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|Baylis Family: Inheriting the Wind|
Here's an easy experiment: Get
onto the Internet, peruse the top events in virtually any area
of competitive sailing, and see how long it takes for the name
'Baylis' to pop up. If it's more than about five minutes, you're
doing something wrong.
In the last two decades, siblings Derek, Will and Liz Baylis have made indelible marks in fleets ranging from Moore 24s, Solings, Antrim 27s and Farr 40s, to I-14s, Windsurfers and Aussie 18s. They have participated in events as diverse as the America's Cup, Olympic Games and maxi-cat record runs. Awards range from an Olympic Silver medal to Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year.
Along with the surname, all three share the traits of quiet confidence, impeccable preparation, skill at every job, and a 'sixth sense' feeling for the boat, the wind and the waves. They are also all refreshingly down to earth, unpretentious, and a bit uncomfortable in the spotlight. What's even more surprising is that they've accomplished what they have almost totally independently of one another.
How they all came to end up at the top of the game - Trevor and Will as sought-after crew; Liz as a driver - is something of a mystery even to them. The easy answer, as one family friend put it, is that, "They are their father's children." From the early '60s through the late '70s, father Derek Baylis was one of the most active and successful racers sailing in Northern California. The Baylis kids were immersed in that world right from the start. Their 'uncles' were guys like Commodore Tompkins, Ron Holland and Myron Spaulding (their actual godfather was Alan Payne, designer of the Australian America's Cup 12 Meters Dame Pattie and Gretel II) and their playground was the waters off the family home in Belvedere Lagoon.
Then again, lots of fathers teach
their kids to sail. What was it about Trevor, Will and Liz's
upbringing that lit the competitive fires that continue to burn
brightly? We chatted with each last month to try to find out.
But first, a bit of background.
Derek Baylis was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1923 to a university professor father and stay-at-home mother. Growing up on the water in sail-crazed Sydney, he gravitated to sailing at an early age. As a young man, he worked various jobs as a fisherman and machinery operator in the gold mines, and even tried university for awhile. But his innate mechanical gifts finally won out, landing him a job as a machinist in his mid-20s. When he wasn't working, the strapping lad was an integral part of the local racing scene, particularly in the high-tech Australian 16 and 18 circuits.
He also started doing long distance races and deliveries. 1956 found him ashore in Honolulu after the boat he had delivered was put up for sale. If you believe in fate, that's the hand that guided him to Jack Hedden's 63-ft ketch Celebes, which had stopped in Hawaii on her way back to the mainland from the Tahiti Race.
He hit it off immediately with the crew and skipper, a young fellow named Commodore Tompkins. Tompkins liked what he saw in the quiet but competent Aussie and signed him on as part of the crew.
Upon arrival in San Francisco in the fall of '56, Derek got a job working on the 63-ft Sparkman and Stephens cutter Orient, which belonged to Tim Moseley (grandfather of Jonny). One of Orient's main competitors in those days was the 72-ft S&S yawl Baruna, owned by Jim Michael.
The fruit of this association gave the sailing world the modern winch. At mid-century, winches were inefficient and dangerous, prone to injure crews and/or fail on long ocean races. Moseley, a design and engineering entrepreneur, had had the world's first two-speed winches designed and built from scratch in the early '50s, and installed them on Orient. Michael and others wanted in on the action, so Moseley and Michael pooled their resources - and combined their boat names - to start the Barient Company. Derek Baylis was a natural selection to run the production shop.
He did more than that. His exact role and contributions depend on who you ask. (Due to health issues, Derek was unable to contribute to this article.) Suffice it to say he was 'intimately involved' in the final design and production of what some sailors still consider the world's best winches. They sold like donuts at a police convention.
When he first arrived in San Francisco, Derek was living in an apartment on Bridgeway in downtown Sausalito with Commodore, Larry Walters and Terry Walsh. The windows looked out over the harbor, right at Wander Bird, the 85-ft pilot schooner on which Commodore had been raised, and which was still owned by his father. One day, while working on Wander Bird, Derek met Stacy Salz, a friend of Commodore's mother. Each liked what they saw and before long, Derek and Stacy were an 'item'. They were married just after Christmas, 1958, becoming an instant family with the addition of Tim Salz, Stacy's teenage son by her first marriage.
