About Donald Launer

Donald M. Launer found the world endlessly interesting. And, he enjoyed a good challenge.

Build a house or a sailboat? He did both.

Write books on nautical subjects? He wrote seven.

Win Emmys for his work as an engineering supervisor in television production? He did.

Obtain a commercial boat captain’s license from the U.S. Coast Guard? Done.

He was a contributing editor for Good Old Boat magazine.

Daily, he played the baby grand piano in the living room of his lagoon-front home. George Gershwin tunes were his favorites.

He regularly sailed along Barnegat Bay on Delphinus, the 39-foot, two-masted schooner he built from a bare hull.

“When I was out the other day, I found a nice anchorage, and I sat in the cockpit and was editing my new book. It’s a much better atmosphere than in front of a computer,” Launer said.

He lectured on nautical history in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

He wrote about nautical issues for magazines, newspapers, periodicals and in his own books. His first, “A Cruising Guide to New Jersey Water,” was published in 1995 by Rutgers University Press, with a second edition in 2004.

“It always bothered me there were no books about cruising New Jersey, so I created the book,” said Launer, who took all the photos in the book. “It covers all of the navigable waters from the Hudson River around to Trenton, along the Shore, the bay, the Delaware River.”

His second, “Dictionary of Nautical Acronyms and Abbreviations,” was published in 2006 by Sheridan House.

“I was reading an article in a magazine. They used an abbreviation and didn’t explain what it was. I went to my bookcases and looked up at my books,” he said, pointing to floor-to-ceiling bookcases in his living room. “There wasn’t a single book where I could look up a nautical abbreviation. Now there is!”

“Lessons from My Good Old Boat,” published in 2007 by Sheridan House, is a collection of his articles, expanded and updated, from Good Old Boat magazine. In each of the six issues a year, he writes a column that simplifies a complex subject.

“He has an incredible, not just depth, but breadth, of technical ability and knowledge because of the type of work he’s done in the news industry and because of the sort of person he is and his background as a sailor,” Karen Larson, founding editor of Good Old Boat Magazine, says.

“He’s the most knowledgeable person I’ve ever met,” says Launer’s friend Earl McKenzie “His knowledge goes beyond sailing.

“When I bought my schooner four years ago, he became my technical source to help me rebuild it,” McKenzie says.”Very few people can build boats, and very few have an understanding of everything from building to sailing to electrical. He’s a Renaissance man.”

Launer’s daughter, Kathryn Davenport, agrees.

“His abilities are very far-reaching,” says Davenport “Just about everything he does, he does well. More important is his curiosity about everything . . . his continuous lust for learning and growing.”

That curiosity and his love of sailing began early.

“My father was a would-be sailor,” says Launer, who grew up in Westfield. “When I was 8 years old, he took a book out of the library on how to sail. He took me and my brother down to Barnegat Bay and rented a sailboat. It turned over in the bay. That was the highlight of the sail! I think my love of boating came from that first sail.”

At 11, Launer built his first boat.

“It was a terrible boat, but it was mine,” he says, grinning. “It had the nautical lines of a coffin.”

By his teens, his family was summering along the Delaware River.

“I had a kayak. I built a mast and a sail and put that on the kayak. The kayak had two stable positions: one with the mast in the water and the boat on your right side, and one on the left side,” he says, and laughs. “I never took sailing lessons, though I’ve given a lot. I’ve learned by making mistakes. That’s the best way. When you turn over, you know what you did wrong immediately.”

The family regularly visited Long Beach Island, sparking his love of the Shore. But while Launer loved the water, he had wanted to work in broadcasting since he was 11 and saw a show in New York City.

In 1948, he took a job with ABC TV, becoming an engineering supervisor and handling Olympics coverage from 1968 to 1988. His work won Emmys in 1984 and ’88.

He bought his first boat, a 17-foot sailboat, a few years after joining ABC. Delphinus, his 17th boat, is named for the constellation of a dolphin.

“I built it from a bare hull at Mariner’s Marina in Barnegat. It was bare fiberglass1 — no openings, nothing. I put in the mast, the rigging. I took delivery in December 1980, and I was out sailing in August 1981,” he says.

“We were living in Upper Saddle River,” he says of his wife, daughter, and his son, Thomas. “I came down every weekend and on vacations. Construction was nothing new for me because I had built our house.”

It took him eight years to complete the three-story house, built with 28,000 bricks, a cement mixer and a book on laying bricks.

“It was really terrific growing up with him because we had exciting pastimes compared to all my friends,” says Davenport, a scuba diver. “They’d be going to family parties, and we’d be going to sailboat races and swimming in the Delaware River. He also taught us to canoe.”

His son, who is in the TV industry and owns a sailboat, began sailing with him at age 2, says Launer, who retired and moved to Lacey in 1989.

“Even if I were physically unable to sail, I would still like to go on the boat and sit there and feel like I was on board,” he says.

(From Charting an Accomplished Life, Asbury Park Press, October 4, 2008, Bobbi Seidel )


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Captain Launer's family would like to share the following with you: On June 15, 2015, Captain Donald Launer passed away. If you have any questions about his books or articles, please use the contact form on the website.