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turbo tales

Every summer when the Mackinac races came around, there was one character I knew would put a smile on my face late into the night.  No one had a head of hair like Pat Ruhland, few people on the lakes had better stories stories, no one could handle the monster Mull Dolphin like Pat could, and if you can judge a person’s life by the quality and loyalty of their friends (and crew), then Pat Ruhland’s 51 years on the planet were well-lived in every sense of the word.   

The Funeral Liturgy will be celebrated TODAY: Friday, February 2, 2018 at 11:00 AM in All Saints Parish (St. James Church), 710 Columbus Avenue, Bay City, MI. Pat will lie in state in church Friday after 10:00 AM. Rev. Jose Maria Cabrera will preside and cremation will follow the service. Visiting hours are Thursday from 2:00 to 8:00 PM, with the Vigil Prayer Service at 7:00 PM at the W. A. Trahan Funeral Chapel. Memorial contributions may be designated for the Patrick J. Ruhland Memorial Trust (for the education of his sons). Arrangements are in the care of the W. A. Trahan Funeral Chapel. For on-line sentiments:

To send flowers or a remembrance gift to the family of Patrick J. Ruhland, please visit the funeral chapel’s Tribute Store.

Here are a few stories from some of Pat’s longtime crew and assembled by Ken Ruppel.

 -Mr. Clean

This week we lost a great friend, loving father and husband, and I, like many of his friends, am finding it hard to accept, and I already know this summer will be selfishly tough. Twenty years of summers sailing the Great Lakes certainly created stories and memories to last a lifetime, and for that I am grateful to have been close friends with Pat Ruhland, awesome sailor and best helmsman Dolphin ever knew.

Patrick J. Ruhland, age 51 years, died peacefully with his family by his side on Monday, January 29, 2018 at St. Mary’s of Michigan. Since a young boy, he was always very enthusiastic about sailing as was his father, Larry Ruhland, and brother Mike Ruhland. In 1998, Pat started Ruhland Sailmakers and was a member of the Port Huron to Mackinac Old Goat Society. He was married to Janelle along with his two sons, Patrick (7) and Tristan (4), and you can read his full obituary here.

Over the years, thousands of sailors have raced with or against Pat as the iconic Dolphin, a 1973 Gary Mull design, weighing 40,000 pounds of aluminum, was a staple in the Bayview to Mackinac Island race, and years in the Chicago Race to Mackinac. We’ll miss sailing with “Turbo” Pat Ruhland, but cherish the memories and stories that we share today and for many years in the future. Here are a few tributes and stories.

One sailor, Fritz Kloepfel, wrote a great tribute, perfectly describing the dichotomy between brothers, which provided unique entertainment to the crew. He writes about Pat’s skills as a helmsman that many experienced firsthand.

From Fritz Kloepfel:

In the late 1980s, I was just getting serious about my love affair with racing sailboats. At an early Key West Race Week I met an interesting character named Larry Ruhland. He was unlike anyone I knew, but he was passionate about racing sailboats. Over the course of the week we became friends and over the next couple years, I invited him to come sail with me in Florida several times. And he did! Eventually, he invited me to come race in the Great Lakes aboard his boat, Dolphin. She was a fabulous old racing boat 54 feet long, with a mast reaching over 80 feet in the air. Big and solidly built, she required a talented crew to show her best. The crew was mostly Larry’s two sons and their friends and relatives. It was an interesting mix of backgrounds and talents, but they made a formidable team.

Larry’s two sons could not have been more different.

Mike was serious, studious and very focused. His hair was trimmed short and his dress was near formal. And he was analytical. Very, very analytical. He was enthralled with technology, information, and calculations. A bit of time spent with Mike could leave you believing that it was possible to THINK your way across the finish line first. And Mike was just the guy to do it. I felt an immediate kinship with him.

Pat was much the opposite. Casually dressed and very casually coiffed, he seemed to care little about the instruments, the technology or the details of strategy and tactics. On our first meeting, he was introduced to me as “Turbo,” a nickname that apparently reached back to his childhood where his mother used to wonder if he were turbocharged as he played around the house. But to me, he seemed the very embodiment of “laid back.” A yin to his brother’s yang.

