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Ten member crew is “all in the family”.
Seventy-three year old Brad Willauer has been participating since he was a teenager, usually working the foredeck on someone else’s boat. Now, after participating in MHOR at least ten times, he will be skipper of his own crew for the first time in this event in July. PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Forster/Talbot Wilson/PPL

Family crew will rotate helm every half hour during 2017 race

Seventy-three year old Brad Willauer is one of the veterans of the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race.  He has been participating since he was a teenager, usually working the foredeck on someone else’s boat.    Now, after participating in MHOR at least ten times, he will be skipper of his own crew for the first time in this event in July.  And he has a few strategies in mind that have proven successful in other offshore races.

Willauer purchased his first boat large enough to participate in the race in preparation for his retirement from the financial industry back in 2004. Since then, he has been cruising and racing for extended periods of time in the Caribbean each winter including participation in the Newport to Bermuda, and the Marion Bermuda Races.  Breezing Up, a J/46, is back in New England and he plans to be on the start line of the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race 2017 with a family crew. 

The Willauers take it as a matter of pride their ten member crew is “all in the family”.  “They are all good sailors and well-experienced.  Four of them are members of the Cruising Club of America (Brad Willauer is vice commodore of the CCA), and we also have a couple who are licensed coast guard captains,” he said.  Willauer’s own sailing resume includes racing in the Caribbean, Transatlantic (Bermuda to Spain) and cruising in the Mediterranean, Thailand and British Columbia.

His crew includes his children Ben and Tori Willauer, a son-in-law, Tony Fitch,  nephew Charlie Willauer and his three sons Cory Cramer, Charlie Willauer Jr, and Pete Willauer  plus nephew Langley Willauer and his daughter Nora.  The Willauers claimed podium finishes in four Newport to Bermuda races including first in the Cruiser division in last year’s race.  The dedication to making sailing a family experience has also won the Willauers the William Glenn Family Participation trophy in the Newport to Bermuda Race on two occasions.

Willauer believes the younger crew know the most about the boat and the technology on board and they are eager to do more sail changes, which is why he likes a mix of ages on board.  “They know everything!”  His own confidence about the boat and its capabilities are strong.  He lived aboard Breezing Up for extended periods of cruising in the Caribbean so he is confident to make the call about which sails should be up and what boat speed they can hit, depending on the conditions. 

“We have a lot of fun…we have a great time together.  Our family is close in general, anyway.  They all work hard."  

Above: A happy skipper, Brad Willauer has just learned he won his class in the 2006 Newport to Bermuda race. Saint David's Light, Bermuda is in the background

Willauer has adopted a practise that no doubt makes everyone sit up and pay attention.  All crew members steer the boat with the helm changing every half hour.  “This practice makes for a happy ship.”  

He says he remembers sitting on the rails of other people’s boats in 10 or 12 prior Bermuda Races, knowing him and other younger sailors on board could likely do a better job than the old guard, who often held onto the helm for long periods of time.  

“Finding the groove is a special skill, keeping her in the groove requires intense concentration,” according to Willauer. That’s why everyone knows they should only speak to the driver on business, no chatting.

“Some are better than others in handling the job but we don’t make note of that in any way.”  He admits some severe conditions cause him to alter this routine – such as driving with a chute on the upper limits of apparent wind or near gale conditions.

Another tried and true strategy - they all share the cooking, including the skipper.  They have all learned how to cook for offshore sailing for one simple reason:  “Good food is important for morale,” says Willauer.

It isn’t just this generation of the Willauers that devote their time to sailing.  “Sailing is what we did as kids.  My older brother Peter and my father were very good sailors and I learned from them.”  His brother Peter competed in national championships and later founded the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School in Maine.   The family has a deep connection to the summer community at Prouts Neck, Maine where his great-great uncle Winslow Homer had his painting studio.  Breezing Up is Willauer’s third boat named in honour of Homer’s famous painting.  Breezing Up is in the collection of the National Gallery of Art which describes it as “one of the best-known and most beloved artistic images of life in nineteenth-century America." 

The Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race is a 363-nautical mile offshore race sponsored by the Boston Yacht Club and the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron.  The 37th biennial race starts in Marblehead on Sunday, July 9th following a course across the Gulf of Maine and along the coast of Nova Scotia to Halifax.

One of Brad Willauer’s memories of past Marblehead to Halifax races involves some winning insight by his brother Peter.

“He won the race with a boat called Madcap. He realized that he could pick up a thermal along the shore of Nova Scotia.  There was a high pressure system and most of the fleet was flopping around with no wind.  For about 60-80 miles, he sailed close to the Nova Scotia shore and that extra bit of wind made the difference.”

“I have great memories of my visits to Halifax, especially early on, crewing on Salmagal III, a boat built by Arthur B. Homer, the chairman of Bethlehem Steel.  “I have really fond memories of going down into the Arm and receiving the warm hospitality from people like Sally Norwood, once we came ashore.  I didn’t get to stay long in those days… I would usually head to the airport for the first flight back to Boston.  But the reception was really terrific!” In earlier times, individual Squadron members volunteered to act as hosts to each arriving crew.

The fog used to be extremely challenging, especially coming into the finish line at night.

 “One memory I have is from the 1970’s.  I was working on navigation and we were coming in to finish in thick fog at night.  We had the spinnaker up for the last ten miles and were making between 8 and 9 knots.  There was no radar on the boat but we knew where we were going. We had passed Chebucto Head.  In those days, we were running exact courses and timing with a stop watch. But the noise was tremendous so we decided we needed to douse the chute so we could slow down the boat and hear the signal that we had actually finished the course.  And in fact, that’s what happened, we slid across the line and we heard the signal boat…but it wouldn’t have happened without pulling that sail.  Modern navigation makes all these things so much easier!”

(Written by Kathy Large)
PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Forster/Talbot Wilson/PPL