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A roundup of news on sporting events, people and places in Southeast Michigan by columnist Jim Evans.

Friday, July 22, 2011

An Old Goat stays home

Fred P. Wilhelm of Troy (seated) has decided to sit out the 2011 Port Huron to Mackinac race that begins today. The 82-year-old sailor has participated in more than 30 of the events.

Fred P. Wilhelm is an Old Goat.
This is not meant to be derogatory; in fact, just the opposite.
That fact that he is 82 years old does not make him an Old Goat. The folks from AARP will confirm that.
What makes Wilhelm an Old Goat is that he’s sailed in “over 30” Port Huron to Mackinac races.
There’s even a society of Mackinac Island Old Goats at the Bayview Yacht Club, where Wilhelm has been a member since 1957. Here’s the club’s definition of an Old Goat:
“An Old Goat is a sailor who has sailed twenty five or more Bayview Port Huron to Mackinac Races. Racing sailors count their Mackinac Races like some people count birthdays and anniversaries. Competing in and finishing 25 races to Mackinac Island is a significant accomplishment and Old Goats are honored to be listed among other sailors that have attained this status.
Since the first Mackinac Race in 1925, Bayview Yacht Club has hosted this spectacular annual fresh water event which has attracted intrepid sailors from around the globe. The first fleet of only nine boats was battered by strong winds and only three finished. Today we host more than two hundred fifty racing yachts for the annual trek from Port Huron to Mackinac Island. Whether sailing the traditional shore course or the longer Cove Island or South Hampton course, it is an exciting and challenging adventure and sailors must face every conceivable type of challenge mother nature can present. From big waves and high wind to black flies and intolerable heat, the sailors press on to finish yet another Mackinac Race.
The SOCIETY OF MACKINAC ISLAND OLD GOATS was formed in the 1950's by Bayview sailors who by then had sailed twenty five races. Names like Bobbie Roadstrum, George E. Van, Commodores Bill Nagel, Stan Puddiford and Trent McMath, Ted Coggin and Bobbie Bryant had all sailed Mackinac Races in the 1920's and were inspired when the Chicago Yacht Club created its prestigious Island Goat Sailing Society.”
“Racing is about the competition,” said Wilhelm. “A lot of the boats are very close in speed, so you try to put yourself in position where you have the wind and the competition does not. You put up the proper sails and go through the waves as well as you can.
“In the Mackinac race, you try to figure out where the winds will come from. In the olden days you would look for a cloud to get under because there was supposedly more wind there,” he said, chuckling.
There was a race in the 1960s where there was way too much wind. The water on Lake Huron was churning and the waves were rising. A decision was made to motor into Alpena.
“By the time we got there, the storm had passed and the skies were blue,” said Wilhelm, chuckling again.
There are certain recurring moments that a sailor never forgets.
“When you see the sun rising in the morning,” said Wilhelm. “And when you are out on the water at night and there’s nothing but the stars and the moon.”
When he sees the sun rising this morning, he will be on dry land. When he looks up into the sky tonight, it won’t be from the deck of a sailboat.
For the first time in many years, Wilhelm is sitting out the Port Huron to Mackinac race.
"I'm 82 years old,” he said. “A lot of people think that sailing is an easy sport, but there are times when you have to move quickly and you need strength and endurance. I just have a feeling that I could not carry my weight anymore."
While that is almost certainly not the case, the Wilhelm family will be represented proudly. His son, Fred R., owns the Mystic 3. Father and son used to be part-owners. Fred R. Wilhelm sails out of the Crescent Yacht Club in Grosse Pointe Farms. Joining him on the crew are Tim Greening of Grosse Pointe Park, Dave Simon of Grosse Pointe Woods, Lee Greening of Grosse Pointe Park, Ed Kriese of St. Clair Shores, Dr. Edward Vermet of Grosse Pointe, Mitch Vermet of Grosse Pointe and Alex Simon of Chicago.
The Mystic 3 is a 1993 Dobroth 41-footer built by Wiggers.
Thousands of people on both the U.S. and Canadian shores will cheer the sailboats this morning as they make their way up the St. Clair River from Port Huron to the starting area that takes place about five miles from the Blue Water Bridge.
From its traditional start in southern Lake Huron, the fleet will head north on one of two courses. The shorter course, called the "Shore Course," covers 204 nautical miles (252 statute miles) along the Michigan shoreline before heading west to Mackinac Island Bell's Beer finish line. The longer "Cove Island Course" is 259 nautical miles (298 statute miles) and takes the sailors around a buoy off the tip of the Bruce Peninsula in Canadian waters before heading West toward the Bell's Beer finish line at Mackinac Island.
Fred P. Wilhelm has been sailing since he was 12 when a buddy who lived on Mona Lake in Muskegon bought a small sailboat. The Wilhelm family lived in Muskegon for awhile while his father worked for Continental Motors during the World War II years.
Fred P. spent some time in the army himself. He was in the military during the Korean War and was stationed in Japan. When he got out, he bought his own sailboat, a Lightning. He kept that five or six years until he got a little larger sailboat, a 25-footer.
That larger sailboat came the same year that he married Jean. They first met on a ski trip in northern Michigan and had been married 53 years until she died about three months ago. Jean had been afflicted by Alzheimer’s the last several years.
“Jean would go sailing with us once in awhile. She’d come on the trip back from Mackinac sometimes. There were some nice places to stop on the way back. We certainly had some good times,” he said.
He worked in tool and die for Erie Engineering and Punch Craft before starting his own company, Metalon, a tool and die manufacturer in Warren.
That is the same city where Fred and Jean raised their three kids; Lynn, Fred and Julianne. All three still reside in Macomb County while Fred lives in Troy.
While Fred P. Wilhelm will stay home today, he did drive to Port Huron Thursday to pick up the crew which had taken the boat there.
“It was my decision not to go this year,” he said.
An Old Goat in dry dock? Somehow, that just does not seem right.

Want to follow the race live? A GPS tracking link can be found at


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