The Dolphin was a demanding boat, and over the course of the first day and a half, we all took turns driving, spinning the “coffee grinders” to power the winches, and tailing the heavy lines that trimmed the sails. The crew all pitched in. Except for Turbo. Yes, he lent a hand in here and there, but he hadn’t taken the wheel that whole time and had not seemed to contribute much. I had started to wonder, to myself, why we had brought him along. But as it was starting to make me scratch my head the boat began to demand more of us. Well into the second day the wind was building and with it the waves. We were sailing downwind with a big running spinnaker up, and the boat was becoming a handful. The waves would get under the back of the boat and make it skew left or right, and the heavy winds in the sails had us rocking and rolling nearly out of control. The big wheel really needed to be manhandled to keep the boat standing up, and most of the crew were not quite skilled enough to keep it all managed. And, it was a workout. 20 minutes would wear you out, and 30 minutes was all anyone could do. We began to talk about reducing sail and slowing the boat, …not the solution you want when you’re racing. But the wind continued to build, and the waves looked like mountains.

Just when I thought we had no other choice Larry hollered out one word. “Turbo!!!”

And out of the bowels of the boat came Pat. He walked straight to the back of the boat, and without a word he took the wheel. And as though someone had waved a magic wand the boat stopped bucking and jumping. It stopped skidding left and right and pitching like a rodeo bull. Suddenly we were on a straight course, and using the waves to surf the boat along, instead of fighting us. I was flabbergasted. I sat there for some time just watching Turbo drive. I’d never seen anything like it. He seemed at one with the wind and the waves and a veritable part of the boat. Every motion was smooth, and he made it all look effortless. Without my ever voicing the question, Larry leaned over and said, “Now you know.”

Turbo stayed at the wheel for hours, occasionally steering with one hand while he lit a cigarette with the other. He didn’t swivel his head to see the waves. He simply seemed to know where they were coming from. He didn’t fight the boat. He seemed to caress it. The wind was not his opponent, it was his strength. I had never seen it done better, and in all my years of sailing, I never did. Eventually, the wind eased and the waves began to subside, and as the boat once again became controllable (by mere mortals) Pat quietly said, “Anybody want this?” and it was over.

Pat and I never became great friends. We were just too different. But he sure earned my respect. And we shared a passion. And perhaps a secret. Pat was a magician with a boat. He didn’t need numbers or polar plots. Turbo was what we call “a natural.” He didn’t need to be taught. It was just who he was.

Patrick Ruhland was a sailor. One of the best I ever knew.

This morning I learned that Pat has sailed away from this mortal earth.

Sail on Turbo. I know you’ll use a steady hand.

From Rob Bunn:

Shortly after Pat’s first son was born, I ran into Pat outside the Pink Pony (Mackinac Island). Seeing as I had only been a dad for a short time myself, I asked Pat how life as a dad was going. He looked at me and said, “It’s unbelievable! Man, I love that kid. I never thought I could love someone or something so much. I used to think I really loved BEER! But now, I know what it feels like to really love someone more than anything.”

From Laz:

Was one of the best times in my life when “Turbo” entered into the lives of me and my well-established, but ever evolving, circle of friends. He was a quiet yet funny character with amazing hair and a bright yellow speedo. In due time, my dear friend Janelle was falling in love. At that time, I shared a house with Janelle, Marc Lehto and Ali Weadock and it was common for that house to be full up with our loves, families and friends … and usually some folks that came and went- captivated by the tales and times. From those exciting years through to the days when Janelle and Turbo would arrive at Port when I lived in Chicago, fresh off racing Dolphin. They would welcome me to enjoy the scene at the Downtown Yacht Club. Wherever Turbo was, he filled the space with laughter and stories. Now, we will share stories of Pat when gathered among friends. I know those dearest to him will retell his stories with impeccible clarity as he will be impossible to forget. Much love to Janelle, the boys and all family and friends! Sail Away, Pat!

