There’s a video you can find without too much effort. It’s Christopher Cross vibing the tired lawyer look save for the shredding he’s giving a Tom Anderson guitar. Yeah, they call it ‘yacht rock’ but him and low-key Michael McDonald unpacking “Ride Like the Wind” always gets me verklempt. I like sleepers. You know, things that belie what lie beneath, which is what today’s column is all about.

There was a burgundy-colored Volvo 960 wagon into which the late Paul Newman wrangled a 380 h.p. supercharged V-8. It was the sleeper. These days, I’m all about the Dodge Challenger with its 707 horses; a piston-pumping production car in an era of rotors and stators. Aside from its “Hellcat” moniker and the rippling exhaust sound at idle, it’s kind of a sleeper. (I don’t care what my ladies say, I’m getting me a Challenger and I’ll only use the red key and I’ll spin donuts in some faraway intersection and I’ll pop out on a ribbon of highway and I’ll wind it out to its marketed 203 m.p.h. top end and those five-oh’s and their blue lights will fade to black.)

There are sleepers in the boating world. I once owned a very sedate Lima center console in baby blue with everything else powder-coated white. It hid an oversized MerCruiser in the bilge that when we asked nicely, would get us scooting very quickly with a fury that bastardized its genteel appearance. I’ve hung out with easy-breezy skippers who once on the water can make a dinghy hull speed about in ways I can’t hardly spin up words to describe. There are old men who spring from the launch seat and ballet themselves from rail to rail, leg swung high and then drop down in their yacht’s cockpit with an aplomb no one was expecting; they’re sleepers. A pound and a half of cocaine wrapped tight and stowed behind the frozen peas in your fridge is a sleeper ‘cause it’ll buy you five to forty years in federal prison. (It seems bizarre to lock someone up for what’s most likely the “real” part of their life over drugs; I get that factual context and the enhancements under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines should be considered, but I don’t know. It chafes at my fairness genes.)

And then there’s Justice Brett Kavanaugh. He’s turned out to be a little less far right than expected and as the Wall Street Journal describes “a more conservative version of Anthony Kennedy.” I guess that qualifies him as a sleeper, too. (See what I did there?!)

In the maritime law, there are plenty of sleepers to go around. The Limitation of Liability Act means you can skipper your boat into a dinghy sailor and raise the Act as a defense. The uninitiated lawyer is cowed by the Act and all the maritime law’s jargon, meaning the insurer likely gets to settle the subsequent lawsuit in a way where there’s no justice. (And as I like to remind clients, partial justice is no justice at all.) That Act’s procedures are also a kind of sleeper because it leaves attorney malpractice claims in its wake. Harbor Masters wield more power than you’d expect; they’re sleepers in their own way.

That the Coast Guard can do all kinds of things like terminate your voyage despite your protests, and prevent commercial freighters from entering port if they fail their pre-port matrix gives them sleeper status. And don’t get me wound up about the U.S. Customs and Border Protection what with their seemingly unlimited powers; they are scary sleepers. Trust me, maybe we stop thanking everyone for their service.

Still, for all the fun sleeper status brings, there are sweet reasons for not being so labeled. Those that bring the goods at the outset generally avoid the proof battle. Aside from its dinged-up foils, the 11th Hour Racing Team’s boat looks (and is) fast; it’s not a sleeper and I’d surmise it received instant respect. And how about the Laser? I mean, when Bruce Kirby tugged the canvas clear of the first production Laser, there wasn’t anyone mumbling the design looked slow. As for FJs, 420s, 470s and Moths, none of them are sleepers because their performance is evident from their design, just like one look at an Opti assures you there’s no hidden talent in that rig!

As for me and this maritime litigating business, I think my general affability works well to forecast a European sedan quality – that is, until we’re in a deposition or the courtroom. And then, friends, this office is the s/v Australia II of maritime practices; pointing higher, moving faster, and getting the bullet finishes. This approach is valuable because it upsets the tempo of the defense where that side of the fence is all about predicting upstream outcomes and values.

Maybe it’s the circumstances; sometimes you need to bring the swagger and sometimes you can lead with sway. Either way, it’s always going to be the results that matter.

This article is provided for your general information, is not legal opinion and should not be relied upon. Always seek legal counsel to understand your rights and remedies.

Underway and making way. ■

John K. Fulweiler, Esq. is a Proctor-in-Admiralty representing individuals and small businesses in maritime matters including personal injury claims throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and with his office in Newport, Rhode Island. He can be reached at 1-800-383-MAYDAY (6293) or, or visit his website at