They were not long in starting their own brood. Number one son Trevor was born in 1959. Will and Liz arrived 15 months apart in 1962 and 1963.
Like their father, the younger kids were immersed in sailing, both at home, where all their parents' friends - the cream of Bay sailing at the time - talked sailing, and later in the San Francisco YC junior program, which in those days was an all-day, every-day affair that lasted almost the whole summer. Their earliest memories are of Mini Molly, a Jester dinghy that Derek modified with a smaller mast and kid-size sail. "I have vivid memories of my father wedging himself into this tiny boat and showing us how things worked," says Will. Liz recalls that as soon as she and her brothers could negotiate a 100-yard swim to a dock across the Belvedere Lagoon, they were ready to 'solo' in Mini Molly.
While the kids were learning the basics on the Lagoon, Derek continued racing on various boats, including the '57 TransPac on Orient, and local Bay and ocean races on an early Frers 30 named Coral. On the latter, he arranged a maintenance charter with the owner, an architect named Joe Esherick - Derek would take care of the boat in exchange for sailing her. Baylis and his crew - which usually included Remo Patri, whom he'd met on Celebes, and sometimes stepson Tim Salz - wrung the most from her, winning, among other things, a brutal 100-mile Buckner Race to Bodega Head and back.
The boat that cemented Derek's local legend - and the family summer vacations for a decade - was Molly B. (Both craft were named after Derek's mother.) Molly B was the third boat in an 'almost' class of 33-ft Sparkman & Stephens speedsters that began with George Kiskaddon's Spirit in 1960. With a long waterline and narrow beam, Spirit cleaned up race courses both around the buoys and in the ocean, often with Derek among the crew. Hank Easom had built Esprit, the second hull of this proposed 'San Francisco' class, in his Sausalito shop. Derek ordered hull #3, which was to become Molly B. He took delivery of the 'bare' edge-nailed and glued hull in 1964 and took her home to San Mateo to finish her off.
He had moved to San Mateo to work at Barient. When that association ended (due to a new owner and internal politicking), Baylis moved his growing family - and boat - back to Marin, settling in a house near the water in Belvedere. He worked for a fiberglass fabricator in San Rafael for a while, then tried his hand at running his own business: Production Engineering made things like plastic air dams for racing cars and traffic dividers. A side business was developing new sailing gear. "He'd come up with a new turning block for Molly B, build a prototype - and sell it to Nicro," recalls Trevor.
As soon as he got off work, Derek would head home for an early dinner and a few hours of work on Molly B.
"They used to test a fire station whistle at 4:30 in the afternoon, and when that whistle went off, we knew Dad was going to be home soon," recalls Liz. Once dinner was over, Derek headed out to work on the boat "until he was afraid the noise would get to the neighbors," says Stacy. This was the pattern for most of the eight years it took to complete Molly B. Although the kids were then too young to offer much help, "I'm sure that Derek's dedication had a big influence on them," says Mother Baylis.
Molly B was launched in March, 1971. Little Liz did the honors of breaking the champagne over the sloop's bow - a ceremony she has repeated only once since: in May, 2003, when she launched the 65-ft sailing research vessel named in honor of her father by creators Tom Wylie and Dave Wahle.
Molly B became the boat to beat in buoy racing in the '70s, where Trevor and Will would sometimes crew for Derek, along with Remo and an ever-changing cast of characters that included, at various times, Dave Wahle, Tom Wylie, Gary Mull and Ron Holland - way before any of them gained fame in the design or boatbuilding fields. "That boat was a great boat and Derek was the tops," says Patri. "In his day, he was one of the top 10 sailors in the world."
In the late '70s, through his association with Joe Esherick, Coral's owner, Derek eventually contracted to do engineering work on the new Monterey Bay Aquarium. He relocated to Carmel, and found a slip for Molly B in Santa Cruz.
