Historical Small Trimarans I Have Met (Part 2)
In this post, Frank Starkweather shares a bit out the pages of his friendship with the Gougeon Brothers. It’s hard to imagine any family that’s impacted sailing in recent decades as much as they have. And imagine their special connections to the entire multihull world. Wow!
Historical Small Trimarans I Have Met (Part 2) By Franks Starkweather
I don’t see Jan and Meade Gougeon as much as I once did, but we remain friends. On certain weekends in May, I get the urge to prowl around the marinas, and I always stop by the G. Bros. boat shop. The Canadian Geese are back at that point, robins are in the yard again, and the Gougeons are getting their boats ready … predictable as rain.
Last year when I was putting together the rigging on a Hobie 14, I went to the shop for advice. All three brothers (Meade, Joel, and Jan) were there, sitting around a cardboard table eating a sandwich and doing some family time together. (Jan has been a Hobie 14 national champ, and a friend down the street took second one year. I just bought the second guy’s Hobie 14 from under the tree behind his garage.)
We told a few stories and laughed, and then I asked Meade about a certain diameter rigging pin. He got up from the table, went along one wall of the shop, dug under the bench and came out with a big plastic display rack filled with every kind of pin and ring-a-ding. He pulled out a few and gave them to me. Then he laughed and said, “Remember, in the early days we were Hobie Cat dealers!” He still has all that stuff.
Two days later, I had the little yellow boat rigged and into the water, from a road-end launch among the cottages on the little Kawkawlin River, which dumps into Saginaw Bay. (Jan’s house is a hundred yards up stream from this spot. He keeps his Gougeon 32 Catamaran right at his doorstep.)
I paddled a few yards to get going, but the wind was blocked by the trees, so the going was slow. Since there was boat traffic, I had to lay low on the tramps, paddle, and tack out as best as I could. Nearly at the mouth I spotted an unmistakable shape at the entrance of the channel, moving effortlessly. It’s Meade on Adagio, with many members of his family aboard, heading in. He spots me, gives me a big smile and a wave, and I holler back, “You know you made all this possible,” (because of the little rigging pins he had given me.)
Once clear of the cottages and the shore trees, the wind was steadier, and the little cat picked up good speed. As I sailed by the last of the bullrushes, which come out from shore, I decide to head up-shore, and avoid the last buoy in the channel. And I ran right into a sand bar. The rudders kicked up and I was in 2 feet of water and 150 yards off shore. That’s why we sail with kick up centerboards and rudders here.
There is a long history of boat building in Bay City, including top-flight hydroplanes from the 30′s and 40′s. There are other trimaran guys around too, including a childhood friend of the Gougeons who has worked for them for 30 plus years. He is the senior customer service rep for the firm, nearing retirement. He has a power catamaran, which he uses for the starting boat at the multihull regatta in August.
I asked him how many times he had crossed the Gulf Stream, and, without hesitation, he said “Five”. He was with the brothers in the earliest of days when they were building small tris, leading up to the break-through tri “Victor T”, which won the North American C-Class Races in 1969, the only tri in a fleet of catamarans. (They had to stretch the rules to let him race, because everyone assumed all of the boats would be catamarans, never imagining that a trimaran would be competitive. After all, the only tris they had seen were dogs designed by Arthur Piver). Super light construction, wing mast, articulating amas, faster than wind speed in light airs.
This same buddy is just finishing up a 30″ Sharpie of the old classical lines, and it plans to be in the slip at the Gougeon Brothers shop for their anniversary party. This guy is also an international level DN-60 iceboat racer, like the Gougeons. You may have heard of JR Watson.
The brothers had always wondered why their iceboats were so fast and their sailboats so slow. So they started designing sailboats that looked like iceboats (trimarans), and they just took off with it. Look up The Book “Evolution of Modern Sailboat Design” ©1973, by Meade Gougeon and Ty Knoy. I found one in a box of books I opened the other day. It’s in my car and I read it over lunch. It’s in simple, easy to understand language, but it contains very sophisticated information, and very sensitive understanding of how we got to where we are (were in 1973). It deals with multihulls at the end and even addresses hydrofoils.
I fully believe that the evolution of sail passed through Bay City, Michigan in the hands of the Gougeon Brothers. They are old friends, regular guys from down the beach, fellow hard chargers on the Bay, but I can never forget that these guys in my own neighborhood made breakthroughs that changed the very course of sail.
Bay City, Michigan