Rich Witherspoon, Captain Fleet 12 at Chicago’s Corinthian Yacht Club, was baptized into yachting, literally and informally via the pre-Dr. Spock, method of the early twentieth century. When he was five, his dad pitched him from a rowboat into Indiana’s Hudson Lake telling him to swim to shore. Fortunately, he made it intact and developed an intense love of things aquatic. For several summers, he and his buddies freely roamed the lake, rafting, sailing or out boarding any buoyant item they could cobble into a boat. Logs, discarded inner tubes and derelict ex-row boats, regardless of condition were fair game.
Rich is a general contractor, specializing in restoring Chicago’s older houses for up scale owners, demanding perfection. His renovation drive is a perfect fit for Fleet 12’s needs. When Rich came on the scene in 1999, a typical starting line off Montrose Harbor had three or four boats. Now, most club races have twenty or more competitors. He attributes the increase to recruiting more boat owners and encouraging them to sail with two crewmembers. The new alignment is symbiotic. Rich improves the fleet and the fleet activities give him respite from his clients’ demands.
Fleet 12 needed Rich’s talents and energy prior to 1999, but he had been busy learning, establishing himself and growing a family. In 1995 at a “tender” 47, he realized that there might be fun on that big, beautiful body of water out there. The American Youth Hostel program beckoned so he took two lessons in Rhodes 19’s.
Sailing was an instant hit and he immersed himself in grandiose plans, books and videos on cruising boat construction and ocean crossings. Family and business demands surfaced with a frequency that frustrated Rich’s sailing dreams; however, they continued sporadically. One day while totally lost in a mad hunt for a client, he turned around in a Palatine, Illinois driveway where he finally found peace and Harmony. There she was, an abandoned R19, sitting with her bow pointing skyward with hundreds of pounds of water and ice in her stern, a perfect candidate for restoration.
Two weeks passed before he found the courage to inform his wife Cynthia, a Bedford, Massachusetts native, who is seasick prone, of their new child. Harmony’s restoration went well. Soon, day sailing along the Chicago shore became old. Rich still dreamed of long distance treks such as crossing Lake Michigan in Harmony, but settled for the mysteries of one design racing with the then struggling Fleet 12.
Bow Lingle, Fleet Captain, immediately recognized and tapped the creative talent that had crossed his bow. He enlisted Rich to help grow the fleet. They combed boat ads, drummed up potential owner interest and offered rigging and racing assistance. Rich travels to Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana to locate and trail boats back to Montrose.
Their efforts have paid off. A critical mass has been reached. Inquiries about their program from other Chicago harbors and other one design fleets are on the increase. Rich has recruited other Montrose fleets, Lightnings, Vanguard-15’s, Lasers, Thistles and 110’s to aid in promoting the club and to fend off the potentially disastrous effect of a for profit raptor, Westrec. This company holds a contract to run Chicago’s harbors and they covet CCYC’s dry sailing compound.
Rich has three children and one grandchild. He finds racing challenging, but fun. He attended the 1999 Nationals where, in addition to sailing experience and enjoyment; he gained a new boat name. He never liked “Harmony,” but was too busy to concoct another. As he completed a crash tack in one race’s hairy conditions, he heard an outraged bayou wail, “Hahmony youhre too close.” As part of this winter’s total refit for the 2003 Nationals in Marblehead, the boat’s transom will be adorned with the new name, Hominy. We aren’t certain that the new moniker is an improvement, but we are sure that Rich can be counted on for the grit(s).