“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
SHAZAM crew: Erik Sawyer, Andy Gratton, George Gerhardt,4LIYC Commodore Don Anderson, Jay Yaeso, Mike Waldo, Rich Sawyer, and Tony Abts,
Previous: Tales To Tell, the 2020 Hook Race 2021 Hook Race Results
Jay Yaeso assembled another crew of ice sailors for the July 24th, 2021 Hook Race, a challenging 189 nautical mile race on Lake Michigan from Racine, Wisconsin, to Menominee, Michigan. (Thankfully, their rig stayed up this year.) Between them, I count about ten stern-steerers, 5 Renegades, an A-Class Skeeter, and some vintage Skeeters. Other ice sailors who competed include Fred Stritt in HASTEN and Rick Hennig in THUNDERSTRUCK. Rick broke his time record from last year, completing the race in 20:20:46.
The ice sailing season moves closer as another box is ticked tomorrow with the 112th Chicago to Mackinac Island race. So far, I can only find one group of ice sailors on the competitor’s list, Rick Hennig and crew on THUNDERSTRUCK. At 60 feet, Rick’s soft water boat is a few inches longer than his winter ride, the world’s largest iceboat DEUCE. Let me know if there are any other ice sailors out there heading to the island tomorrow.
Speaking of Mackinac, here’s a photo that Wisconsin Stern Steerer Association Secretary Andy Gratton shared. It was on display at a business on the island. Andy guesses it dates from the 1880s or earlier “because the masts appear to be on top of the trussed runner planks.”
He also noted that “It looks as if the Grand Hotel is on the left side of the photo, the Fort on the right. I can’t imagine sailing these vessels and having all the sails trimmed correctly, in addition to ensuring the crew stays on the end of the runner plank where he belongs!”
Harken’s latest newsletter is an ode to iceboating with articles and videos featuring Will Perrigo, Steve Orlebeke, Peter Harken, and a name we hope to read a lot more about in the future, Samuel Bartel. Sam is a student at UW Madison on the sailing team, and iceboating instantly clicked with him. Sam placed 4th in the Silver Fleet at last week’s DN U.S. Nationals in his first regatta. Many thanks to Hannah Lee Noll for pulling together these stories, videos, and photos highlighting the special place that ice sailing has within the Harken organization.
As reported yesterday, squalls made for some wild rides during the Racine Yacht Club’s HOOK Race downwind from Racine to Door County on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan. Apparently there were 5 boats that lost rigs, including Jay Yaeso’s SHAZAM, proving again that sailing on Lake Michigan can be more challenging than ocean racing in big “sleds” – something 4LIYC Commodore Don Anderson who has sailed a few Transpacs related to me yesterday. SHAZAM’S mast “oil-canned” (compressed) Saturday afternoon during a 50 mph squall with 8 – 10′ waves. Thankfully, all crew were OK and they were able to pull into Sheboygan after 4 hours on the motor where they met up with Steve Orelebeke who had been sailing on PEERLESS. Steve and crew were forced to pull into Sheboygan because the waves pushed too much water into the hatch. I believe that race tracking did show that Fred Stritt and HASTEN made it to the end of the race. There were quite a few DNFs, possibly 18.
However, there was one group of ice sailors who made HOOK history and “absolutely shattered a Hook race record” by 3 hours, Rick Hennig (owner of DEUCE) and the crew of THUNDERSTRUCK. From crew member Eric Tobias’ Facebook feed:
20 hours, 20 kts of boatspeed, 47 knot peak wind speed, hurricane rain, lightning sky, one exploded spinnaker, one exploded jib, several wipe outs, one absolutely shattered Hook race record, a passage through Death’s Door and one incredibly wild ride. We made it to the finish safe with minimal damage and injuries. Thankfully we didn’t find a new meaning for our boat name (we didn’t get struck by lightning). Go Thunderstruck.
Expect to hear some stories about the HOOK race of 2020 during those times when we are standing on the ice waiting for wind.