Mike Mues­sel sailed to ports all over the world be­fore co-found­ing Old­port Marine in Newport, Rhode Is­land.

Soundings - - Contents - Photo by Billy Black

Mike Mues­sel M

ike Mues­sel grew up on Lake Su­pe­rior in Du­luth, Min­nesota, the son of a ca­reer Coast Guard war­rant of­fi­cer. His fam­ily owned a 26foot wooden launch and a 25-foot wooden sail­boat that re­ceived heavy use. They moved to Ko­diak, Alaska, for a time be­fore land­ing in Newport, Rhode Is­land, in 1963.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Bos­ton’s North­east­ern Univer­sity, Mues­sel sought to sat­isfy his nau­ti­cal wan­der­lust by sail­ing and trav­el­ing the world. His ad­ven­tures took him to the Caribbean, the United King­dom and Afghanistan. On his re­turn, Mues­sel teamed up with friend Ron Ack­man to skip­per boat de­liv­er­ies up and down the East Coast.

The pair formed Old­port Marine Ser­vice in 1972 to pro­vide moor­ing ser­vices in Newport. They bought Newport Launch Ser­vice in 1975 and by the early ’ 80s re­al­ized the three launches they were us­ing to ferry peo­ple to and from shore were woe­fully in­ad­e­quate. They res­cued an aban­doned mold for a 26-foot launch and in 1984 splashed the first Old­port 26. More than 140 boats later, the Old­port 26 is well-re­spected as a work­boat that’s easy to drive, ef­fi­cient and ca­pa­ble of safely fer­ry­ing a load of peo­ple.

Old­port Marine con­tin­ues to thrive, with Rhode Is­land moor­ing op­er­a­tions in Block Is­land and Newport, as well as Edgar­town, Mas­sachusetts. The busi­ness em­ploys 70 peo­ple and 20 sig­na­ture Old­port launches. The boatbuilding side of Mues­sel’s busi­ness com­pletes two launches a year. The boats are widely used by busi­nesses along the East Coast.

First mem­ory of be­ing on a boat: I was 3 years old and trav­el­ing on a 26- foot wooden launch 20 miles out into Lake Su­pe­rior, where my fa­ther was the keeper at Rock of Ages Light. He had fixed up a fish­er­man’s cabin on a nearby is­land, where we spent sum­mers. We kept a skiff named the Otto B Sunk at the light­house and a 25-foot wooden sloop in Du­luth that we sailed fre­quently. When we moved to Alaska, my dad traded it for a mink coat for my mother.

First boat you owned: When we moved to Newport in 1963, we ac­quired a 15-foot Fal­con sloop that we named Do­na­tion. She was given to my brother and me by friends. My dad was the com­mand­ing of­fi­cer at Cas­tle Hill Coast Guard Sta­tion at the time, and he ar­ranged for dock­age in the basin at the north end of Fort Adams in Newport. The fort was aban­doned and closed to the pub­lic at the time, but we teenagers had a key to the gate and the run of the place, but that’s an­other story!

Cur­rent boat: A to­tally re­stored and re­pow­ered 1959 Huck­ins Sports­man 40. She cruises at 20 knots and will do 28 knots wide open.

Fa­vorite boat you’ve owned: Our present boat, Sashay, which like all Huck­ins is fast, sea­wor­thy, com­fort­able and good-look­ing.

Your dream boat: My next boat! She’ll be my fourth Huck­ins, a 1965 At­lantic 53 in need of a bit of spruc­ing up — i.e. an­other restora­tion project!

Most re­ward­ing sail­ing ex­pe­ri­ence: Win­ning the 1992 Clas­sic Yacht Re­gatta in our 1950 50- foot Henry Gru­berde­signed, Burmeis­ter-built wooden cut­ter. We won not only Class A, but also best elapsed time and best cor­rected time in a fleet of 80 boats. We proudly lashed an in­verted broom to the forestay, sig­ni­fy­ing a clean sweep.

Scari­est ad­ven­ture aboard: Our maiden voy­age with our 2-year-old son head­ing home from Block Is­land in our freshly re­stored 34-foot Huck­ins in heavy seas. The fuel was slosh­ing around in the tank, which caused the junk in it to plug the fuel lines lead­ing to the fuel fil­ters. We had to shoot the gap in the Point Ju­dith break­wa­ter with large fol­low­ing seas and en­gines that kept dy­ing, but we made it. We were in the midst of potty train­ing, and when we asked Will how a wet di­a­per felt, he said, “It feels like a fuel fil­ter!”

Most mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence aboard: A trans-At­lantic de­liv­ery from Newport to Cowes in 1971. The boat was a 1927 110-foot Camper and Ni­chol­sons gaff-rigged ketch named Cy­nara. The trip was the be­gin­ning of a nine-month odyssey that got me all the way to Afghanistan and back, all on $1,000. I had five bucks in my pocket when I re­turned. The best part was hav­ing a for­mal din­ner on board when we reached the half­way point of the de­liv­ery. We dressed in the best clothes we had, in­clud­ing ties, and sat down to a won­der­ful meal.

Long­est time you’ve spent at sea: Twenty-two days sail­ing trans-At­lantic on Cy­nara.

Fa­vorite des­ti­na­tion so far: I have two: Be­quia, in the Gre­nadines, and my tent, at 11,000 feet in the Rocky Moun­tains while hunt­ing elk af­ter a busy sea­son on the water.

Fa­vorite nau­ti­cal book: Nigel Calders’ Boa­towner’s Me­chan­i­cal and Elec­tri­cal Man­ual. I do en­joy read­ing for en­ter­tain­ment, but I have a thirst for knowl­edge, and this book is full of it.

Fa­vorite nau­ti­cal cause: Sail Newport ( sail­new­port. org). Brad Read leads a won­der­ful sail­ing in­sti­tu­tion that is also a ma­jor eco­nomic en­gine in Newport. Sail­ing is one of the few sports that teaches skills for all of life’s chal­lenges. Not only do chil­dren learn to sail, but they also learn team­work, prob­lem solv­ing and, most im­por­tantly, how to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for their own ac­tions.

Most re­ward­ing pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence: I love fol­low­ing the ca­reers of our former launch op­er­a­tors who have gone on to be Volvo Ocean Race sailors, Amer­ica’s Cup sailors, doc­tors, busi­ness­men, lawyers, cap­tains and gen­er­ally good cit­i­zens.

Fa­vorite quote about the sea: “And it is an in­ter­est­ing bi­o­log­i­cal fact that all of us have, in our veins, the ex­act same per­cent­age of salt in our blood that ex­ists in the ocean. … We are tied to the ocean.” — Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy, at a din­ner for Amer­ica’s Cup crews in 1962

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