Madison’s historic stern-steerer, MARY B, has been set up on Lake Mendota for the past few weekends at the Frozen Assets Festival and the University of Wisconsin Winter Carnival. The Iceboat Foundation volunteers made the special visit, a stop in front of Mauretta Mattison’s house.
Via Don Anderson of the Iceboat Foundation
We took MARY B to Bill and Mauretta Mattison’s house for a photo shoot. Mauretta came out and took a picture, and Bill helped build many parts of this boat, including the current mast, which Bill signed.
Photo by Jeff Miller | University Communications Hundreds of people watch as fireworks launch into the night sky above an inflatable replica of the Statue of Liberty’s head, arm and torch on frozen and ice-covered Lake Mendota during the conclusion of the Wisconsin Union’s Winter Carnival on Feb. 11, 2023. The event was held along the shoreline of the Memorial Union Terrace at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The Lady Liberty tradition began with a prank in 1979 by the Pail and Shovel Party.
The November issue of Seahorse Magazine has published the first of a two-part article about Bill Mattison written by Carol Cronin. Despite never meeting him, she genuinely shares her awe about Bill’s unique talents and conveys a real sense of him through Peter Harken.
The magazine is subscription based.
After hearing so much about Bill Mattison’s amazing ability to ‘engineer and build anything’ I would have loved to have met him. And since he never just sat around maybe I could have watched those big meaty hands working away at one of his many skills. Scarfing a damaged iceboat plank. Repairing a carbon mast. Welding up a replacement piece for a photo developing machine. Or decorating a tiny wagon wheel for the model circus he started as a kid and continued to add to for the rest of his very full life. How could one man achieve so much success in so many different mediums, on so many different scales, from larger-than-life America’s Cup boats down to half-inch-to the- foot scale models?
“He would have hated this.” Billy Mattison reminded the packed room at Gunderson’s Funeral Home about the humble nature of his father, Bill. The memories of Bill shared by those who had preceded Billy were unique and moving. It was a privilege to witness a group of highly accomplished individuals speak in awe of their friend. Here are a few highlights from the people invited by emcee Don Sanford to share their best stories.
Bill organized the building of a new hull for the world’s largest iceboat, Rick Hennig’s DEUCE. Rick recounted that experience with great affection and humor. When Bill saw the semi-truck full of Sitka Spruce roll into the shop parking lot, he turned to Rick and said, “That’s the stuff dreams are made of.”
Bill’s neighbor said that when Bill came over to watch him tinker in his garage, it was “like God himself coming to watch a mere mortal.”
“Yeah, I know a little about that.” America’s Cup veteran, Larry Malik, recalled Bill’s typically understated reply when asked if he could fix a photo processing machine during an AC Australian campaign. Larry shared the famous story of the day Bill took the film of the AC boat to the one-hour photo store, where he learned that the store’s processing machine was on the fritz. Bill fixed the machine and came back with the pictures.
Lon Schoor, Bill’s long-time Mendota Yacht Club A Scow partner, marveled at no matter how complicated the project; Bill was so organized in his thoughts that he didn’t have to write anything down and always made the deadline. He left us laughing with a story about how Bill schemed how they would sell the idea of buying an A Scow to their wives, Donna and Mauretta. Bill told Mauretta that Lon had purchased the boat, while Lon was to tell Donna that it was Bill’s boat.
Dr. Kyle Metzloff, a sailor, ice sailor, and UW Professor of Industrial Metal studies, spoke about Bill’s genius and ability to pick up new and complicated ideas. Having never dealt with computers, he learned to operate a mini CNC mill for creating scale model Mattison Circus parts. At an older age, Bill figured out computers.
Peter Harken shared his amazement at Bill and Paul Krueger’s work ethic. They never wasted a minute, not even in the bathroom where Peter assumed “they had a drill press installed.” Peter acknowledged those who traveled from afar, including New Jersey Skeeter sailor Dan Clapp and America’s Cup alumni from San Diego.
