Eight Bells: Bill Mattison

Published on April 27th, 2022

Bill Mattison

Bill Mattison, a legend in hard and soft water sailing, died April 25, 2022 in Madison, WI. He was 93 years of age.

When superstar sailor Buddy Melges needed help with his America’s Cup challenge in 1986, he asked his long-time friend, sailing rival and Korean War veteran, Bill Mattison for some help.

Bill had a lifetime of experience making boats like scows and ice boats sail faster and faster, and Melges’ Heart of America” 12 Metre was off the pace, but week after week his boat got faster as a direct result of Bill’s hands-on work.

He was 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. As a perpetual champion in both scows and ice boats, he quickly adapted his impressive skills to the world of the America’s Cup.

“Whatever needed to be repaired, designed, or improved, Bill would quickly come with the solution and get it done,” said Melges.

Bill’s win list included being 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.

Peter Harken also noted Bill’s endless generosity. “H was always using his expertise and 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.”

Bill was recognized in the 2020 Induction Class of the National Sailing Hall of Fame, but his craftsmanship was not limited to sailing. He fell in love with the circus as a kid in the 1930s, and began building models of circus wagons.

Then, when he was 12 or 13, he ran away from home to join the circus. Though a career in the circus wasn’t for him, his model making earned him a spot in 2015 in the Circus Model Builders Association’s Hall of Fame.

A Celebration of Life is planned for May 7, 2022 at Gunderson Funeral Home, 5203 Monona Drive, Monona, WI.

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