Class of 2020: Bill Mattison

Published on August 26th, 2020

The U.S. National Sailing Hall of Fame selected nine people in 2020 to join the 81 previously-recognized individuals who have been enshrined since the first class in 2011.

Among the Class of 2020 to be inducted on September 12 is Bill Mattison (1928-), national and world champion sailor and iceboater, profiled in this tribute by 2011 inductee Gary Jobson:

When superstar sailor Buddy Melges needed help for his first America’s Cup challenge in 1986, he asked his long-time friend, sailing rival, and Korean War veteran Bill Mattison for some help. The heavy 12 Meter Class was a handful for Buddy and his young crew, and tuning the boat was a big challenge especially for Western Australia’s famous afternoon sea breeze known as the Fremantle Doctor. Mattison arrived at the compound and went to work.

He had a lifetime of experience making boats like scows and ice boats sail faster and faster, and his credo was that incremental adjustments made big differences. Buddy’s ‘Heart of America’ was off the pace of his rivals early in the challenger trials, but week after week his boat got faster as a direct result of Mattison’s hands-on work. When you saw him walking around the team’s compound, he seemed to have a tool in every pocket.

Mattison is a product of the Inland Lake region where Scows skate over the water at 25 knots and when the lakes freeze the sailors sharpen their blades and attain speeds of 100 mph on a variety of ice boats. Mattison was a perpetual champion in both scows and ice boats and he quickly adapted his impressive skills to the world of the America’s Cup. Buddy Melges said, “Whatever needed to be repaired, designed or improved, Bill would quickly come with the solution and get it done.”

Consider this partial list of his victories: 14-time International Skeeter Class Champion, three-time Gar Wood Invitational Champion, 12-time Triple Crown Trophy winner, and winner of over 80 local regattas in A, E, and C Scows. Most of his sailing was out of the Mendota Yacht Club in Madison, Wisconsin.

His secret to success was being a great sailor and discovering innovations to improve performance. Mattison was the first to use a running backstay system and swept back spreaders in the A Scow when he helped revive the class in 1981 along with fellow E Scow sailor Lon Schoor.

Several examples of his innovative work include being the first to use composite construction and the first to incorporate maximum depth foil spar sections to smooth airflow. He was able to create an endplate effect and increase performance.

Said National Sailing Hall of Fame Inductee Peter Harken, Mattison had “endless generosity with his time, his expertise and his labor to help others get out on the ice or water. If a boat had a breakdown you could bet Bill would be there to help.”

While Buddy Melges’s America’s Cup campaign came up short in 1987, he was back with America³ in 1992 and signed Mattison up again. This time the team won and Buddy was quick to thank his shore crew wizard.

Buddy also called on Mattison to help him win ice boat regattas. One of his fastest creations was ‘Honeybucket XI’ to which Dave Medaris wrote in 1988, “Bill Mattison has wanted to go fast since he was four or five and hanging on to his first iceboat ride. He wanted to go faster as a reckless youth. He wanted to go faster in 1954 with ‘Honeybucket I’ and even after winning this 11th title in 1986 he still seeks the edge.”

Due to COVID-19, the 10th anniversary of the U.S. National Sailing Hall of Fame’s induction process will recognize the Class of 2020 in a virtual celebration on September 12 at 6:00pm EDT. To register for the online event, click here.

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