From Anarchist "Saildry" on the occasion of the death of his uncle, Burt Jones, over the weekend. For some more beautiful eulogies of this Detroit icon, be sure to pay a visit to the thread and share your own story. For more history of the Jones boys on the Great Lakes, read this eulogy from Burt’s brother Warren’s passing a few years back. This is what legends are made of.
It all started in the 1950s with a Lightning. Sailing with his brother Warren, Burt Jones was off to a sailing career that lasted over 50 years. The exploits of the Detroit boys on the Lighting are legendary. From Warren smacking Burt with the tiller to knocking each other off the boat during a race there was never a dull moment. Burt was called into the army in his teens to help design and build drones. He then moved on to the infantry and fought in World War II. After freezing his feet and spending a few months in the infirmary hitting on nurses, he was released. A degree in engineering at Michigan State led to a 37 year career at Ford Motor. Through it all there was sailing.
After owning his own Lightning, Burt moved on to keelboats, jumping in feet first with a 38’ Chris Craft purchased in the mid-sixties. He was soon modifying the boat with the help of his engineers at Ford. After great success in the Chris Craft, Burt was foolish enough to try sailing with his brother again, and they purchased the hull and deck of a new Tartan 42 in 1972. They spent the winter finishing the boat with Burt building the interior and Warren providing the deck hardware. Spars and sails were bought from a now defunct Canada’s Cup defender and The Great Whisper was born. After returning from the SORC, Warren and Burt’s booming voices could be heard around the great lakes for years. They somehow managed to quit arguing and won the 1979 BYC Mackinac race. By 1987 Burt had another project in mind and he purchased a new Express 37 from the west coast, and called it Burden IV.
The boat was delivered and launched at Bayview Yacht Club. Warren came down to look at it and said “It will never sail, mast is too short.” Burt campaigned the boat in stock form for many years and raced in Level 66 in Detroit. He was giving up some time, but enjoyed the competition and getting the most out of his boat and crew. Having a few seconds to give he put a larger spinnaker on the boat to be more competitive in the level class. Soon the class had disappeared and Burden was relegated to PHRF. The boat suffered a bit in light air and Burt started talking to Carl Schumaker about more modifications.
First up was a carbon rudder and stock. Burt built it himself and kept the pre-preg carbon in the commercial kitchen freezer at Bayview. After that it was a new cockpit with scoop and a custom keel. The boat was stiffer and faster, but needed more juice. A carbon tube was purchased with a taller main and stock foretriangle. The original spreaders, rigging and boom were used. Even though Burt was spending money, he was Scottish and frugal. The boat really performed upwind now and sailed to its rating even though it was taking 24 seconds in penalties.
Now IRC was upon us and Burt reveled in the chance to run trial certificates to see what else could be done. The mast had broken twice and lengthened each time to add more sail area, maybe Warren was right about the squatty rig. Burt always said “If it breaks it’s too light, if it doesn’t it’s too heavy.” Masthead kites and a longer pole were added from the Farr 40 and the boat had no weaknesses. At the age of 84 last year turned out to be Burt’s last sailing season and it was his best:
- DRYA IRC A Class Champion
- IRC Great Lakes Class Champion
- BYC Mackinac Class Champion (30 years after his first)
- BYC Long Distance and Windsor Overnight First in Class
- Detroit NOOD IRC First in Class (fifth year in a row including overall in 2007)
Even into his eighties Burt Jones worked tirelessly on improving himself, his crew and his boat. He loved the competition of the sport and his competitors. He is what every boat owner, sailor and man should aspire to be.
Saturday morning Stas Popowich, Burt’s right hand man since 1986, was on his way to help Burt with a rudder repair. He was greeted by a phone call from the hospital: Burt had been felled by a fatal brain aneurism. He is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Denise. The boat was named after the two of them, partners forever. I hope God has some ear muffs when Burt sees his brother for the first time in years.