Like father, like son
On this Superior racing crew, two Bills are better than one 

By Cyndi Perkins

A family member is someone who should never let you down - unless, of course, you're in the boson's chair at the top of the mast. In that case, you better let 'em down easy.

Just ask Bill Rosemurgy III and Bill Rosemurgy IV, a father-son sailing team from Houghton, Michigan. They're crewing this summer on the 40-foot Santa Cruz Red Hawk. The Chassell vessel, captained by owner Ralph Hodek, is making her debut on the Lake Superior racing circuit. Onlookers at Houghton County Marina on the Keweenaw Waterway, home berth for the Red Hawk, have been treated to mast-climbing feats of skill several times this season, as captain and crew work to get the venerable California-made racing craft in racing trim. 
Avoiding "Bill" confusion onboard was settled simply. "They just call us Three and Four," explains the elder Rosemurgy. Three's position is in the cockpit with the Captain, assisting in tactics, trimming and helmwork. Bill Four runs the foredeck, in bow position. 

The 15-year-old, a sophomore at Houghton High School, revels in the action. On the very breezy Fourth of July during Bayfield 2001 Race Week, he was right up front taking the brunt of the 30-35 knot sustained winds. Dad was a little nervous, but everything went well. "It was one of the most exciting times we've had," he says. "Best week of the whole summer ... so far," says young Bill. Plans called for Red Hawk to race in the Trans Superior, Duluth Triangle, Keweenaw Bay Series and the annual race from Houghton to Copper Harbor staged each August, among other competitions, with a six-to-eight member crew. Incidentally, neither father nor son suffers from seasickness. "Neither of us gets queasy, even going down below when it's bumpy. I can't say we never will, but we never have," says Bill Three. 

Young Bill shinnies up the mast of a neighboring boat at the marina with dad assisting on deck. Now that he's learned the ropes - and the boson's chair - the teenager's services are coming in handy. In this instance, he removed an old TV antenna that was a favorite perch for predatory owls and checked the damage their talons wreaked on the spreaders. Not a bad way to make a little spending money!

When they're not aboard Red Hawk, you might see the two Bills running their own 25-foot Kirby "Wombat" in the weekly Portage Lake races, or zipping around Lake Superior near Big Traverse Bay, where Bill Three's parents have a cottage. Wombat features an all-teen crew. Father and son say it's been a lot of fun getting young people interested in sailing. "Kids you would never expect to like it go out and have a great time," says Bill Three. Greg Oestreich, of Weber's Sporting Goods in Houghton, has also generously allowed young Bill to take fellow teens out for an introduction to sailing in smaller demo boats. 

The 15-year-old, who says he's been sailing "as long as I can remember," is enjoying every minute of his first year racing on a big boat. Red Hawk's youngest crew member takes a bit of teasing about his dreadlock hairstyle - as his dad jokingly notes, "He's got built-in telltales."

Bill Four also has a built-in affinity for racing sailboats. Three or four years back, dad decided son was ready to sail on his own. They were out on Big Traverse Bay in a little 14-footer. Young Bill wasn't so sure about soloing. Dad solved that problem. "He told me we were going into shore," says son. When they got in swimming range, "I just flipped over the side and said 'go on your own," remembers dad. "He just sailed back and forth across the bay ... my dad (Bill Two) and I were on shore, smiling, watching him. Some of my proudest moments have been watching him sail." 

As all sailors know, personal tension during a race can be just as intense as the physical demands. Asked if they ever grate on each other's nerves, Bill Three says, "No, he doesn't get on mine, but I can't speak for him... About the worst thing I've ever said to him is 'a 98-year-old lady could have put that sail up faster,' or reminded him that we're racing, not cruising." Bill Four just smiles. Not much seems to rattle him, even duties as designated mast monkey. He's light and he likes the view, although the first time he clambered up Red Hawk's mast at the boatyard, he did ask to dangle just a minute halfway up to get used to the sensation. Judging by speed and agility, he's already an old hand at reaching the heights. And he's taken his shift at the winch when dad's aloft.

Both Bills agree that sailing has been a wonderful way to keep a strong and positive father-son relationship - with an occasionally competitive edge. The two have regularly raced against each other in 14-foot sailboats the last couple of years as entrants in the Wednesday night races on Portage Lake. "He still hasn't beaten me yet," says the elder Bill, who's been sailing since age 14. "We were first and second the whole season."

"It's an interest we share year long," says Bill Three. As many snowbound northern sailors are wont to do, they track international races and sailing news over the long, cold winter.

The Rosemurgy clan also includes 9-year-old Madeline and Libby, 12. Could an all-family crew be on the horizon? "They're not quite as hooked, but it's never too late," says dad.

Freelance writer and editor Cyndi Perkins of Houghton summers with husband Scott aboard their 32-foot DownEast sailing vessel Chip Ahoy, cruising Lake Superior in search of interesting people and places. Home port is Houghton County Marina on the Keweenaw Peninsula waterway.