Back in the Day with the IBNA

11 March 2009 By Kelly Sanford

The last time yachting went through really volatile times, it was in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The stock market was in the crapper and new taxes were causing the yachting industry much pain and aggravation. Yet much like today, crew who worked in this industry for the love of working in this industry hunkered down, worked hard, played harder and stood strong in the face of adversity. Ask almost any old-school yachtie about the IBNA (International Boat Not-Gonna-Use-That-Word Association) and they will smile, stare off in the distance and say, “Good times.”

Members say, “When we were 20 years old and had a case of Heinekens in us, the name seemed appropriate. Looking back, it’s obvious we could have made a better choice.”

Their official motto was “In Us They Trust,” but what exactly was the IBNA? Evidently this is a complicated question. It was one part career bank, one part fraternal order of crew who shared the kinship of yachting, one part group therapy, one part charitable organization, one part ride-share resource and quite possibly the penultimate party network ever to grace the industry. Horatio, the man behind the curtain of, says, “I don’t think there was any ‘purpose’ as such; it was a loose affiliation of like-minded individuals…. If you ask different people on different continents what it meant to them – or indeed in different areas of the industry – then you’ll receive many different answers.”

“You never knew when you’d become a ‘member’, it just sort of happened,” says Horatio. “When you were accepted, you knew you’d completed your training program, had talent, a good work ethic and were generally considered socially acceptable. You normally had to have done some pretty outrageous things, too.”

“You don’t see [that rite of passage] among your peers anymore,” says sleeper member Andrew. “The industry is just so diluted. It went from being a small village where everyone knew one another and loved working on boats to a giant metropolis full of people who are in the industry for mysterious reasons, people you’ve never met before and may never see again.” Horatio elaborates, “[Those] were different times when yachting was escapism; the sea was still a place of freedom with no email and scarce contact with the outside world....”

In the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s, everyone in the industry seemed to know and look after one another. Andrew says, “You might go separate ways from season to season, but every season began and ended with a barbeque and a blow-out.” Over the years, the network and party circuit evolved and members speculate that the IBNA reached its apex around 1985.

Legend has it that Hartley McCloskey hosted the first BN Ball around 1987; it was a tongue-in-cheek, black tie event that became a Newport tradition. In 1989, Norma Trease and Joni Dennis took over the planning of the BN Ball and incorporated charity fundraising. The Newport parties were epic and took place at landmarks like The Candy Store’s Boom Boom Room, the Armoury and Big Bob’s Boat (where the West Deck is now).

However, there was much more to the parties than mere frivolity. A majority of yachts did the “Milk Run,” a few went back and forth to the Med, but that was exceptional. Many grunt-level crew were left to make their own way north and south or across the Pond between the seasons, and the ball was a good place to find a ride. A lot of people would do deliveries just to get a ride and wouldn’t get paid at all. It was not unusual for deckies to work for $200 per month back then. Trease says, “If a chef/mate was making $200 a week, that was a big deal.”

“Fifteen-twenty years ago, a 125-foot yacht was a monster," Andrew says. "Everyone who came to yachting had to get down in the trenches and come up through the industry. And one of the best ways to do that was through BN connections.”

Due to a changing dynamic in the industry and an era of political correctness, the IBNA seemed to evaporate. However, one-time members insist they are lifetime members. “There’s no official IBNA,” says Horatio, “never will be; it would go against the grain of the loose affiliation of like-minded individuals’ ethos. I have the site to remind myself and others what we stood for…before yachting became an industry; when captains were employed because of their ability and reputation, when you were put forward for your first drive by your mentor captain or one of his mates.”

What is crystal clear is that the IBNA played an integral role in the rearing of many of today’s established captains, crew and industry leaders. There is buzz in the Forums that a turning tide might merit a comeback.

Horatio says, “…Is the IBNA ever going to live again? Not in the format it was before. Those of us who were a part of it [always will be], but perspectives and times change and the industry as it was, is no more…RIP.”