His main responsibility at the Aquarium was to turn the designers' ideas into reality. This included, among other projects, the creation of the Aquarium's tide generator and setting up many of the displays. The latter included the fabrication of the dolphins, orcas and full-size gray whale that hang from the ceilings. The larger of these were built just like boats: C-flex (a kind of fiberglass 'planking') over wood frames. Trevor and Will helped a lot with the process, spending long hours sanding the bondoed shapes. "It takes a lot of longboarding to fair a killer whale," notes Will.
Derek sold Molly B in '83 or '84. She still sails out of Santa Cruz. When his commitment to the Monterey Bay Aquarium was finished, he moved back to the Bay, settling this time in Point Richmond. He turns 80 on September 4, and has not been able to sail for a long time.
But his legacy lives on . . . .
The oldest and, at 6'3", biggest of the Baylis clan, Trevor has done more sailing than most mortals could manage in a couple of lifetimes. For example, he did the first of an eventual six trans-Pacific races in 1977 at the age of 18 aboard the C&C 38 Quadri. (Dad was aboard as navigator.) He also did some early Aussie 18 sailing on a beater boat with Will and Zan Drejes, trading off helming duties with his brother - "In Australia, I'd skipper. In the U.S., Will would skipper."
But the boat that was perhaps the most significant in the early stages of his sailing was another beater, a cast-off 505 that he and Will promptly named El Bondo for all the filler in its grossly overweight hull. In the summer of '77, Trevor and Will sailed the little boat three, four or five days a week. Trevor was 18 and the bigger of the two, so he was on the trapeze. Little brother Will, 15, usually drove. For Trevor, it was the start of an arrangement he calls 'skippering from the wire' - a not uncommon arrangement in high-level dinghy racing where the bigger guy on the trapeze is the skipper, and the driver is 'crew.'
But in those days, "We never raced, we just sailed," he says. At first the boys stayed around the Cove, but soon they were blasting out to Yellow Bluff or the main Bay, figuring out sail and mast controls as they went. And capsizing a lot. "I think we learned more about heavy air sailing that summer than any other," Trevor recalls. "I also defined a constant theme in my sailing, which is boatspeed."
Fast forward to 1982. By now a competent skiff sailor, Trevor was in Australia racing Aussie 18s with Jeff Madrigali. They put in a mostly forgettable performance at the Worlds that year, but the trip was memorable nonetheless: Trevor met a pretty young Canadian sailor named Tina Leistner, who doubly impressed her tall Yankee suitor by winning the Laser II Nationals in Sydney Harbor. In the next couple of years, the two overcame many geographical obstacles in their growing relationship - often arranging stopover flights on their separate ways to various regattas. They were finally married in 1984 and settled in Santa Cruz.
Soon after came the 'dry' period in Trevor's sailing career, at least as far as 'sit down' boats were concerned. At what many might term the beginning of a brilliant sailing career, when he was getting rides in events like the MORA San Francisco to San Diego Race and the SORC, Trevor walked away from mainstream sailing. For the next 12 years, he got on big boats exactly three times.
"I was burned out," he recalls. "Here I was, racing with what I thought were the best boats and the best people in the best events - and I wasn't smiling."
So he took up windsurfing. Beginning with the early, big Windsurfer brand boards, he eventually working his way up to custom small boards he built with the help of Larry Tuttle. He eventually got into competition and took home several notable awards in boardsailing, including the 1990 West Coast Windsurfing Championship. He and Tina also started a sailmaking business for boardsailors called Waddell Sails.
"Trevor was involved in boardsailing in a very creative period," says 505 and 18-ft Skiff World Champion Howie Hamlin. "Back then, there were no boundaries, which was a perfect fit for him. He loves to think out of the box."
Trevor credits fellow Santa Cruzan and occasional boardsailing cohort Morgan Larson for bringing him back into the 'real boat' fold. The carrot Larson dangled was the then-new 49er, a high-tech, 270-pound, two-person skiff that looks and sails like a cross between an Aussie 18 and an iceboat. In 1996, it was new, it was exciting, and it was ripe for tweaking. It was also being considered as an Olympic Class. For a creative, mechanically-inclined boatspeed freak like Trevor, hey, what was not to like?
