Eight Bells: Tim Woodhouse

Published on September 3rd, 2015

John T. Woodhouse, known universally as Woody to everyone who got within two boat lengths of him, had crossed The Bar. An iconic figure in the sailing world and a leader in, particularly, the sail making industry for 35 or so years, Woody was a character of the first order.

As a measure of the man, it took Leukemia three tries over about 12 years to get him. If one is to add the three pitched battle dog fights with cancer that his wife of perhaps 40 years, Kim, had, the Woodies have gone 6 and 0 with cancer over the past 20 some years. It is yet another record, albeit not one anyone wants, notched in the hiking stick of a man with a lot of records.

I first met Woody in 1986 as I think the first hire after he purchased Hood Sailmakers. I was an ok sailor but did know not a whole lot about the sail making game. Over the 30 some years I have known Woody that was only one of the myriad of things I have learned.

Business management, race boat prep, sail shaping and engineering, how sailcloth is woven, people, work, life, the list goes on. In an industry notoriously competitive and fluid, one of my favorite Woody quotes was and remains “Making sails is easy, making money making sails is the hard part”. He was exceptional at both.

A native of Gross Point, MI, he fled high school and within two years had purchased the sail making company he had been working with for several years making fast DN ice boat sails. The list of races & regattas he won is long and varied. The World’s in the DN class, in communist Europe in the ‘70’s, SORC’s, Block IS RW, Canada’s Cup, about 3 pounds worth of all flavors of the Chicago Mac Races, One-Ton Cup regattas, Etchells, you name it, he was in the spray not far from, if not in front.

I only really came to be, I think it is fair to say, one of his core group of shipmates, in the late 1980’s. One of his mates from Gross Point had got a hold of a 40 footer and wanted Woody to campaign it for him in the One Ton Cup to be held in San Francisco in the near future. We went out to St. Francis, organizing a scratch crew on the way, using pay phone, to find the boat on the hard with the captain working up a serious sweat. Unperturbed we all jumped into the firefight with tools in hand. I have vivid memories of bolting winches onto the cabin top at zero dark 30 with Woody and Commodore Tompkins, a local notable and another veteran shipmate of Woodies.

Typical of the man was his response to the statement by the measurer that boat did not meet the required headroom requirement. Apparently the boat did not meet the accommodation rules for One Tonners. No worries mate: Some deft work with a tape measure and sawz-all and we passed inspection. Since we could not break anything the first time we sailed the boat on a balmy Sixty Two degree August afternoon with the sea breeze of around thirty knots and with small collarless dogs whizzing buy our ears we lined up for the first race the next day.

With about 4 hours of tiller time, a scratch crew, a, shall we say slightly modified, several year old boat and the First Fifteen of the Kiwi offshore sailing Mafia sprinkled through the infield about a foot thick we fired of the line.

He got us off to a text book start in the first race going full speed, on the line at the gun, clear air, lots of runway to leeward at the favored end: It was a great start by any standards. We were seriously in the Penthouse. I was trimming main and he would be asking me “how we doing?” Another tenth would be good, I would respond. Repeat: for about 1.25 knots worth of tenths. By the time roughly three quarters of the fleet thundered by to weather or to leeward, it mattered not, going what seemed like three knots faster, it was clear this was going to be a painful week in the Outhouse.

The body of work comprising Woody Stories is vast and deep. He touched the lives of many people over the years. I have had the pleasure and frustration of working for him, with him, sailing, drinking, arguing with him, laughing and crying with him. The latter when one of his beloved dogs got away from him one night on Martha’s Vineyard and died. He found this out after searching all night for her and finding her body at day break.

Go into a sailing bar anywhere and mention the name “Woody “ and the one hundred inhabitants will all have an opinion and a story. Common to all 100 stories will be humor, sailing, life lessons; pretty much anything across the spectrum of the Human Condition. What ever he runs into on the other side of Tennyson’s “bar”, one thing is for sure, it will not be boring. Woody, it was a great run mate. See ya.
– Joe Cooper

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