Meade Gougeon, Fair Winds….
Sad time in the world of hard water, soft water, and all around. Meade Gougeon passed away recently at the age of 78.
What he crammed into those years staggers the imagination- Off the top of my head I can say he was a DN World and NA champ, built and sailed a multitude of softwater craft that included cats, tris, proas, motorboats, keelboats and God knows what else. A 40 foot trimaran called ADRENALIN which had pivoting amas comes to mind.
In addition to being a major player in the DN world he also sailed the Everglades Challenge several times, a crazy event in the southern boondocks of Florida. Not for the faint of heart!
And he helped bring epoxy to the masses. Let’s not forget that.
His exploits and adventures are well documented elsewhere but I’d like to share my own story about the man.
When I first started sailing DNs twenty years ago I was in awe of the way he and his brother Jan (Hard to talk about one without mentioning the other) got around the course- two decades later I still can’t get over it! I remember thinking “Who is this guy with the skinny legs and the red helmet and how the hell does he do it??”
I got to chat with him a bit a various regattas and he always made time to answer my many questions- Which as a budding DN-er I appreciated very much!
That was cool but a few years ago Meade and a friend of his were travelling the east coast promoting the new G-Flex epoxy they’d developed. They were hitting all the wooden boat shops along the east coast, doing demos and doling out samples. His friend had a vision disorder and dealt with it by video taping the whole trip and watching it later on a special viewer that put the images right onto his retinas or some such thing.
I bumped into this pair purely by chance on the dock at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport, RI one afternoon. They were checking out the legendary DORADE, the Olin Stephens design that is winning races to this very day. I was captain of DORADE’s less pretty cousin, a boat called SONNY that was across the dock.
The owner had called and asked me to round up a few people to go for a little afternoon sail. I’d found one or two people to go along and wanted at least one more but had resigned myself to sailing short-handed. Walking down the dock to the boat I saw a familiar figure…. Tall, slim dude…. Skinny legs…. Tan cap with a short brim? Had to be Meade!! Sure enough it was him, and sure enough when I introduced myself he didn’t really react until I said my sail number was DN 5224. At that he lit up! DN-ers are great that way. We shot the breeze for a few minutes and I convinced him and his buddy to come along for a quick sail.
His friend had his big video camera going the whole time and Meade tended the mainsheet perfectly without even thinking about it. All the while chatting away with the owner of the boat (a trustee and board member of the Yacht Restoration School) about the virtues and values of teaching and preserving the woodworking skills and classic boats the school focuses on. Traditional plank-and-frame stuff.
It was one of the most pleasant afternoons of sailing you could ask for, and I was thrilled to be on a boat with a legend like Meade. But the story doesn’t end there-
A few weeks later his friend with the video camera sent me a DVD of their trip, a well put-together travelogue (complete with bluegrass music and his own narration) that started in Michigan and followed them to Maine and down the coast to Newport and beyond. I was excited to see what the Newport segment had in store and it began with Meade eating ice cream across the street from the Restoration School. So far so good, harmless enough. Then across the street they went to look at the derelict boats awaiting restoration by the students at the school.
Next thing you see on the screen is Meade inside one of the boats, ripping rotting timbers off with his bare hands, and literally yelling about how these boats didn’t last long, required too many rebuilds, too much time, too much effort…. He was really on a tear! He sounded like a preacher thumping the Bible in front of the flock, punctuating every sentence by ripping off another hunk of rotten timber and throwing it in the bilge. I remember the last sentence of his tirade was “…and to glorify this method of construction IS WRONG!!!!” It was amazing!
And to think that thirty minutes after this was filmed he was out having a blast on the old plank and frame boat I was running and having a great time, chatting away with all on board. When I saw the video all I could think was that it was a good thing he got all that out of his system before he met one of the main guys that ran the place!
The lessons I took away from that were:
1- Know your audience. He sure did.
2- Don’t skip a chance to go sailing!
3- Know your history and how things were done before you came along.
4- Don’t stop looking forward!
And he always did look forward, always thinking of the next cool boat or the next neat modification or the next crazy event.
That said, my folks bumped into Meade at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Micheal’s, MD. Checking out all the old boats, taking in the history and no doubt pondering some better ways to make the things…. Somehow my father recognized him and started talking boats and DNs. Of course Meade lit up when he mentioned DNs! My dad was thrilled to meet him and still loves to brag about meeting a big player like Meade.
I’ve met a lot of fantastic characters through sailing and the the DN gang is another breed altogether- but getting to know Meade and Jan has been one of the greatest parts of my whole hard-water career. I always admired the way they sailed but more importantly how they were always friendly and made time to answer every question a wide-eyed rookie like me could pester them with. I’ve tried to do the same over the years and I thank Meade and Jan both for setting a great example!
Fair winds and perfect ice, Meade. Know that I am far from the only person you’ve made a mark on.
DN US 5224