Pioneers of Anarchy

Pioneers of Anarchy

By Bruce Niederer aka Epoxymoron 

I check the Sailing Anarchy forums nearly everyday and sometimes kick in my own 2¢ worth in. I have noticed that there are some – I’m not naming names – who pretty much think they invented sailing fast and that sailing fast means advanced composites with high tech fibers, exotic cores, and plenty of cash. Very few think of wood when they think of fast, but gather round children and let me tell you where it all began – before carbon fiber, before Kevlar…before most of you were born.

You know, the olden days.

I’m not taking about those great big lumbering tall ships or schooners. I couldn’t care less about the Pardey’s or all the traditional boat enthusiasts in Maine and Seattle. (OK – just kidding. I like those boats too even though I wouldn’t own one – too much work and too slow) I’m talking about the pioneers of boatbuilding and racing. Men of vision, who saw wood as an engineering fiber not just as planks and large hunks of trees to be bolted together. Men like Walter Green, Jim Brown, James Wharram, Dick Newick, and the Gougeon Brothers – Joel, Meade and Jan.

Meade and Jan were first introduced to epoxy resins by Vic Carpenter, an automotive pattern maker turned boatbuilder who may well have been the earliest user of epoxy as a structural adhesive to build boats. Vic built the Olin Stevens designed 36′ Yare in 1963 using strip planked Honduras Mahogany. In 2008 it was the second oldest boat in the Bayview Mac race, the 46th Mac race for the boat with a second place finish in their class to add to their 11 firsts. Fast as it is, it is still basically a traditional style boat that employed epoxy adhesive in the build.

The wheels started turning. The Brothers enlisted the help of some friends who worked for Dow Chemical in formulating an epoxy adhesive that could be also used as a coating to take advantage of epoxy’s excellent moisture resistance.

Soon the three brothers began using the newly formulated epoxy system to build improved DN iceboats. These rapidly began winning races due to the added stiffness and durability the epoxy provided the plywood structures. Everyone wanted one. By 1973, Gougeon Brothers Boatworks was the largest builder of iceboats in the country. In 1975 they sold the iceboat business to concentrate on selling epoxy and building larger custom boats. Joel focused on managing the fledgling epoxy business and didn’t race nearly as much as his brothers. Through it all, Meade and Jan never stopped racing. Here’s a quick list of Meade and Jan’s winter sailing accomplishments in DNs:

Meade on the North American title in 1980 and again in 1997 when he was 58 years old. He is the oldest person ever to win the North American DN championship. His record still stands today.

Jan won his eighth North American DN championship in 2000. That’s more than any other American sailor. He won four World DN championships won over the course of three decades. (1972, 1982, 1985 and 1991) and also won the Great Cup of Siberia Race in Russia in 1989.

Currently Meade and Jan are ranked 25th and 18th respectively in the Gold Fleet world standings of the IDNYRA (International DN Ice Yacht Racing Association). They vow to improve those positions this year.
2009 marks the 40th anniversary of Gougeon Brothers, Inc. Over the years an impressive number of fast boats emerged from the Gougeon Brothers boat shop including 14 production/custom water ballasted, trailerable, catamarans — the G32. The original G-32 promo footage is posted on our website in 2 parts:

pt. 1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYmKqu4zIs8
pt. 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IsbjvseZs

I say the G-32s were production/custom boats because they are all mostly the same, but like all things Gougeon, each build sparked ideas and innovations that found their way into the next build.  The Brothers built several high-profile racing sailboats that advanced and refined the construction techniques they developed while building iceboats and a series of experimental trimarans beginning in the late 1950s. Together they built an experimental 25’ trimaran to IYRU Class C rules that marks the start of their early racing success at the 1963-1964 NAMSA Championships at Stamford, Conn.

Building on this success and experience, Meade constructed Victor T in 1967-68. He got the boat’s weight down to 320 lbs and it earned the distinction of being the lightest Class C competitor in the 1969 Nationals in Hamilton, Ontario. There, Victor T took home the win against a strong field of wingmast-powered catamarans.

Next came Adagio, launched in 1970 and believed to be the first all-bonded and sealed wooden structure built entirely without fasteners. She’s a testament to the longevity of wood/epoxy construction, and to the competitiveness and seamanship of her only skipper. Meade has racked up a long and impressive string of trophies throughout the Great Lakes.

Meade first raced Adagio in the Bayview-Mac (Port Huron to Mackinac Island) race in 1996 and placed second behind another boat that many have come to know well (and also built with West System epoxy) Earth Voyager. Part two tomorrow.