All it took was a couple of sails and Trevor was hooked. He sailed a bit with Morgan, but eventually, he and Tina bought a new 49er for themselves. They spent a month learning the boat in the gentle breezes off Miami before bringing the craft back to the windy West Coast. Then they hit the circuit. In the next three years, they whittled away at the class, showing consistently in the top third of 100-boat World Championships, and in the top four or five in various national events. By 2000, they were winning races in prestigious venues like the Grand Prix of France.
That same year, the 49er was selected as a new Olympic class, and Tina and Trevor set their sights on competing as part of the Canadian team. They made the team and flew to Sydney a month early to train.
Then came the bad news. In a largely political, last minute decision, the International Olympic Committee announced that they could not compete because of "incomplete paperwork." (Trevor had gained Canadian citizenship only days before the qualifying event.) The Canadian National Team appealed, but IOC held their ground. Combined with the death of Tina's parents in a light plane crash days before the qualifier, it was a crushing blow that hurts to talk about to this day. It also marked the end of their 49er sailing.
But no self-imposed exiles this time. They weren't home long when an old friend, Zach Berkowitz - who had crewed for Trevor back in the junior program days on an FJ - called one day to ask if Trevor would like to crew for him on the International 14 circuit.
The magic of that union was not long in coming. In 2001, the team of Berkowitz and Baylis commenced a string of hits that rivalled Elvis. They took home the I-14 US Midwinter Championships, the West Coast Championships, the US Nationals (where they won every race) the World Team Championships and the World Championships (where they also won every race). Trevor also managed to sneak in a 505 Pacific Coast Championship that year with Morgan Larson. And he helped deliver Cam Lewis' 110-ft maxi cat Team Adventure across the Atlantic.
That latter trip led indirectly to his involvement with another maxi-cat program, Steve Fossett's mighty 125-ft Morelli-Melvin speedster PlayStation. Trevor was aboard for two attempts at the trans-Mediterranean record from Marseilles to Carthage, and proved his worth early on the first attempt when the boat was nailed by a raucous Mistral. "I was impressed that Trevor could step in and drive in those conditions," recalls Fossett. So impressed that by the next (successful) attempt, Baylis had been promoted to watch captain.
How do you top that? Stepping in to help old friend Howie Hamlin, who had temporarily lost the 'forehand' crewman in his 18-ft skiff program. Despite not having sailed an 'eye-deen' for 20 years, after only a few weeks of training, the team of Hamlin, Baylis and middle-man Mike Martin became the first American team in history to win the 18-ft Skiff Worlds in Sydney - a feat held in only slightly less esteem in Australia than the America's Cup.
Tina and Trevor celebrate their 19th anniversary this year. But they've just started a family. Daughter Mara joined the household in 2001, and little Colin debuted just last month. So for the moment, Trevor is sticking close to home, helping out with the baby and enjoying fatherhood. What sailing he has done this summer has mostly been local races and cruises aboard his J/90 Sweet Jane. And for the first time in years - for Liz, literally since the Molly B days - he's done some sailing with his famous siblings. Liz and Trevor took first in division in the Doublehanded Lightship earlier this year, and a week later, Will and Trevor notched a division win in the Doublehanded Farallones.
William Baylis first tasted sailing victory at age 10 on club El Toros. At 13, he was crew on a Nationals-winning Rhodes 19. Part of the drive in those early years was the desire to please his father. "He wasn't one to heap praise," says Will, "but you could tell he was pleased when we did well." Career-wise, Will also followed most closely in his father's footsteps. He has a degree in engineering and currently works for Dynatex, a semiconductor manfacturer in Santa Rosa.
His path to the top echelons of sailing was perhaps a bit more circuitous than his siblings. He admits to being lured away for a while to bike riding and skateboarding in his teen years. What brought him back was a fleet of brand new Vanguard FJs that the SFYC acquired to replace the junior program's old, tired ones. "They were new and shiny and covered with Harken blocks," he recalls. Pretty hot stuff for a 15-year-old that lived only a bike ride away. Will also credits Hilly Stong, the then-director of the club's junior program for inspiration - and that wild summer of '77 sailing El Bondo with Trevor.
