Eight Bells: Bill Wakeman

Published on January 30th, 2020

William ‘Bill’ Wakeman, 78, passed away January 29, 2020 in Newport Beach, CA.

We often throw around words casually. In addition to being a sailing coach, Bill was a longtime high school English teacher. It would be important that Bill’s contributions to high school sailing were properly described as epic.

His initial involvement in high school sailing started in the 1960s (partly at the request of Dave Ullman); he ran high school regattas between longtime sailing rivals at Newport Harbor (NHHS) and Corona Del Mar (CDM) High Schools.

Bill would remain involved with both of these high school sailing programs for over 50 years. During Bill’s lengthy tenure, both the NHHS and CDM sailing teams would become national powerhouses in high school sailing, winning numerous national championships in singlehanded, double handed, keelboat and team racing disciplines.

“What can you say about Uncle Bill?” notes Susan Wattson Kenney. “Always quick to hug, praise and offer his impish smile. His love for youth sailing is his legacy. Oh, my – will we miss this humble great man! Legend!”

Bill’s former athlete/sailors represent a regional “Who’s who” of national, world and Olympic champions. If you’ve ever sailed against anyone who grew up in the Newport/Balboa region, it is likely they sailed under “Uncle Bill” at some point.

“I will always have fond memories with Bill at NHHS sailing practice, where we showed up in whatever boat we owned… sabot, windsurfer, laser, and even the occasional Boston Whaler,” recalls Susie Minton‎. “When there was no wind, we went bodysurfing instead. While the approach was unconventional, it worked. We dominated high school nationals most years, even though we never saw a 420 in Newport.

Bill’s make-it-happen approach also taught us resourcefulness… no parents taking you to practice or rigging boats. We rode our bikes, often with gear in tow. We got in our boats by ourselves and met in the turning basin for races. While high school sailing has certainly changed, I am not sure the new complex and costly methods produce better sailors.”

The Pacific Coast Interscholastic Championship Association’s fleet championship trophy is named for Wakeman in recognition of his many years of service and devotion to high school sailing.

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