By Bruce Niederer
There are those that believe 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
before carbon fiber, before Kevlar there
I'm not talking about those great big lumbering
tall ships or schooners. I'm talking about
the pioneers of boatbuilding and fast sailboat
racing. Men of vision who saw wood not just
as planks and large hunks of trees to be
bolted together, but as an engineering fiber.
Men like Walter Greene, 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, a boatbuilder
who was one of the earliest users of epoxy as
a structural adhesive to build boats. Vic built
the Olin Stephens 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
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 wooden
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
Meade won 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 Gougeon
The original G32 promo footage is posted on our
website at www.westsystem.com/ss/history/
I say the G32s 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 1967-1968. He got
the boat's weight down to 320 lb 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
Next came Adagio, launched in 1970 and believed to be
the first all-bonded and sealed wooden structure built
entirely without fasteners, using a unique building
method which they called "developed plywood construction."
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.
The result of the long love affair between Meade
and Adagio is an impressive race history on the Great
Lakes which continues today.
Adagio's Port Huron-to-Mackinac race finishes: 1998
second, 1999 first, 2000 first, 2002 first, 2003 fifth,
2004 fifth, 2005 first, 2006 first, 2007 fifth, 2008 fifth,
Adagio's Chicago-to-Mackinac finishes: 1998 first, 2000
first to finish, 2002 first to finish, 2006 first to finish,
Reick Trophy, 2008.
In 1973 they built an Olympic class Tornado catamaran
using vacuum-bagged, cold-molded construction. USA
sailors David McFaull and Michael Rothwell sailed the
boat in the 1976 Olympics and took the Silver medal behind
the German team.
The Gougeon Brothers also began construction of
Golden Dazy in 1973 for Dr. Gerry Murphy from the
Bayview Yacht Club in Detroit. Golden Dazy generated a
lot of press and won the 1975 Canada's Cup. She's still
sailing today in upstate New York.
In the mid Seventies the Gougeon Brothers built Class C
catamaran designed by the Hubbard Brothers. The boat
was named Patient Lady.
I'm sure some of you will remember the fast monohull
the Brothers built next: Hot Flash. This Gary Mull design
was commissioned in 1976 by the Usnis brothers,
also from the Bayview Yacht Club in Detroit.
In 1977 the Brothers began building Rogue Wave, a Dick
Newick designed 60' trimaran for Phil Weld. He had
planned to race it in the 1980 OSTAR, but never had the
opportunity because of a rule change. Weld did win the
1980 OSTAR, setting a record for the race that year
onboard the well known Moxie, designed by Newick to
comply with the new rules. Moxie was built by multihulls
guru Walter Greene, a user of WEST SYSTEM Epoxy who is also a good friend of Meade's.
At the Gougeon shop construction also started on Flicka,
another plywood cruising trimaran. Jan spent four long
days on the capsized Flicka in the Atlantic Ocean during
a qualifier for the next OSTAR challenge. He had plenty
of time to think about rightable trimaran designs before
a passing freighter rescued him. Flicka had to be abandoned
In 1980 Jan designed and began to build Splinter, a developed
plywood trimaran designed to be rightable after
an offshore capsize. Splinter was the second boat, after
Adagio, the Brothers launched with a wingmast. She is
now owned and raced by Bob Struble (father of A-Cat
and DN champ Matt Struble) in Saginaw Bay competes
against Adagio and another noteworthy Gougeon built
Named after the Gougeons' grandmother, Ollie was
started in 1984 using the developed plywood technology
the Brothers had developed over the years. The design
was trademarked as a Stressform 35 along with
Stressform wing mast plans. Ollie's design advanced
Jan's ideas for self righting.
Although Jan can be nostalgic for the boats he's built,
particularly Ollie, he hears a different drummer than
Meade. Jan is always thinking of the next boat, whether
it's right around the corner or a few years out. A difference
of even greater significance is Jan's appetite for solo
sailing-and he's done plenty.
Jan raced Splinter in the single-handed Port Huron to
Mac race beginning in 1981. He placed first that year
and first again in both 1982 and 1983. In 1984 the
weather forced most, if not all, of the multihulls off the
water, including Jan's. Race records from the Eighties
are hard to come by, and I thank Blair Arden of the
Great Lakes Singlehanded Society for digging through
his old records to help fill the blanks in. In one of the
three races in 1981-1983 Jan set a new record for the
fastest finish. Jan couldn't remember which year it was
either, which is typical of Jan; once the race is over he's
taking what he learned and applying it to the next race,
the next boat design, the next build, the next challenge.