Within a year of the arrival of the new FJs, Will won his first regatta as skipper at the 1979 International FJ Worlds. Brother Trevor (sailing with Zach Berkowitz as crew) was third. John Kostecki, a product of the 'crosstown rival', Richmond YC's junior program, finished somewhere farther back.
Not long after, Will gravitated toward performance keelboats. The hottest ride around in the late '70s was the ULDB Moore 24. It wasn't long before Will was crewing for guys like Dee Smith and Dave Hodges, and racking up wins from Tahoe to Tiburon. In all, Will sailed to five National Championships in Moores, once with Smith, once with Hodges, and three consecutive years in the mid '80s with Jeff Weiss and Tonopah Low. This time, John Kostecki took notice.
"The Nationals wins really opened my eyes to Will," says Kostecki, who had put together an Olympic Soling campaign earlier in the decade. After the '84 Olympic trials, when he and crew Bob Billingham lost their third guy to other interests, Kostecki called up Baylis. They started sailing together as a team in 1985, and by the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea, were good enough to earn a Silver Medal.
"It's hard to single out one quality that Will brought to that effort, because he's good at everything," says Kostecki. "If I had to narrow it down, I'd say boat maintenance, a very high level of trim and tactics, being great at keeping the boat going fast, and helping me tactically. He was a huge asset to the team."
Like brother Trevor, Will dropped off the radar for a while following the Olympics, also taking up boardsailing and enjoying lots of big-wave riding in Monterey Bay. But "burnout" is not a word he'd use. "Crewing with John and Bob, we were virtually flawless," he says. "After that, anything else just seemed uncivilized."
During this period, Will still dabbled in big boat sailing - and romance. He met Eileen McKenzie at a Big Boat Series party in the early '90s and the two were married in 1995. He finally returned to sailing in a big way in 1999, when Kostecki pulled him back from the hinterlands to crew on the Farr 40 Samba Pa Ti, which won the Worlds that year.
Not long after that, Morgan Larson got him involved with the Seattle-based OneWorld America's Cup syndicate - a particularly comfortable fit since Will had known Peter Gilmour from the Soling days. Will moved to New Zealand to work with the sailing team, only to be sidelined with a painful disc rupture several months before the Louis Vuitton Cup began.
These days, Will can be found
calling tactics on Don Jesberg's Melges 24 Ego (which
chalked up its latest win in last month's windy Summer Keelboat
Regatta on the Berkeley Circle) or simply enjoying the Bay aboard
his Soverel 33 Good 'n Plenty with Eileen and the kids:
Hannah, 6, McKenzie, 4 and little Will, 20 months.
As the 'baby' of the family, Elizabeth Baylis didn't take part in the wild and woolly 505 antics of her brothers. But she remembers Mini Molly well, and the happy times on Molly B in the Delta, "Where we ran aground a lot," and Catalina. She also vividly recalls adventures surrounding the only other pastime her father loved as much as sailing: fishing. "We'd take Molly B out to Duxbury Reef to fish for salmon, sometimes dropping an illegal crab pot at Point Bonita on the way out," she says, smiling at the memory. "It was pretty rare when we wouldn't come home with our limit of fish and a couple of nice Dungeness crabs."
As she grew older, she recalls that, when it came to sailing, her father never "treated her like a girl" - so it never became an issue in her sailing. (When she crewed for Chris Corlett, he used to refer to her as "the guy with the high voice.") She also learned a couple of important Baylis tenets early on: First, don't start something you can't finish. Second, don't do anything half-assed. "If we told someone we'd go sailing, and then didn't show up, to my father that was worse than skipping school," she recalls.
During and after the SFYC junior program, Liz got rides on lots of boats: Cal 20s, Rhodes 19s, J/24s - even a stint on Colin Case's Ultimate 30 Albatross in that short-lived circuit. There was never direct pressure from Derek to win, "but if we'd get second, Dad would ask, 'What went wrong?'" she laughs.