Sailing legend Buddy Melges came to the podium, fixing his steely blue eyes on Mauretta and the family for a full minute, not saying a word, holding the audience in his hand while he made us wait. Buddy spoke about their America’s Cup days and how remarkable it was for a guy who came from the Scow world; Bill could make a 12-meter sail faster. “He did not sail on it, but he made it faster when he worked on it.” (Later, I heard stories in the bar about how at least one of Bill’s modifications caused a stir with some AC engineers, but they calmed down when the boat speed increased.)
“He would have hated this.” Billy Mattison reminded the packed room about the humble nature of his father, Bill. The last to speak at Bill’s Celebration of Life, Billy had to follow some esteemed acts, giants of the sailing world, who had shared stories from the podium of the man’s genius. Billy’s poignant closing remarks emphasized the private family side of Bill and his devotion to his wife of 65 years, Mauretta, their children, Lynn and Billy, and their grandchildren.
“I think it is time for a dipper.”
On our way to Gundersons, Don Anderson and I delivered cakes to the Breakwater for the post-memorial reception sponsored by the Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club and Mendota Yacht Club. The manager surprised us with the news that Mauretta had called with instructions that she would be picking up the bar tab. On Monday, unsure of the damage, the two yacht clubs offered to pitch in with the bill. Mauretta said no, adamant that Bill would have insisted on it. Thanks, Bill.
Debra Rosten Whitehorse
Bill Mattison Obituary Celebration of Life & Time of Sharing
2 PM – 4 PM
Saturday, May 7, 2022
Gunderson Funeral Home
5203 Monona Drive
Monona, WI Map
Don Sanford assembled this video with photos, film, and voice over of Bill Mattison. Listen closely for one of his famous sayings, “nothing fickler than the wind.”
Youtube Video Link: https://youtu.be/8VH3cIK2zZc
Bill Mattison, a legend in hard and soft water sailing, died April 25, 2022 in Madison, WI. He was 93 years of age.
When superstar sailor Buddy Melges needed help with his America’s Cup challenge in 1986, he asked his long-time friend, sailing rival and Korean War veteran, Bill Mattison for some help.
Bill had a lifetime of experience making boats like scows and ice boats sail faster and faster, and Melges’ Heart of America” 12 Metre was off the pace, but week after week his boat got faster as a direct result of Bill’s hands-on work.
He was a product of the Inland Lake region where Scows skate over the water at 25 knots and when the lakes freeze the sailors sharpen their blades and attain speeds of 100 mph on a variety of ice boats. As a perpetual champion in both scows and ice boats, he quickly adapted his impressive skills to the world of the America’s Cup.
“Whatever needed to be repaired, designed, or improved, Bill would quickly come with the solution and get it done,” said Melges.
Bill’s win list included being 14-time International Skeeter Class Champion, three-time Gar Wood Invitational Champion, 12-time Triple Crown Trophy winner, and winner of over 80 local regattas in A, E and C Scows. Most of his sailing was out of the Mendota Yacht Club in Madison, Wisconsin.
Peter Harken also noted Bill’s endless generosity. “H was always using his expertise and labor to help others get out on the ice or water. If a boat had a breakdown you could bet Bill would be there to help.”
Bill was recognized in the 2020 Induction Class of the National Sailing Hall of Fame, but his craftsmanship was not limited to sailing. He fell in love with the circus as a kid in the 1930s, and began building models of circus wagons.
Then, when he was 12 or 13, he ran away from home to join the circus. Though a career in the circus wasn’t for him, his model making earned him a spot in 2015 in the Circus Model Builders Association’s Hall of Fame.
A Celebration of Life is planned for May 7, 2022 at Gunderson Funeral Home, 5203 Monona Drive, Monona, WI.
Wisconsin State Journal Graciousness, attention to detail a way of life for Bill Mattison By Barry Adams
Idle is a rarely used gear for Bill Mattison.
The proof can be seen in the intricacies of miniature circus wagons that line the living-room shelves of his Madison home.
The wooden wagons, modeled after those at Circus World Museum in Baraboo, sport working brakes, tiny hinges and detailed paint jobs. One has a working steam calliope and another a series of thimble-sized cast iron bells tuned to specific pitches. Continue reading.