If you've ever dreamed of owning a sailboat — or had nightmares about selling the one you already own — chances are good you've ended up talking to Bill Hooper, the face behind Hooper's Yachts in Afton.

After 37 years of running a new and used boat dealership, Hooper plans to sell his Manning Avenue boatyard just off Interstate 94 in a deal expected to happen in the next few weeks. He'll keep his website of the same name, selling sailboats and power boats from a small office perhaps at his Hudson home, but no longer storing or repairing them. He expects the new owner of his property to operate a boat-related business, but those details are still being worked out.

It's been a long run, he said from his Afton office recently. "I've been doing this since the Earth cooled."

A St. Paul native, Hooper discovered boats while working as a bartender and night manager of the Fort Snelling Employees' Club. A customer there took him sailing in a Flying Scot, a 19-foot boat popular for racing. Hooper, a former Army medic who had worked at the VA Hospital, fell in love with the sport.

"I jumped in with both feet and started learning everything I could about sailing and racing," he said. Soon he was selling and repairing boats by day and bartending at night. He eventually bought a floundering sailboat business on Manning Avenue and put his name on it.

He's raced sailboats across Minnesota, from the St. Croix River, to Lake of the Woods to Lake Superior, and cruised everywhere from Baltimore to Key West, Hawaii and the Caribbean.

Hooper said he's learned that there's no such thing as the "best boat" — the destination, the crew, the owner's budget and other variables come into play. His boatyard reflects that idea, with the collection of available boats for sale including everything from a daysailer with room for two or three people to a stout cruiser with sleeping quarters for six.

"I think there's a buyer for every boat, and I do my best to put those two together," said Hooper.

Some of his customers store their project boats in the Afton yard and work on them through the summer. Hooper's business includes a workshop, indoor working area and a small store full of sailboat equipment, from shackles, ropes, anchors, and fittings to a swaging machine that makes sailboat rigging and lifelines.

It can mean years of work for owners to restore a boat, but "people want to follow their bliss," said Hooper.

One couple he knew fixed up a sailboat for 15 years in a Hugo barn before they launched it in Lake Superior, he said. The boat was sailed out to the East Coast and down to the Carolinas. Two years ago, he saw it in a boatyard in Annapolis, Md., with its new owner.

Hooper's boatyard includes a shop, a blue metal pole barn that was originally built as a farmers market, with large garage doors at each end to allow trucks to easily enter, unload fresh produce, and exit. Hooper used the doors to slip sailboats in and out of his workshop. A pair of iron lifts inside allowed him to work underneath boats weighing thousands of pounds.

It's an all-consuming life.

"All my vacation time and everything I did always circled around sailing," he said.

After years spent in and around boats, Hooper has plenty of stories about past ocean passages, including the first time he crossed the Gulf Stream off the east coast of Florida.

In a sailboat that had no sophisticated electronics, and sailing through stormy weather at night, Hooper said he remembers how the bow of the boat plowed through the rising waves, churning up bioluminescence that illuminated the water from within.

When he and his crew arrived in the Bahamas at 2:30 a.m., his face was covered with crusty salt. The next morning, they saw what they had gone to the islands for.

"It was the most beautiful water I've ever seen," said Hooper. "You could just see so far."

These days he spends some of his summer in Bayfield, Wis., where he keeps a power boat named the Sea Lion. Some of the boats listed for sale on the Hooper's Yachts website are stored in the Lake Superior marinas nearby. His Lake Superior listings have included everything from more common sloop-rigged sailboats to "Zeeto," a massive, 65-foot, one-of-a-kind, three-masted schooner built in 1957. The Zeeto was purchased by Lake Superior Tall Ships, a youth sail training program out of Bayfield.

His plans for now include selling the used boats that remain in the boatyard, along with his Lake Superior listings, and he'll still be a dealer for J Boats, a manufacturer out of Newport, R.I.

Even after four decades of work, Hooper said it's a life he enjoys.

"The cool thing about sailing is that you never learn it all," said Hooper. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist and still have a good time."