Off the water, Liz mixed work in the sailing industry - as a sailmaker for Richards and Van Heeckeren in Oakland, and the Sobstad loft in Pt. Richmond - with college. Upon graduation from UC Berkeley with a degree in Medical Microbiology, she spent three years in Africa with the World Health Organization's Global Program on AIDS. Today, her 'real job' is senior microbiologist with the Health Department Disease Laboratory in Richmond. Among other things, she tracks the spread of West Nile virus.
In the early '90s, crewing on Glenn Isaacson's Express 37 Re-Quest, Liz met Todd Hedin. By Christmas of 1994, they were a couple. They were married in 1998, two days before the start of the Pacific Cup, and spent their 'honeymoon' racing to Hawaii - on different boats! Before the start, Kame Richards came up to Todd and said, "Cool. We'll meet again in 15 days in Hawaii and I'm going to tell you whether or not your wife had a good time on the honeymoon!"
(Racing-wise, it could have been better: her ride, the SC 52 City Lights, ended up last in class E. The winner was Ripple, a Riptide 35, with Tina and Trevor among the crew. Todd's ride, the J/120 Puff, ended up third in another division.)
It was hardly the first of their separations. In 1999-2000, Liz spent a year in New Zealand doing the pit on the B boat of Dawn Riley's America True campaign.
While Trevor and Will are both good boat drivers, like most big guys they naturally gravitated to positions on the rail where their weight did the most good. Early in her sailing, Liz moved from crewing to steering, a position she feels is still one of her strong suits, especially off the wind. There aren't many who would argue.
"Liz is a terrific helmsman and expert tactician," says naval architect Jim Antrim, who crewed for Liz and Todd when they won back-to-back Pacific Cups with their Antrim 27 ET in 2000 and 2002. "She's always organized, and she's absolutely fearless in the face of adversity. When the flotsam hits the Windex, you want Liz on board."
By 2002, she was also a force to be reckoned with on the women's match-racing circuit. With crew Aimee Hess, Stacie Straw and Karina Shelton, Liz won the Osprey Cup in Florida the previous December, which qualified her to participate in the World Match Racing Championships in Spain the following April. Sailing J/22s, the 8th-ranked San Francisco-based team won that event over the #1 ranked Swedish team, catapulting yet another Baylis into the international limelight.
Based largely on her performance in that event, Liz was voted the 2002 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year - U.S. sailing's highest honor. The co-recipient was her brother's old skipper and friend, John Kostecki.
Earlier this summer, she won the Santa Maria Cup in Annapolis with Aimee, Karina and Annapolitan sailor Nancy Haberland, but fell short of a repeat of her World Matchracing title with a fourth in J/80s in Sweden.
Currently, as this issue was being completed, Liz was in the heat of battle in the Antrim 27 Nationals, contested on the Bay August 22-24. The month before, she had sailed the Chicago-Mac race on the Great Lakes. Next up: "I'm the 'mystery skipper' at the Blue Chip Regatta," she says. The event is raced on Lake Pistakee in Illinois. "I've been told it's like the America's Cup of the Midwest to scow sailors. It's sailed in C Scows, which I've never tried before, so I don't know quite what to expect. But it can't be easy - last year, Buddy Melges only managed fifth!"
There are many famous siblings, past and present, in the annals of American sailing - Olin and Rod Stephens, the McKee brothers, the Melges clan, the Johnstone clan and, locally, the Perkins brothers - and many more on the world stage. But few can boast resumes as diverse and impressive as the three progeny of Derek and Stacy Baylis. (The current joke at family get-togethers revolves around trading off the spotlight - Trevor and Will are currently "Liz's brothers"). And with all only in their early to mid-40s - Liz turned the corner just last month - some of their greatest achievements undoubtedly still lie ahead.
As to the spark that ignited the sailing passion, and the drive that sustains it, all we could figure out is what everyone else already has: they're their father's children.
This story was reprinted from the September 2003 issue of Latitude 38. To order a copy (complete with photos in living black & white), use the subscription order form, and specify the 9/03 issue, or just drop us a note with a check for $7 to Latitude 38, Attn: Back Issues, 15 Locust Ave., Mill Valley, CA 94941.
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