Eight Bells: Bert Jabin
Published on November 12th, 2013
Annapolis lost one of the legendary figures on its maritime scene when yacht yard owner and sailor Bert Jabin died Saturday (Nov. 9, 2013). He was 83.
Jabin, who had been splitting time between homes in Annapolis and Miami, had long been battling cancer.
“My dad touched a lot of people’s lives around Annapolis. He was an icon for what he developed and was able to achieve,” said Rod Jabin, who bought his father’s boatyard on Back Creek in 1998.
Bert Jabin, born and raised in Miami, sailed into Annapolis as a teenager and fell in love with the Chesapeake Bay seaport. He had dropped out of high school to work as a deckhand aboard sailboats.
Nicknamed “Red’ because of his distinctive hair, Jabin helped deliver a boat to Annapolis and wound up staying.
Charles Dell, the commodore of the Annapolis Yacht Club back then, took Jabin under his wing and convinced the wayward teenager to return to Miami and finish high school.
“Commodore Dell was sort of a benefactor of Bert’s. He helped him and guided him,” said Ralph Decker, a fellow AYC member and longtime friend of Jabin’s.
Jabin earned a high school diploma and, after serving in the Korean War, went to college on the GI bill. He returned to Annapolis and worked at Maryland Shipbuilding in Baltimore before deciding to go into business for himself.
Bert Jabin’s Yacht Yard opened in 1959 on a small plot overlooking Back Creek. It was a completely undeveloped parcel and Jabin had to sink pylons, build piers and clear trees in order to have space to work on dry-docked boats.
“Bert called the old yard ‘Junk Jungle Lane’ and even had that name listed as home port on the transom of his sailboats for a while,” Decker said.
Over time, Jabin acquired 14 different lots that either adjoined the original piece of property or one another. By the early 1980s, Bert Jabin’s Yacht Yard was a sprawling 20-acre complex – the largest facility of its kind in Annapolis.
“Bert came to Annapolis with nothing and built an empire. He worked extremely hard and earned everything he got,” Decker said.
“Bert was an intense businessman. He was very fair with everybody, but you didn’t dare cross him,” he added. “I never exchanged a harsh word with Bert, but there were a lot of people around town that did. He did not suffer fools.”
Thousands of sailors from around Annapolis and beyond have gotten their boats hauled and serviced at Jabin’s. Decker, who was in construction, did a lot of excavation work for Jabin, using his bulldozer to clear lots to create open space for boat storage.
“Bert started small and got big. He built that operation into one of the best on the Chesapeake Bay,” said Jack Lynch, another longtime AYC member who knew Jabin well. “Bert was as knowledgeable a yachtsman and yacht yard owner as there was on the East Coast.”
Jabin was a stalwart member of the AYC from the day he returned to Annapolis until his death. He served on numerous committees and supported club activities, Lynch said.
Jabin was also successful as a sailboat racer, beginning in the Alberg 30 class and moving into other designs. He did well with a wooden 36-foot IOR boat named Rogue’s Roost, then skippered a Peterson 36 and Frers 38 named Ramrod.
Upon arriving in Annapolis in 1983, Bruce Farr produced an innovative design for Jabin that dominated the Annapolis racing scene. That Farr 37, created specifically for Chesapeake Bay conditions, earned Jabin an entire shelf of first place trophies.
“My dad was wildly successful with the Farr 37, which was really fast” Rod Jabin said. “In fact, he won so much with that boat it spawned all sorts of rules and rating changes aimed at decreasing the design advantage.”
Jabin was famous for chain-smoking Kent cigarettes while at the helm of his race boats. He often read the wind by lighting a cigarette and watching the smoke blow away instead of reading the telltales on the sails.
A guest crew member once expressed surprise that Jabin altered course based on the puff of smoke and not the telltales. Jimmy Scott, the renowned Annapolis sailmaker who called tactics for Jabin, termed this a “Kent header.”
Jabin captured the prestigious Viking Trophy as top-performing boat in the AYC Fall Series twice. He also twice received the Chesapeake Trophy as best Class A entry in Fall Series.
“Bert was an outstanding sailor, very smart and skilled. He was extremely competitive and put great effort into making sure the boat was properly prepared for every regatta,” Scott said. “I always enjoyed sailing with Bert. He was a real character and kept everybody entertained.”
Family and friends never could get Jabin to curb his smoking, much less give up the habit. Scott remembers the ashtrays in Jabin’s car being so filled with butts there was seemingly no room for more.
“For a man to live as long as Bert did, drinking and smoking as much as he did, is pretty impressive,” Scott said. “Bert was a hard-living guy, but he was a good guy who did things the way he wanted.”
Report by Bill Wagner, The Capital Gazette