Sissleman and a lot of ingenuity, we were able to film the ski scene that winter without any more trouble from the president of the United States.
All of the powerboat dealers and manufacturing companies felt the gasoline squeeze immediately, so many of them started manufacturing a line of sailboats, thinking that would fill up the void.
When they did that, my film company already had a good reputation for creating exciting sailing films. So I was contacted by the Pursuit Boat Co. in Holland, Mich., to produce a sales film for them.
I knew that I would need a good chase boat to do the job right, so I got them to sell me one of their 20-foot power boats at their cost as part of my fee.
The boat company wanted to introduce a new model: a raised-deck 38-foot sailboat with the same craftsmanship that they had been putting into their power boats for 20 years.
I met my cameraman, Gary Nate, somewhere in the Caribbean to get started, and we did. I got to sail the very deluxe boat, set up all of the camera locations and angles and even appear in one or two of the shots.
One exciting shot I thought would be to get someone to do a little spinnaker flying. This is where the boat is anchored by the stern while you fly a spinnaker.
The tack and the clew are attached to a canvas seat, and the spinnaker lines are held in the fliers’ hands. (The tack and clew are the bottom ends of the spinnaker.) They can fly as high as the wind will lift them, usually about half as high as the mast is tall. The flier can swing back and forth by pulling on one line or the other.
Nate was filming the local hotshot flying back and forth on the spinnaker when he suddenly jumped out into the water and he came up swearing loudly. His appearances in this waterborne epic came to a quick conclusion because he was dumb enough to wear a $5,000 Rolex watch while doing it. He later demanded that my insurance company pay for it. It did not.
Even though I had never flown a spinnaker this way before, I was up next. It took everyone on board the boat half an hour to coax me back out of the air. It was so much fun swinging back and forth 20 feet in the air, controlling my flight by pulling on one line or the other.
Since I was the producer of the film and did some of the final editing, I made sure that the other spinnaker fliers’ images wound up in the movie instead of mine.
Nate learned a lot about sailing in those four days. The Slicker family knew that between my cameramen, my editor and I, we knew a lot about how to get people interested in sailboats.
However, my decision to take partial payment for the film with one of their Pursuit powerboats changed my boating life forever.
A few years later, in 1984, when I met my wife Laurie, we cruised British Columbia in that 20-foot camera boat for as long as six weeks at a time. We had a cutty cabin to sleep in, a Gatorade jug for water, a Coleman stove to cook on, a Coleman lantern for light and heat and a porta potty.
Discovering the Pacific Northwest got me away from my roots in Southern California and Dave Slicker’s 20-foot boat changed me from a weekend sailboat racer to a powerboat cruiser. Either one of them can change your life forever.
In the past 24 years, we have bought and sold boats for a total of 191 feet!
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to more than 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff, log on to WarrenMiller.net