First The Fun...Then Controversy, Welcome & Farewell

thom.JPG (7202 bytes) From the editor...

by Thom Burns

Fun Sailing Event

This year’s "Go Sailing" event was a major success. It warms this sailor’s heart to see so many happy newcomers to sailing enjoying the thrill for the first time or the first time in years. Lake Pepin has to be one of the wildest success stories in the program this year. At last count 184 people participated where none participated last year (partly because of weather). The Lake City Yacht Club, a first time participant with Sailboats Inc. raised $1,600 for the Leukemia Society. Participant’s spoke volumes in their surveys: "Exceptional experience," "Done Well," "Excellent Captain and boat," "I always wanted to try sailing. This is great and it supports a good cause."

The time to start planning for next year is now. The Upper Midwest Sailing Association, the Upper Midwest’s Sailing Business Group, with its numerous associated sailing clubs greatly enhanced the thinly spread assets of the national organization, "Sail America." If your club or local sailing business would like to play for a good cause and sailing in 1999, feel free to contact me (see page 6).

The Chicago Mac

When it comes to success and skill in organizing high profile sailing events few clubs can match the Chicago Yacht Club. The club seems to have an endless supply of assets and a long history of success. The 100th anniversary of the first Chicago to Mackinac Island Race would seem to add to the luster. For at least some it wasn’t that pleasant. The experience was marred by events prior to the race and immediately after the finish. Since both instances were precipitated by CYC members, the CYC ought to take a look at how they treat their guests.

Prior to the race, in the circle at the head of Monroe street, a great deal of equipment is off-loaded for the three hundred boats in the race. A substantial amount of weight is also moved in the other direction . . . off the boats. This creates a "loading zone" problem which for the most part is handled reasonably well by the guards. After parking our vehicle from Minnesota with the guard’s permission for a "few" minutes to get crew to help off load, a CYC member demanded it be moved . . . translate "towed." The guard apologized profusely and stated unequivocally "that vehicle did not need to be towed." Of course this led to numerous hardships and expense to the crew who finished grocery shopping at 4:00 AM for example. This may sound like an isolated incident but it wasn’t. While waiting and observing for two to three hours this parade, it became obvious that who you were had a lot to do with where you off-loaded and what happened or didn’t happen to your vehicle. Fair and consistent was routinely overridden by "special circumstances."

At the final call-in prior to finishing, our boat was told to report to the inspection dock after the finish. However, just after finishing the Michigan DNR stopped the boat and asked for papers. Of course they were difficult to find since the owner who was not aboard had stashed them in his Captain’s Quarters. Some twenty minutes later we approached the inspection dock. I was handling the bow line and greeted Andy Keiner who immediately questioned a different crew member as to "where have you been?" When the crew member started to explain the DNR had held us up, Keiner loudly interrupted him with "don’t you know how to use the radio?" The crew member started to say something else and was quickly and loudly interrupted again by Keiner, "Don’t argue with me."

With this happy stage set, the inspection began with the navigator, Kim Bradford, the skipper, Harry Eilers, and various crew members trying to satisfy everything on the checklist. Ultimately, I was called off the pier where I was protecting the boat from the occasional surge for a life jacket and harness count. Of course I was wearing mine which necessitated my presence. Having overcome this line on the checklist, the shoe finally fell with the second MOB system. Apparently, it had been off loaded by mistake, not onloaded, misplaced, whatever. Keiner promptly informed the skipper that he was going to protest the boat. The skipper who had been remarkably quiet through this ordeal calmly asked Keiner to "depart my vessel." Keiner then stood on the pier and told the crew, "This is an unsafe vessel and an unsafe skipper. You should be careful who you sail with." Paul Morton from Thunder Bay, Ontario, a genteel person I’ve known for years just about lost it. The skipper quickly pulled the boat away before the incident escalated into a swim or worse for Keiner. The boat erupted but the skipper quickly quelled all conversation. He started to apologize to the crew and take full responsibility as the boat was underway some thirty yards from the inspection pier when Keiner charged to the end of the pier and hollered "do you have something to say to me?"

This is the most provocative, arbitrary and outrageous behavior I’ve ever observed in a race official. I do have something to say Andy Keiner. "Resign, now."

Johnson Boat Works

When a hundred year institution in sailing departs the scene it’s a shocker. Fingers are pointed and rumors abound. When its a family business, it’s sometimes worse. In an era of big consolidations and mergers a company the size of Johnson’s could be very tough to pass along because it may be impossible to meet the needs of everyone while passing the mantel to the next generation.

The best analogy to JBW may be a large farm operation. Even with many supportive laws in the farm sector, easy, viable succession is by no means a given. In fact less than half are actually passed on within the same family. The reason is the land is worth so much more than the operations which it sustains. Thin profit margins when encumbered with a large debt load make the purchase or passing of the mantel tough. JBW found itself too small to compete nationally on its own with its three non-scow product lines. Thus, the Collegiate 420, FJ and Johnson 18 were sold to Catalina. This left JBW with mature and declining scow product lines which also had very thin margins due to stiff competition from Melges Boat Works. The irony is that a lot of the decline in demand was brought on by each manufacturer’s success in refining the product and building better, longer-lasting boats.

The new White Bear Boat Works should be freed from the shackles of tradition while inheriting a large and tremendously loyal customer base. They should be able to eventually move out of the high rent district and be unencumbered by a massive debt load and "mature" product lines in the process. Good luck to the Browns and fair winds to the Johnsons.

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