Family Team Goes Offshore

Published on March 23rd, 2017

by Kathy Large
Seventy-three year old Brad Willauer is one of the veterans of the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race. He has been participating since he was a teenager, usually working the foredeck on someone else’s boat.


Brad Willauer. © Willauer family

But now, after participating in MHOR at least ten times, he will be skipper of his own crew for the first time in this event in July. And he has a few strategies in mind that have proven successful in other offshore races.

Willauer purchased his first boat large enough to participate in the race in preparation for his retirement from the financial industry back in 2004. Since then, he has been cruising and racing for extended periods of time in the Caribbean each winter including participation in the Newport to Bermuda, and the Marion Bermuda Races.

Breezing Up, a J/46, is back in New England and he plans to be on the start line of the 363-nautical mile Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race 2017 with a family crew.

The Willauers take it as a matter of pride their ten member crew is ‘all in the family’.

“They are all good sailors and well-experienced,” notes Willauer. “Four of them are members of the Cruising Club of America (Brad Willauer is vice commodore of the CCA), and we also have a couple who are licensed coast guard captains.”

His crew includes his children Ben and Tori Willauer, a son-in-law, Tony Fitch, nephew Charlie Willauer and his three sons Cory Cramer, Charlie Willauer Jr, and Pete Willauer plus nephew Langley Willauer and his daughter Nora.

The Willauers claimed podium finishes in four Newport to Bermuda races including first in the Cruiser division in last year’s race. The dedication to making sailing a family experience has also won the Willauers the William Glenn Family Participation trophy in the Newport to Bermuda Race on two occasions.

Willauer believes the younger crew know the most about the boat and the technology on board and they are eager to do more sail changes, which is why he likes a mix of ages on board. “They know everything!”

His own confidence about the boat and its capabilities are strong. He lived aboard Breezing Up for extended periods of cruising in the Caribbean so he is confident to make the call about which sails should be up and what boat speed they can hit, depending on the conditions.

“We have a lot of fun…we have a great time together. Our family is close in general, anyway. They all work hard.”

Willauer has adopted a practice that no doubt makes everyone sit up and pay attention. All crew members steer the boat with the helm changing every half hour. “This practice makes for a happy ship.”

He says he remembers sitting on the rails of other people’s boats in 10 or 12 prior Bermuda Races, knowing him and other younger sailors on board could likely do a better job than the old guard, who often held onto the helm for long periods of time.

“Finding the groove is a special skill, keeping her in the groove requires intense concentration,” according to Willauer. “Some are better than others in handling the job but we don’t make note of that in any way.”

He admits some severe conditions cause him to alter this routine – such as driving with a chute on the upper limits of apparent wind or near gale conditions.

Another tried and true strategy – they all share the cooking, including the skipper. They have all learned how to cook for offshore sailing for one simple reason: “Good food is important for morale,” says Willauer.

The Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race is sponsored by the Boston Yacht Club and the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron. The 37th biennial race starts in Marblehead on Sunday, July 9th following a course across the Gulf of Maine and along the coast of Nova Scotia to Halifax.

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