His record was short lived because in 1985 he broke his
own record for the race in Ollie with a time of
26:09:00-a record that still stands. Weren't we all in
awe of the fully crewed Earth Voyager completing the
race in just under 25 hours a few years back? Jan and
Ollie ran up a string of firsts from 1985 through 1991
and in 1989 he earned the Peter Fisher Award with his
win. Jan also won the singlehanded SuperMac in 1987
with Ollie. That race ran from Port Huron to St. Joseph
(just south of Benton Harbor, Michigan) setting another
record that still stands today with a time of 77:40:00.
The next finisher that year was the C&C 41 C-Spray
with a time of 123:59:00 - 46 hours and 19 minutes after
Jan. The loss prompted the skipper of C-Spray to retire
the monohull from future singlehanded races!
In 1995 Jan raced his G32 Pocket Rocket in the single-
handed classic to claim another first. In 1997 Pocket
Rocket was the only multi entered so he scored another
first. In 1998, this time with some competition, he finished
At times Jan and Ollie have taken some crew with them.
1995 marked the first time multihulls were allowed to
race in the Port Huron to Mac race and Ollie finished
third followed by Meade and crew on Janet C, a G32. In
1996 Ollie finished third behind Adagio and Earth Voyager
and in 1998 Ollie finished eighth.
Ollie was sold to Tim Walli and Dave Sturm in 1998 and
didn't race again that year, but in 1999 Ollie was back
with the new owners and Jan as crew. She finished second
behind Meade and Adagio. In 2000 Ollie, with Jan
as crew again, suffered a fatigue failure in a stainless fitting
and retired from the race. Jan has not raced on Ollie
The Brothers also built a couple of other noteworthy and
well-known boats. The multihull Slingshot was launched
in June of 1978. Commissioned by Georg and Carl
Thomas, Slingshot was built to compete in the speed trials
in Weymouth, England. Slingshot was 60' - 4.5' hull
beam x 42' BOA and weighed in at 1,800 lb plus a crew
of four. She could sail in both a proa configuration and a
trimaran configuration. She recorded the second fastest
speed 1979 at Weymouth behind the famous Crossbow I
which recorded a speed of 31.8 knots - blistering fast in
1979. Jan reports that later that year in Florida they
posted an unofficial speed of 40 knots. Racing the ditch
in Texas City, Texas in 1980 with a crew of Jan, Mike
Zutek, Ron Sherry, and Olaf and Peter Harken, they
posted a speed of 38 knots. But alas, during a storm
Slingshot came loose from her mooring and was dashed
against the rocks and lost forever. All that remains of her
is a section of the bow hanging in the Gougeon
The last commissioned boat the Brothers built was
Adrenalin. Started in 1984 and launched in 1987, she
was a trimaran with articulating amas built to Formula
40 rules for Bill Piper of Ossineke, Michigan and intended
to race in the European circuit. She shocked the
sailboat racing community by placing a very close second
in her first regatta on the Grand Prix circuit in 1988.
She raced for two seasons in Europe against the traditional
big cats until, as Jan put it, "They couldn't stand
being consistently beaten and changed the rule so the
boat became illegal and only cats could race." Adrenalin
was purchased by New Zealander Grant Beck in 2007
and is awaiting his attention to get back on the water.
Advancing age has not seemed to slow down either
Meade or Jan. This year they sailed Meade's G32 Janet
C in the 2009 Chicago/Mac race to commemorate the
40th anniversary of the company they started together.
Being 70 and 64 years old, respectively, they will no
doubt had the oldest average age in the race.
Janet C finished 3rd in the Chicago/Mac race and a week
later, Meade, Jan and Butch Babcock finished 2nd in the
Port Huron-to-Mac race on the 39-year-old Adagio.
Epoxyworks 29 / Fall 2009
Copyright © 2009, Gougeon Brothers, Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form, in whole or in part, is expressly forbidden without the consent of the publisher. EPOXYWORKS, Gougeon Brothers, WEST SYSTEM, Episize, Scarffer and Microlight as used throughout this publication, are trademarks of Gougeon Brothers, Inc., Bay City, Michigan, USA.