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Rocketing on the water: sailing yarns from Key West

There’s just something about improbability and coincidence that leads to the best stories.

More about that later.

The Holy Toledo! crew, from left, Clif Vaughan, Tom Andrews, Al Newell, Steve Morrow, George Sipel, Daniel Miller and Luke Gossman leave the docks of the Ft. Lauderdale Yacht Club for the start of the Ft. Lauderdale to Key West Race Jan. 14.

The Holy Toledo! crew, from left, Clif Vaughan, Tom Andrews, Al Newell, Steve Morrow, George Sipel, Daniel Miller and Luke Gossman leave the docks of the Ft. Lauderdale Yacht Club for the start of the Ft. Lauderdale to Key West Race Jan. 14.

Four years ago, I was introduced to the world of competitive sailboat racing through some good friends at the Center for Creative Instruction (CCI) on Health Science Campus, and it immediately became a labor of love. So, when I’m not making pictures as UT’s photographer, I’d rather be out sailing. Especially in the middle of winter.

In January, I had the incredible opportunity to indulge and join an all-star crew, racing a yacht named The Holy Toledo! in the Ft. Lauderdale to Key West Race. The 40th iteration of the offshore ocean race attracted participants from such far-reaching places as Texas and Rhode Island and even included a brand new 88-foot state-of-the-art carbon fiber super yacht among the competitors. Quite a daunting prospect for a relative beginner like myself, but the 70-degree temperatures of Florida in winter did sound pretty good, so I told the rest of the crew to count me in. Hot on the heels of the Rockets’ victory in the GoDaddy Bowl, we hit the road with the sailboat in tow.

So far I’ve written about the race, but not the crew. I have to confess how surprised I was to find out how much sailing talent we have here on Lake Erie and at the University. Two of the boat’s owners, Tom Andrews, a UT alumnus and one of the founders of CCI, and Clif Vaughan, UT alumnus and husband of Bobbi Vaughan, the current CCI director, have decades of sailing experience and have won more races than they can count. (I’m guessing that means the real number is more than 10 apiece.) We also had the privilege of counting UT engineering student Luke Gossman as one of the crew. Luke is a member of the UT Sailing Club that won accolades at the Intercollegiate Offshore Regatta, earning the right to compete in the 47th EDHEC Sailing Cup in La Rochelle, France, this April. Clearly, I was in good company and by far the least experienced sailor onboard. No pressure.

Misty Matter and Al Newell posed with Key West Police Officer Bob Bulnes on the shoulder of Florida State Road A1A in Key West Jan. 17.

Misty Matter and Al Newell posed with Key West Police Officer Bob Bulnes on the shoulder of Florida State Road A1A in Key West Jan. 17.

I’ll risk being anticlimactic in saying that the race went very well for us and hope it’s not overly hokey to report that we had “fair winds and following seas.” It was a great sail and The Holy Toledo! finished first in her class, ahead of seven other boats, with a time of 23:51:39.

No trip is complete without some interesting stories, so this is where the aforementioned coincidence comes in. The night after docking in Key West, I was doing some “sight seeing” at an establishment of local color, as sailors do, and found some crew from another boat that belongs to the same yacht club as ours. As we were exchanging congratulations, I mentioned my position at UT and the boat owner’s son got really excited, saying that his father just had to meet me. It turns out that they were Bill Bollin and his son, John, and were huge UT supporters. Even more unlikely, Bill was on the same charter flight as I was, traveling to and from the GoDaddy Bowl, not 11 days earlier! We spent more time talking about the football game than the race.

I really thought the odds against “running into” a fellow Toledo alum like that were pretty long. As it turns out, stranger things can happen, and I apparently knew nothing about odds. (In my defense, I was an art major, not mathematics.)

So, the time had come to pack everything, hitch the boat up to the truck, and head back to Toledo. As you might imagine, Key West can be cramped and full of tight corners, which isn’t an ideal place to be pulling a 33-foot boat, so we were being extra careful navigating around some closed streets. As we hit the A1A, right next to the ocean on the south side of the island, we pulled over for a routine check of the trailer lights. That’s when the first Key West patrol car pulled up. It was eventually joined by four more. As we were told by the first officer, we were being pulled over for hit and run — on another police car. Oops.

Unknowingly, we scratched the front bumper of a patrol car with the trailer’s license plate while turning one of the many corners. After the officer in question arrived, we went to look at the damage and talk to him about what had happened.

This was when I learned that the universe truly does have a warped sense of humor. As luck would have it, we quite literally ran into another UT alum.

Key West Officer Bob Bulnes told us how surprised and amused he was when he saw the name of the boat. (Not amused enough to help us evade a ticket for failure to maintain lane, though.) Just being an alum wasn’t enough; he was actually a tight end for The University of Toledo’s football team from 1979 to 1981, and he finished his athletic career with a Rocket victory in the California Bowl. Despite living in the city that claims the southernmost point in the country, Bulnes said he makes a special trip back up to Ohio every year for the Bowling Green game, and he still keeps in contact with former Head Coach Chuck Stobart.

Miller is photographer 2 at the University.

One Response to “Rocketing on the water: sailing yarns from Key West”

  1. Michele Martinez Says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Dan! I love that proud UT alums can be found in all corners of our world!