Life For A South Texas Couple And Their Dachshunds Is Sweeter On A 60-Foot Sundancer.
When Wild Willie slides under the Kemah Bridge in South Texas, the patrons on the deck of the Outriggers Oyster Bar stop and stare.
“Big Jim” Hunter wouldn’t have it any other way. For a man with a personality the size of Texas, only a yacht as grand as the 60 Sundancer will do.
“I was attracted to the sleek lines,” he says, “and all the room for entertaining. We have a lot of friends and love to have a crowd on Wild Willie.” Jim says the boat’s name often, always with a big grin, stretching out the syllables in his silky Southern accent. That’s partly because the name just tickles him, and partly because Wilhelmina a.k.a. Willie (the boat’s namesake) and her partner-in-crime, Wolfgang a.k.a. Wolfie, the luckiest, most-loved dachshunds you’ve ever met, are always in earshot, tails in full wag. Sharing Jim’s perpetual delightedness is wife, Elaine, a picture of beauty and grace.
The pair and their pampered pups are ever in demand around beautiful Watergate Marina in League City, quick to spark a party from the spacious rear deck of their Sundancer or load a crowd onboard for a cruise around Galveston Bay. Offshore sunset watching is also a favorite, making toasts to good fortune as the last rays drench the Kemah Boardwalk in orange, with roller coaster-borne shrieks and squeals playing a cheerful loop in the background.
Not having owned a large vessel before Wild Willie, Jim took his captain’s schooling seriously. “Learning how to operate the boat felt like a major accomplishment,” he says. “I studied hard and practiced every chance I got, and that commitment paid off. It’s a lot of boat to handle, but it’s also really easy to maneuver once you get the hang of it. Everyone tells me I make it look easy, but a lot of that is due to the boat being really captain-friendly.”
Regular guests aboard Wild Willie include Jim and Elaine’s son, Lee, and his lady, Andrea Hale, as well as friends Greg Gould and Roz and Vic Evans. “Galveston is the gemstone of the Texas coast,” Jim says. “I’m lucky my family immigrated here from Scotland. I feel like I inherited good fortune just by growing up here.”
The area is known for another fortune-hunting immigrant: Jean Lafitte, a notorious spy, pirate and smuggler who reportedly operated out of Galveston Bay around the time of the Mexican War of Independence. Almost 200 years later, there are still shenanigans aplenty going on in the sheltered bays, though most involve simple things like stolen kisses and smuggled beer.
Jim, who grew up in the funeral business and is, in fact, a fully licensed funeral director, went on to earn an MBA from Pepperdine University. “I later bought our two family businesses—my family didn’t believe in giveaways,” he says, “and went about growing the operation via acquisitions. By the time I was in my 50s, I’d acquired 70-plus properties and went about the task of building infrastructure to accommodate all the growth.”
In 1994, he took the business, Equity Corporation International, public. Eventually, the company grew to 485 locations in 38 states and two Canadian provinces, and Service Corporation International, the largest death care company in the world, tendered for its stock. Since then, Jim has retired, but does some pro bono consulting and manages an investment portfolio.
With the extra time on their hands, the Hunters decided to explore their long-held dream of luxury boating around their hometown of Galveston. As soon as they stepped onboard the big Sundancer, they both fell in love.
“She’s such a beauty,” Jim says, “and there is so much room to entertain and overnight.” Jim especially enjoys what he calls “the sunroom,” the enclosed and extended salon, which includes the helm area. Elaine is a huge fan of the yacht’s walk-around queen-size bed in the mid-ship full-beam master stateroom. Willie and Wolfie love the large captain’s seat where they curl up with Big Jim and Elaine when the yacht is underway.
When the Hunters aren’t entertaining in the marina or cruising local waters with friends, they like to drive the big yacht all the way to Sandestin, Florida, a 2,400-acre destination resort near Miramar Beach for a couple of weeks of downtime. It’s a two-day journey that involves a stopover in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Of course, the journey is possible via the Intracostal Waterway, but Big Jim says that takes far too long and, besides, he bought a boat capable of offshore travel, so why not use it as intended?
“It’s just amazing once you get over on the Florida Coast,” Jim says. “The water is so fantastic and there are so many more boat-accessible destinations. The only problem is a lot of the other boat owners in Florida are snowbirds, so you can show up and there’s no one around the marina. Here in Texas, everyone’s around for the long haul.
“Boating is so much about the camaraderie,” he adds. “You meet so many great people on the water and around the marina, and they become part of the pleasure, part of the family. Plus, if there’s no one on the docks, Willie and Wolfie don’t have anyone to give a good barking to. It’s all about that social aspect for us, and the great friends we’ve made since we’ve owned Wild Willie.”
As night falls on the Southern Texas shore, Wild Willie is set aglow, the salon filled with laughing friends and wagging dog tails, all safe from the bugginess of a hot summer night on the Gulf of Mexico. “The Sundancer is our favorite place to be,” Jim says. “It feels like being at home, only combined with the excitement of being on a vacation.”