Soon after the infamous meeting in Cedar Key a date was set to travel to Bay City, Michigan to pick up the Hot Canary. We discovered that Meade is a busy guy during the short summer sailing season in the upper midwest. The only time he had available was the week of August 5. He wanted to show us the boat and gear, go sailing and also give us a tour of the famous Gougeon Brothers Epoxy Works where WEST System products are invented and produced. We agreed this was the best approach and we cleared our schedules for what would be a fast trip to Bay City and back to Florida.
We left St. Pete early in the morning on Saturday August 3. Bill rigged a couple of Go Pros in strategic locations on my Jeep Grand Cherokee and we were off. (see the video at the end of this blog) We had an iPad for navigation and entertainment, Sirius radio and a cooler full of food. Next stop Knoxville, Tennessee (the halfway point) and what would become a theme of sorts, a Comfort Inn motel. After 1350 sometimes grueling, sometimes boring and occasionally scenic miles we were at our Comfort Inn Suites motel in downtown Bay City.
We got to Bay City right at cocktail hour, got settled into the room and called Meade. He picked us up an hour later and we headed off to dinner and to catch up on the happenings of the summer in Meade’s world. That’s about the time we discovered that Meade and many people in Bay City don’t really ever stop at stop signs. They kind of glide through while looking both ways for oncoming traffic. It’s a folksy, sort of midwestern way to at least try to make a legal stop. We wouldn’t get used to this in our short time in that fine town. Over a cold beer and dinner, we made plans for the next day. We’d start early with a tour of the Epoxy factory and then sail and organize the boat for the trip home. An ambitious schedule but heck, we’re Watertribers right?
The Gougeon Brothers operation is a somewhat sprawling compound right along the banks of the Saginaw river in downtown Bay City. The first thing you see coming over the bridge is the masthead flotation device at the top of Jan’s last project boat, Strings.
It sits at the Gougeon pier after just being launched and rigged for an upcoming regatta.
We rolled in and met Meade in the orignal boatbuilding shop down by the water. This is clearly Meade’s “man cave”. It’s hard to describe how cool this building is. It’s a living history of the Gougeon Brothers operation over the past 40 or so years. Immaculately laid out work benches and tools over a well-worn pine floor.
Luke bonding with the bandsaw…
Got to love a saw encased in wood.
The walls are covered with photos, memorabilia and trophies from past ice boat and multi hull regattas and championships from years gone by. You can just sense you are in a place where dreams were created and launched. Right in the middle of the floor sat Hot Canary on her trailer. Meade was over in the break area making coffee and planning the day. This was going to be interesting.
We headed across the parking lot to the new buildings that house the corporate offices, research and development labs and production facilities. Meade led us on about a 2 hour tour which went fast as it was so interesting. We met most of the department heads and many of the staff. Jan’s presence is felt throughout the facility and you can tell he is dearly missed by all who worked with him. The newest building is the research and development building and it is dedicated to Jan. We saw super secret stuff in development as the Gougeon mad scientists worked away in the immaculate, state of the art facility. I guess Meade thought it was OK for us to see this stuff as we are too dumb to know what we were looking at. We’re end users of the product, not chemists. We finished up in the corporate office and met company President, Alan Gurski and Marketing Director Ben Gougeon.
Overall an impressive and humbling tour and meet and greet. All of the staff knew we were there to pick up Hot Canary and it was an honor when we sensed they had confidence in us taking the company boat down to Florida for the Everglades Challenge. Just a great company and group of people to be associated with. It kind of puts on a little pressure to perform.
Back to the boat shop and the launching of Hot Canary. We got the mast up and boat rigged in about 40 minutes. Meade hooked it up to his van and 2 minutes later we were on board pushing off from the dock into the Saginaw River.
The plan was a quick overview of the sails and some pointers from Meade. We sailed a mile or so up and down the river between two bridges for a couple of hours. It was puffy and the river is narrow in that area. The boat accelerated quickly and felt super sensitive even with a crew of 3. Meade sensed our building concern and assured us the boat is easily reefed and was manageable when he and Jan sailed it in EC 2011. Their combined crew weight was almost 100 pounds less than ours will be so we calmed down some. Of course the most wind we had was coming back into the dock and of course it shifted a minute or so before we got there. We found ourselves almost planing downwind into a narrow and short channel and visions of crashing Meade’s boat on the trial sail started to develop into a real possibility. Bill and Meade saved the day with a quick douse of the main and I was able to swing the boat around with a couple of inches to spare. Mission accomplished. A good crew makes the helmsman look like a pro.
We spent the rest of the afternoon packing the boat and listening to Meade tell endless great stories of iceboat and multihull regattas and adventures. We hopped into Meade’s van and rolled through all the stop signs in town out to his home on the shores of Lake Huron. There we were greeted by his lovely wife, Janet who took pity on us and got out some snacks to tide us over until dinner. Meade got out his supply of Bacardi Gold Rum and we had an enjoyable cocktail hour on his patio overlooking Saginaw Bay.
Beach at Meade’s house, GOUGEMARAN in the background.
All was right with the world for Excitable Boy and Runs With Beer. Janet tolerated our boat talk for an hour and then sent us out to dinner so she could have a break. We rolled back through Bay City for a last dinner in Bay City, a bottle of wine and more story telling back and forth. A perfect end to a magical day with one of the most colorful and unique people in the sailing community.
We must have had a good time. The next day it was tough to get up and the thought of beginning the drive back was rather daunting. With pounding heads, we met Meade at the boat shop and got some last minute advice and encouragement from him. We were on the road by 10:00 am and headed south. I’d like to report a routine trip back but a flat tire slowed us down a bit. We had a spare but it was too weak to go very far. We ended up in a dry town in Kentucky for the night as the tire store didn’t open until 8:00 am the next morning. At least they had a Comfort Inn. Then Runs found a Ruby Tuesday restaurant in this dry town that had a bar. Some loophole in the law. We watched the Cincinnati Reds game with some locals and I got them all riled up with the classic National League versus American League argument about the DH rule. We got out of there while the tempers were still under control and left the locals alone wondering why they didn’t kick our butts.
You have to have a favorite billboard from the trip..need I say more..
Getting to the end of this saga quickly now. We made it back to Florida by Thursday night safe and sound.
Hot Canary spent a month in the parking lot of the Doyle sail loft while we re-rigged it to our liking and it now sits in its new home at the St. Petersburg Sailing Center. Thanks Meade and the crew at the Gougeon Brothers. We’ll learn to sail Hot Canary and see you on the beach in Ft. Desoto the first Saturday in March. Hopefully we’ll have time to keep this blog up as we prepare the boat and ourselves for EC 2014 in the Hot Canary.