(L to R) Will White, Jean Bergman, Don Bergman, Paul Odegaard … photo taken during a 1996 cruise to the BVI’s. (Photo courtesy of Paul Odegaard)
Although our hearts are filled with sadness at Will White’s passing on May 16, 2019 at age 88, there won’t be a day that goes by when we won’t have something to thank him for and something to remember him for. We, the Sunfish Class Association, are who we are because of Will’s dedication, enthusiasm and ability to inspire others to love and sail the Sunfish sailboat.
Will learned to sail from books and in 1944 started his racing career on Lake Winnipesaukee, the largest lake in New Hampshire, learning from the son of the sailing master of the famous America’s Cup J-Boat Ranger. He never stopped sailing/racing/winning trophies throughout his college years.
Then he took a break and didn’t sail again until 1963 when he bought a used Sailfish. He traded it in a year later for a Sunfish and won the first regatta he entered. In 1966, Will won the Sunfish Nationals, the first year that singles were sailed, and won again in 1968 when the Nationals were now called the North Americans. Will and Jack Evans also organized the first Connecticut River Sunfish Classic, a long-distance, mixed doubles and “odd couples” race; but Will’s contributions to the Sunfish Class continued in even bigger ways.
In the early 80’s, Lee Parks took over from Steve Baker as the Class Manager at Alcort. Her first task was to gain “International” status for the Class so that Sunfish could compete in the Pan Am Games. Steve Baker started the process, and it was Lee’s job to finish it. This involved changing the Class from a manufacturer-run Class to a sailor-run organization. No easy task, certainly for one person. So Lee called on her friends in Hartford to help – Will White, Larry Cochran, Paul Odegaard, Bob Heckman and Gordie Geick. It took more than a year to rewrite the Class Rules and By-Laws in a way that was acceptable to the International Yacht Racing Union (IYRU). This self-appointed task force had to draft a contract between the Class, the builder (Alcort) and IYRU. And then they had to recruit sailors, both nationally and internationally, to take on the responsibilities of running the Class. Ernie Kervel of Aruba became the first International Sunfish Class president (1983 and 1984).
Will White was the first U.S. Sunfish Class Association president and later served as Chief Measurer. During Will’s presidency, he wrote The Sunfish Bible and later gave the rights to the Class. His Bible is still available to purchase on the Sunfish Class website, http://www.sunfishclass.org, and was written in a way for sailing to be first learned from a book just the way Will learned sailing back in the early 40’s…from books.
Will was the PR expert and took on the all-important communication role. To convince sailors to now pay annual dues having been given a free membership when they bought a boat was a hard sell. We can surmise that Will’s energy, enthusiasm and communication skills were contagious because we’ve been a successful dues-paying organization since that time!
What a lot of us didn’t know is that Will and Bob Heckman got folks to dig out old, defunct Sunfish in the New England region and followed that up with getting the boats and people active again which was a huge effort in helping the Class grow. A similar effort today by dedicated and hard-working members would certainly go noticed and appear in future historical accounts of who helped us continue Will’s dream to build the Sunfish Class into a fun and important racing organization recognized at the World level. We not only benefited from Will’s energy and enthusiasm, but we’ve also benefited from the wonderful legacy he left behind, a sailboat Class that captured those who shared his vision of a “forever boat” sailed by true champions both on and off the water.
To quote Paul Odegaard:
“The Class members will always be indebted to Will for his love, dedication and efforts to eternalize our beloved Sunfish.”
Will, may you sail into eternity with fair winds and favorable shifts. We all miss you so.