Harken Derm

Passionate about Women’s Match Racing

Published on September 23rd, 2016

With the passing of Terry Kohler on September 20, internationally-acclaimed match racing umpire Henry Menin shares a bit of history that had been kept quiet…until now.

We all lost a great friend in Terry Kohler, a person who had more influence on worldwide sailing, and the people in the sport, than anyone else I can think of. And most people involved in the sport were unaware of that influence, which is how he wanted it.

Terry was a passionate man; passionate about his wife, Mary; passionate about the value of marriage and families; passionate about his religion and his politics; passionate about conservation of this planet, and of course, passionate about sailing.

Terry was particularly passionate about match racing and most particularly, women’s match racing which he quietly supported, financially and otherwise, for lo these many years.

For all of his passions, he was the most philanthropic and generous man I knew.

It is ironic, and fitting, that on the day of his passing, the opening ceremonies of the Women’s World Match Racing Championship was being held in his beloved yacht club in his home town of Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

I would like to share a little anecdote that may reveal a lot about Terry’s passion for the sport and specifically for women’s match racing.

With a great deal of support from Terry, we were able to convince the ISAF Council to include women’s match racing in the 2012 Olympics. Shortly after that decision was made, I was in Edgewater, Florida with Terry, at his boat manufacturing facility there, discussing the attributes of a good match racing umpire boat that he wanted to build.

We were in an office in the building, just the two of us, and he asked me (I was then Chairman of the ISAF Match Racing Committee) how the project for women’s match racing in the Olympics was progressing. I told him we were trying to select a 3 person boat to be used and that frankly, the options were limited and none of them were ideal.

He thought for a moment and then said with conviction that we should design a new boat … powerful, lively, athletic and with a retracting keel that would allow it to easily be stacked in a container for shipping. I told him I thought that would be pretty expensive and I wasn’t sure we could raise that kind of money. I could see his wheels turning.

He did some mental calculations, thinking out loud, on the cost of design, number of boats needed, cost of manufacture, cost of transportation to the Olympic site and then to a pre-Olympic regatta in Australia and then back again to the UK, maintenance, refurbishment, new sails, spares, etc. I don’t think he took 5 minutes to do all of this in his head.

He looked at me and finally said, “You’ll need about 1 million dollars.” I gulped and responded, “Well with your contacts in the industry, perhaps we could raise that, but I have my doubts.” I could see him thinking again and before he could speak, I said, “Terry, we don’t want your money. You are already supporting the Women’s International Match Racing Association. We just need your contacts and your influence.”

He glared at me. I could see the red rising in his neck. This was the first time since I had met him back in 1999 that I had witnessed any kind of belligerence in his temperament. He paused for a moment, and then said to me in very measured and deliberate words, “Don’t tell me how to spend my money.” Another pause, and then he added, “I will pledge to get you 1 million dollars to complete this project. It’s done. End of conversation.”

And he did. He guided the whole project personally, not only getting the money, but also providing the personnel, the administration, his complete encouragement, and the overall management, right through the end of the Olympics.

Because of Terry, Women’s Match Racing was the shining star of Sailing at the London 2012 Olympics and because of Terry, the global Women’s International Match Racing Series continues to this day.

We will all miss him greatly, even those who never knew him.

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