By Meade Gougeon — GBI Founder
On January 18, 1997, Gougeon Brothers Inc. co-founder and CEO Meade Gougeon, 58, became the oldest person ever to win the North American DN Iceboat Championship. He explains how he managed this feat in what is essentially a young man’s sport, in this article excerpted from the DN Newsletter. —Ed.
I was still out on the ice watching the last two races of the Silver Fleet for the North American Championships when word got to me that I had won the series. To say the least, I was shocked. I figured at best that I might have made the top five, but the fact that I was in the hunt to win never crossed my mind, even up to the last two races where I managed second-place finishes.
My 10th, 7th, and 6th place finishes in my previous races were lackluster. What I did not realize was that everyone was having a bad race or two, which was really mixing things up. Going into the last race, the point spread had shaped up to where it was between me and the three Poles; Burczynski, Jablonski, and Schneider. Fortunately for me, I do not think they were paying attention either. They seemed to be covering each other, and were not concerned about the old guy in #882, leaving me lots of clear air. When they added up the final points, Burczynski, Jablonski, and I were tied for first with 17 points. As it worked out, I had beaten them both three out of the five races, to become the winner.
So what were the factors that allowed the old guy to win? First, it was a lot of luck. I can think of many situations in the five-race series where I could have easily dropped a boat or two, but sometimes the stars line up just right and it is your day.
The extreme cold and sticky ice conditions may have helped. I do not like being cold, so over the years, I have put together a clothing system that allows me to stay warm in extreme conditions. Toward the end of the day, many competitors were obviously suffering from the cold. It’s a known fact that just a few degrees of loss in body temperature can have a debilitating effect on mental performance. It’s possible that my last two races were more successful only because I was still warm and thinking clearly.
My boat speed was good, but I felt that there were several competitors with slight boat speed advantages over me, especially upwind. With the sticky ice, boat speed seemed almost secondary to come-abouts or jibes. The time lost or gained in either of these maneuvers was at a much higher premium than when sailing on normal ice. It was deadly to tack in a lull, especially if you thought you were headed. It would take forever to get back up to speed on the new tack. Fortunately, I did this only once before I caught on. I made it a point to commit to a tack or jibe only when I had sufficient wind so that I could quickly get cranked up to speed on the new tack. I also did a pretty good job of keeping my air clear from competing boats, but then nobody was too concerned about the old guy.
The starts have been my big problem in recent years. The legs are the first to go, and my lackluster running starts usually got me buried back in the pack. Because I have had some knee problems in the past, I wanted to strengthen my legs, mainly to avoid injury. Beginning a month before the races, I set up a handcart in our Epoxy Department with two jugs of epoxy so that the whole rig weighed about 100 pounds. I would push the cart up to full running speed, starting out slowly then increasing the speed as my legs got in better shape. After the first week, I got up to about 20 repetitions at a time without overexerting myself. The results were that I had better starts this year than any in at least the past 10 years, where I had neglected any physical preparation for this most important part of our race. Certainly, I could never have won without the reasonable level of starts that I was able to achieve in this series due to this conditioning effort.
Last but not least, was attitude. I came to the races as I have for the past 35 years, to have fun and hopefully be competitive with a great bunch of people whom I have admired and respected over these many years. Winning is more fun than losing, but as a guy who has done a lot more losing than winning, I can say with certainty that I have always had fun no matter where I finished. To be able to win at this stage of the game is a special and unexpected treat, but my main focus will still be to have fun and take whatever comes. Maybe that attitude was my special competitive advantage in a series that led the old guy to the top of the pack.
Meade and Jan Gougeon revolutionized the DN iceboat back in the mid-’60s by using epoxy technology to reduce the weight of a typical boat by over 40%. This made the boat much faster and easier to transport. They built more than 250 DN’s between 1969 and 1975, before turning the business over to Joe Norton of Green Lake, Wisconsin.