Member Spotlight x 3—Wawasee’s Bill Allen, Brad Wagnon and Jeff Schmahl
By Debbie Probst
Bill Allen from Wawasee Yacht Club’s Fleet 154 is a gem, which is fitting because his boat is the color of a gem—emerald green. He is welcoming, encouraging, devoted to his wife, his club and the Lightning Class. Many have known Bill from the minute of setting foot on the grounds of Wawasee Yacht Club—an example of his welcoming nature—but recently we delved a bit deeper into his history with the Lightning Class:
First Time Sailing: “On a Thistle with some coworkers at Prairie Creek Reservoir in Muncie, Indiana.”
First boat you owned: “An O’Day Daysailer I sailed at the Muncie Sailing Club from about 1975 until 1982. I was Race Chairman for one of those years and met Brad and Daphne Wagnon there, but didn’t know them well.”
Lake Wawasee History: “My wife, Janie, and I had a cruising boat in addition to the O’Day, which we had at a marina/cruising club on the opposite end of Lake Wawasee from the Yacht Club.”
Lightning History: “I would occasionally stop in WYC to see if anyone needed crew. One time I was directed toward some new members who were rigging their Lightning—it was Brad and Daphne Wagnon! I began crewing for Brad in 1987 and we did quite a few regattas. At the NAs in Milwaukee in 1993 I was told about a boat that Bob Mathers was brokering, but I knew Bob always had green boats and I did NOT want a green boat!!”
So what happened? “A few weeks later I drove up to Michigan and bought 13910.“
Author’s note: It was a green boat and it still is green! Also of note: Bill’s boat “Golden Harvest” is proudly adorned with class membership stickers from every year since 1994—27 years and counting. That is Lightning Loyalty!
Favorite Regatta Memory: “At the North American’s in Henderson Harbor in 1995—with Brad Wagnon crewing for me this time—we made the green fleet and finished 12th.”
Favorite Regatta to Attend: “The Hoosier Regatta in the Fall. I may be biased because it’s our home regatta, but Jeff Schmahl does such a good job as regatta host and makes it fun for everyone. Other favorite spots: Devil’s Lake, North Cape, Sheboygan.”
Highlights of the Lightning Class: “It is very social and regattas are always fun whether you race or not.”
Message to other Lightning sailors: "Use junior sailors as crew. Encourage them to stick with sailing, create good memories and stay with the class. This isn’t always easy but it is certainly rewarding!”
As you see from our discussion, it is impossible to mention Wawasee Lightning Loyalty without including Brad Wagnon and Jeff Schmahl, who have been loyal members of Fleet 154 for decades. These 3 men and their families are part of the epoxy that holds the entire Wawasee Yacht Club together.
Lightning History: “I’ve been sailing Lightnings since 1974 when I bought 12419. Since then I’ve owned 13047, 14187, 14600, 15259, 15309 and my current boat 15246.
With each boat I assured Daphne this one would be the last one. I don't think she believes me anymore!”
Favorite Memories: “My first out of town regatta was a Thistle regatta at Cowan Lake in about 1957 or 58. I couldn't begin to tell you how many regattas I have attended since then and I've enjoyed all of them. It's always an adventure going to regattas and there are always some great moments and some not so great moments, every time.”
Favorite Regatta Venues: “Buffalo, Cowan, North Cape, Chicago, Carlyle, Pymatuning and Wawasee are all fun places to sail. It's hard to pick a favorite, but Cowan will always be near the top of my list because it was my first and Wawasee because it's my home club. My goal is to sail one final regatta at Cowan when I'm 85 or 90. Not so far away anymore!”
Highlights of the Lightning Class: “I rate the Lightning Class as one of the very best because of the level of competition and the commitment to bring younger sailors up through the ranks and the help that virtually all Class members are happy to offer without even asking. I have also experienced competitors sailing out of their way during a race to be sure we were ok after a capsize at Buffalo last year at the Canadian Open. I believe the Class is pretty well organized and managed. I also believe the Class is one of the strongest one design classes that will survive long past the foreseeable future. It's just a great boat that performs well in a wide variety of conditions. And a lot more comfortable than a Thistle!!”
Anyone who has attended the Hoosier Regatta over the past few decades knows Jeff Schmahl, who has been regatta chair for 24 years and counting. (This is just slightly longer than the 20 years Jeff has been the Junior Sailing Director at WYC!) At the Hoosier, Jeff orchestrates what looks like an effortless symphony of tasks that culminates into a fantastic experience for all in attendance. Anyone who has ever played a part in regatta administration knows that behind the scenes it takes a lot of work to chair a mediocre regatta. To make a regatta as great as the Hoosier, it takes one Jeff “Tall” Schmahl and a whole lot of volunteers.
Before I plug the Hoosier regatta, here’s a little background on Jeff:
Jeff’s dad—Doug Schmahl—grew up in Buffalo, NY and sailed out of the Buffalo Yacht Club until 1956 when he moved to Ohio and then Michigan before landing in Syracuse, Indiana in 1971 where he purchased #11181. On the waters of Lake Wawasee Jeff and his 4 siblings were raised, learned to sail at an early age and haven’t ceased. Many Schmahls can be found each Sunday during fleet racing and these ranks swell during the Hoosier Regatta. (You can identify Jeff’s brother David as the guy passing you to leeward downwind as he flies the kite, steering with the tiller between his legs, drinking a beverage and singing.) Jeff and David’s kids are frequently on the water as well and seem to have adopted the Schmahl tradition of making things happen. Jeff’s son Andrew is currently the Lightning Fleet Captain for Fleet 154 and with help from Jeff, Bill and Brad, is responsible for the recent new growth and high percentage of younger sailors on the water.
What’s a Hoosier? That’s debatable, but I can tell what the Hoosier Regatta is:
The Hoosier Regatta is held annually at the end of September or beginning of October, which is a beautiful time of year on Lake Wawasee, Indiana. You will find Lake Wawasee by triangulating Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis in Northern Indiana. Jeff and his team of volunteers—many w/the surnames of Schmahl, Allen and Wagnon—make this is a Must-Do regatta experience.
Some Highlights of this event:
When it’s warm: A cold keg of beer awaits as you haul out your boat after racing. Appetizers and cocktails are served outside on the lawn as you mingle with locals and travelers while enjoying the Fall colors and an open-air fire.
When it’s cold: A cup of Hot Buttered Rum is handed to you as your boat is hauled out. Jeff himself is in the water helping with launching and haul-out so nobody else needs to get wet. Did I say Hot Buttered Rum? Seriously—this is reason enough to attend! Appetizers and cocktails are served inside the clubhouse, which will have an expanded 3-season porch for 2021. Enjoy the warmth of a fire in the fireplace as you start smelling the aroma of dinner and swap race stories with new and old friends.
Food: The seemingly constant stream of wonderful food produced in the kitchen really outshines any action on the race course. Brunch on Saturday. Appetizers and dinner Saturday. Breakfast on Sunday and Daphne’s Famous 3-way chili during awards on Sunday.
The “Program”: Impossible to describe with words alone. Door Prizes galore. Jeff Schmahl as Master of Ceremonies. After “The Program “some will go Glow Bowling, some will go to the infamous Frog Tavern and some will retreat to their housing, needing no more entertainment (nor more jello shots).
Racing: The racing can be great. The racing can be frustrating. The racing is always fun and competitive. Faude, Wake, Sipel, McGinity, Morin, Dieball, Linden, McCree, Klaban—these are some of the names you’ll see returning again and again. Do they come for the racing? The Program? The Hot Buttered Rum? Put this on your calendar for 2021 and find out for yourself!