Jan Clover Gougeon
“My interest in boats goes back a long way."
August 7, 1945 – December 18, 2012
Birthplace: Bay City, Michigan
Meade Gougeon, the late Jan Gougeon’s older brother by seven years, says Optimist Pram designer Clark Mills saved his brother from a life of misery. Jan was not born well. “He was sickly,” Meade says, “cross-eyed, dyslexic, and so skinny we called him `rack of bones.’ The other kids teased him. He had low self-esteem. Then our local yacht club got 30 Opti kits. We’d been whacking together boats on the beach in Bay City for years, just like our ancestors, so we built an Opti in a week, paint and all. It was April, cold as hell, but Jan wanted to sail the boat. He sailed that boat 50 days in a row. He was eleven, and he never lost a race. Finally, he was not only good at something, he was gifted. He had it! It changed his life. He dominated the DN ice boat fleet from 1971 to 2000, winning eleven national championships and four Worlds.
“Jan knew he was going to build boats. I didn’t have a direction, but I was hot to take a chance and said okay, let’s do it.” Jan went to Canada and apprenticed for three years under builder and pattern maker Vic Carpenter, who first introduced Jan and Meade to epoxy.
Jane Pegel, who has sailed DNs beyond her 80th year, recalls the 1989 DN Worlds in Burlington, Vermont, when Jan broke his mast during a practice day. “He traveled in a small car,” Jane says. “He had no parts or repair kit with him. So we all gave him some `Gouge’ (West System), and he sat up all night in his room fixing the mast with tongue depressors. He said he worked stark naked so he wouldn’t have to wash his clothes. He got the mast fixed, and finished second in the Worlds that year.”
Phil Weld’s plan to do a solo Atlantic crossing (he would set a record in 1980) in the trimaran Rogue Wave that the Gougeons were building for him, spurred Jan to sail a trimaran in the Bermuda One-Two in 1980. Sailing single-handed Bermuda to Newport, Jan got flipped over by a northeaster in the Gulf Stream. He survived four days on the overturned boat before a freighter found him.
“The next four boats he built were rightable,” Meade says. “It was the first and last time any Gougeon had to be rescued. We always get back on our own steam.”
- Roger Vaughan