Harken Derm

Product of My Environment

Published on July 18th, 2019

Now 59 years, American Jonathan McKee is a two-time Olympic medalist and many-time world Champion. But everyone starts somewhere, and for Jonathan it was in Seattle, Washington. Here is his story:


At 13, my world revolved around my bus pass, bike and life jacket. I had some great sailing options, but I lived 10 miles away. After school and on weekends, often I would take the bus to the yacht club for Laser sailing on Lake Washington.

I earned my life jacket as payment for a summer job teaching younger kids how to sail. My mom bought me my diving wetsuit. I made my own weight jacket out of old sweatshirts—they were still legal back then, remember— and I found old bits of discarded rope on the dock and used them as my control lines. Going sailing was logistically challenging, but in my mind the rewards were always worth time spent on the bus and the trying sail through the narrow Montlake Cut.

At the time, the Seattle Laser Fleet was on top of the world. Stars like Chris Maas, Dennis Clark, Craig Thomas and Carl Buchan would battle it out in the often fluky and weed-infested waters of Union Bay, honing their skills in preparation for the coming world championship and U.S. Youth Championships. As an aspiring racer, these guys—there were a few women too—were role models.

I watched how they launched their boats, how they tweaked their control lines, how they maintained their positions on the starting line, how they used their weight to help them turn around the marks.

I also observed that they shared with each other what they were learning.

This was the very beginning of the “Laser Revolution,” and dinghy sailing techniques were evolving quickly. I did not know it at the time, but the center of the movement was right there in front of me.

I was just a kid who liked to sail, but there was a group of slightly older sailors who were the real deal. – Full story

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