Special delivery: Sign up for the free Marlin email newsletter. Subscribe to Marlin magazine for $29 for 1 year and receive 2 bonus digital issues.
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s been involved in more aspects of the marine industry than Earle Hall. His resume—spanning more than four decades—includes hydroplane racing champion, tournament winner, and leader of Bluewater Yacht Sales, one of the most successful yacht brokerages in the world. He built, sold and refit countless boats at Bluewater until his departure at the sale of the business; these days, he enjoys spending time with his wife, Denise, and assisting with his son’s auto-racing teams and his daughter’s horse-jumping competitions, all while setting his sights on the next endeavor in an already fulfilling career.
Q: At one time you were a winning hydroplane racer—how did that come about?
A: That was about a 30-year career that led me to the big unlimited hydroplanes, going 200 miles an hour with a single driver. I ran one of the boats that competed against Miss Budweiser. I started racing little outboard boats at about 14, and I was fortunate to be born in Portsmouth, Virginia, which is the boat-racing equivalent of Palm Beach for sport fishing. I met a man named Henry Lauterbach, and I was a real student of his. He was just a tremendous craftsman and innovator, and an all-around great guy. And so many years later, we started developing the boatyards. The foundation of the mindset was born in that boat race shop of Henry’s: quality, innovation, and finding ways to do things better. That set the stage for my passion. As our racing success grew, we did pretty well. We had a period where we won seven world and national titles within a three-year span, with both speed records and race wins.
Q: It sounds like the racing gene was passed on to your son, Connor.
A: He came up through the ranks with go-karts and Legends cars, and that moved him into NASCAR Late Models. I’ve been involved in professional motorsports for so long, I just thrive on it. Our customers always told me that I picked three really great sports: fishing for myself, NASCAR for my son, and my daughter, Kelsea, jumps horses. There’s no rest for the weary, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Q: How did you transition from boat racing to Bluewater Yacht Sales?
A: My brother started Bluewater in 1968, and I was still a young guy back then, so when I got out of school, it was pretty obvious that it was my career path. I raced and worked at Bluewater at the same time. It actually started as a sailboat dealership, but after we bought a boatyard, we began the transition to powerboats. By the mid-1980s we were 100 percent powerboats. But the real springboard to our success was when I got a call from a young guy working in the warranty department at Viking Yacht Company named Pat Healey. I headed up our service department at the time, and so we were doing warranty work on Vikings when he asked, “Why don’t you sell our boats?” That marriage started in 1985 and is still rock-solid today. A big part of it was because we all fished hard, and that helped them build better fishing boats. To this day, I believe the Viking demo program is what really sets them so far ahead of the rest of the industry. And that’s not taking anything away from the custom world. I love custom boats a lot, but the engineering that goes into a Viking is just second to none. They’ve got more people in the engineering department than most custom builders have total employees.
Read More: Get to know Viking Yachts president and CEO Pat Healey in our interview.
Q: What aspects of the brokerage job still got you excited after all those years?
A: There is competition even in that part of the business. That’s the same competition as in racing, and in fishing. To be part of the process and help see someone’s dream become a reality, that still gets my heart going. No matter how long you do it or how many boats you deliver, they’re still all like little babies—part of the family.
Q: You led the refit project on Knot Done Yet for Perry Nichols—what was it like making that boat functional and fishable for someone with muscular dystrophy?
A: That was one of the most rewarding things that I’ve ever done in my life. And out of that came a fabulous friendship. That guy is one solid dude. I didn’t have any idea that someone in that tough of a physical condition could think they could do what he’s done, but when I left his office after our first meeting, I was convinced that he could. The first project we did was a major refit on a 64 Viking. Perry liked it and decided he wanted to go new and bigger. We learned a lot in that first rebuild, and that made building the new 72 Viking much more efficient. Instead of customizing things on the 64, we could start with a clean slate and engineer things into the 72 the way we wanted. Perry didn’t want a boat that looked like it was for a person with disabilities. He just wanted to be one of the guys, and now he is. Few people, if any, I’ve ever fished with are tougher than he is in the cockpit. He doesn’t care whether it’s rough, blowing, rain, lightning, whatever—he’s there.
Q: If you could take one boat to any place you wanted, what would it be and where would you go?
A: Hands down the boat would be a 72 Viking. It’s got the speed, the agility and the comfort. That’s the easy answer. The hard question would be where to go. I’d like to go where the big fish live. I’ve been talking about putting together a trip to Cape Verde with my friend Sam Peters sometime soon. I’d rather go see monsters than stack up numbers.
Q: What moments in your sport-fishing career stand out the most?
A: It goes without saying that winning the Big Rock was cool. But I’ve fished for so long, the stories are endless. Two years ago, we took my daughter, Kelsea, out for her birthday. Kelsea, my wife and I caught a triple of white marlin at the same time on her birthday—a family triple. Days where you have something crazy happen, or have friends and family on the boat, are the ones that really stick out.
Q: It sounds like you’ve been busy since Bluewater was sold, but what’s it been like leaving a business that you were in for so long?
A: It’s been difficult. You get up every day for 40 years, and then your routine suddenly changes. For the first two or three months, I was a ship without a rudder, and I probably wasn’t the easiest guy in the world to live with. I really, really miss my people. We’d put together such a great team of craftsmen in the boatyards, and such a great sales and support staff. And I miss the customers. Helping people realize their dream is cool. It makes you feel good that you’ve developed that trust. I said this word so much that the staff was probably sick of it, but the success of the company was solely due to all those relationships we built over the years.