From: Ted Vanasupa

I became friends with the Ruhland sailing family through Mike when I was 15. When the family used to live on the Kawkawlin river we hung out and tried our hardest to stay out of trouble. Pat was the little brother that was always keeping pace. Soon the family moved into Highland Woods and we were always into something. Whether it was playing in the pool or trying not to kill ourselves on Pat’s enduro Yamaha bike. Somehow none of us got seriously hurt on. Then there was the sailing. Pat was always there when I was. One of the most poignant memories I have of Pat was when we had just finished a race and were all hanging out in Mackinaw harbor. Of course the crew had no shortage of young male muscle on the boat. Tom, Dale, Ed, Mike and Pat. But Pat had a different kind of strength. When I think of Pat I think of his fearlessness. It was in Mackinaw harbor that I watched as various crew members would test their upper body strength by climbing up the forestay hand over hand. Some would go up 10 feet, some would go up 20 ft. I may have even made it up 15 ft or so. But it was Pat, the little brother, the kid in the background, that would climb the entire way up the forestay and not wrap his legs around for extra help. When he got to about 30 ft I started to freak out a little as any higher, a small slip could cause serious injury. But he went the entire way to the top, touched the wind pointer and hand over hand came back down. He knew he could do it before he left the deck. He was fearless. It became his thing to do and he would do it several times a day. Maybe some of us were strong enough to do it but I don’t recall any of us being that fearless. The last time I saw Pat was at Larry’s pool. I got to meet his family for the first time and see Pat in a totally different light. No longer the little brother, but a man. A man taking care and loving his family. I will treasure this new memory of my friend and cherish it forever along with his fearlessness. God speed, and may your tell tails always be straight.

From Jeremy Burns:

Not long after Heat Wave arrived in Bay City, Pat moved into his new house “The Holy Land” and set up sail service in his basement loft.  Heat Wave desperately needed a new racing main, so we turned to Ruhland Sailmakers.  Not only was his quote a great value for a very young under-resourced program (buncha clueless newbies) making it’s first real sail purchase, it would be hand built by Turbo and his 3 feline assistants.  The real value though was being able to pay the entry fee (cases of Miller Lite) on a weekend to show up and “inspect the manufacturing process”… meaning bullshit about sailing and SA, talk story, piss in the washtub… and learn from a master.

Every new mainsail needs a loft brand logo, as it turned out ours was a life size black stickyback trace of Pat’s hand giving the middle finger.  The boat raced with that sail for many years from Lake Erie to Chicago.

Heat Wave always had its sails repaired by supporting the local loft – Ruhland Sailmakers.  It only took a few times of hoisting sails that were chock full of empty beer cans for us to remember to check every sail before we race.

I sold Pat a big snowblower and delivered it with my Jeep and trailer on a very icy winter Friday.  We were inching down his hockey rink of a street when I realized we didn’t have the customary entry fee – no Miller Lite!  We drove past his house toward the corner 7-11 less than a block away, but before we could make it there suddenly lights and sirens flashed on behind us – one of Bay City’s finest.  The officer walked up and immediately asked me “what’s up with the trailer?”

“What do you mean what’s up with it?”

” You need a plate for it.”

“Ahhh yep right here we have that in the backseat with current tags, sorry we just didn’t have a good way to attach it.”

He wasn’t done yet.

“OK fine, then where are you going?” the cop asks.

“Oh to that house right back there.”

“Then why didn’t you stop?”

“We don’t have any beer.  I can’t show up to my friend’s house without any beer, we need to stop at the store first.”

“Have a nice night….”

From Gabe Day:

I wish more than ever that I could just hand the helm over to Pat right now. The weathers turning for the worst and the seas are rising. No one can handle those conditions better than him, but his watch is over and its his turn to rest now. I’m at a loss as to which way we should go, but Pat’s wisdom rings through “Just point at the Mark” he would say. I think that we try to overcomplicate things, but to Pat, things were simple. Don’t know what you should be doing? Just point at the mark, don’t steer too much, and keep the boat under the mast.

Pat could keep her going straight for the mark with his watch cap pulled over his eyes, we’ll do our best to keep her on course for you buddy.

Sail safe my friend, and don’t forget to go fast.