Meade Gougeon

Hall of Famer - Meade Gougeon

When Meade Gougeon arrived in Stamford, Connecticut at 6:30 A.M. in 1963 for the NAMSA championships, he was at the dawn of man really learning how to make a multihull go fast. The 'hot' multihulls then were the C Class catamarans. The only other real competitor was the D Class -- 32 feet long with 500 square feet of sail area. A few people built them, but for the most part they were not as fast as the C because of poor structures. They just got too heavy. Some of the more colorful characters of the time were Peter and Phillip Oetking, two brothers from
Texas. They had been iceboaters in Wisconsin. Gougeon remembers them, and I remember them showing up with what he believed were the first wing masts on C Class catamarans.

The design goals of the time were focused around speed, and the problems most boats had involved maneuverability. Lots of the boats had a uni-rig, so you couldn’t come about very well. The Oetkings’ boat, for example, had almost no rocker. It was very fast in a straight line, but its maneuverability was poor. They would get way ahead off the start, but be well behind after their first tack.

Gougeon says that that was the type of design problem that they were going through -- the question of getting boards and rudders correctly balanced. Rudders were as important as anything. Nobody had it exactly nailed, so as a result you had boats that would go well upwind and reaching, but wouldn’t go downwind for beans because they had too much wetted surface to sail area; the hulls were too slab-sided, or the boards and rudders were too big, too heavy, etc.

Dave Hubbard’s famous comment kind of sums up the prevailing philosophy: "The perfectly designed boat should cross the last finish line of the NAMSA championship and then fall apart." And many did so well before they reached the finish line.

Gougeon sailed a series of three 25-foot tris that he built to the Class C rule; he had the only tris, so he was very
distinctive from the rest of the fleet. Because of his iceboat background, his whole design was intended to be like an iceboat and tack downwind. At that time his tri was probably the fastest boat of its size downwind, but not upwind.

In 1969, Meade Gougeon and his younger brother Jan founded Gougeon Brothers' Boatworks to build iceboats. These lightweight, sail-powered vessels were built of wood laminated with epoxy. By 1973, the company was the largest builder of iceboats in the country. The company rapidly expanded its business into other boat building efforts. Using epoxy to build the iceboats was a natural choice since they had been using epoxy as an adhesive on many boat projects for the previous 10 years. Meade and Jan were first introduced to epoxy resins in 1958, by Vic Carpenter of Superior Sailboats in Montrose, Michigan. Vic was one of the earliest users of epoxy resins as a structural
adhesive for wooden boats. He learned about epoxy resins from a pattern maker. At that time, epoxy had just made an entrance into the pattern-making industry, where it was used to bond patterns together. Frequently, boat builders who wanted to experiment with epoxy resins would go to a pattern shop and decant a bucket of resin and a bucket of hardener and take it back to their shop. The Gougeons were quite intrigued with the possibilities of epoxy resins for boat building.

In 1960, while stationed with a large corporation in Kansas City, Meade built two boats using an epoxy as the adhesive. After being transferred to Erie, Pennsylvania, in the early 1960's, Meade and Jan built their first trimarans using epoxy from a nearby chemical company. Up to this time they had mixed results with the different epoxies they had used. However, they were very impressed that epoxy could bond to many different kinds of wood, metal, and fiber reinforcement, and that it appeared to be very moisture resistant as well. The commercially available epoxies of that time had many advantages over the other adhesive options, such as resorcinol and WELDWOODTM (a urea
formaldehyde powder which was dissolved in water before use), but they still had some limitations.

After returning to their hometown of Bay City, Michigan in the later 1960s, Jan and Meade established their new business on the former site of the Ben Huskins Boatworks on the Saginaw River. With the help of friends who worked at Dow Chemical, they formulated their own epoxy system which was ideally suited for their application. Modifying the epoxy system so it was suitable as a coating was a major break-through. It had long been known that the epoxy resins had very good moisture resistance but they were so difficult to apply that they weren't used as a moisture barrier
coating. With the new formulation, the epoxy could easily be applied as a moisture barrier over wood or fiberglass surfaces.

Many people who saw the iceboats were interested in using Gougeon Brothers' resin system for their own projects. By 1971, Gougeon Brothers was selling WEST SYSTEM® Brand epoxy to other builders and to customers who wanted to use the epoxy for building and repairing their own boats. Brother Joel Gougeon joined the company in 1971 and was very involved with developing the epoxy business during his years with the company. In 1975, the original iceboat business was sold to Joe Norton of Norton Boatworks in Green Lake, Wisconsin, so that the company could concentrate on the epoxy business and building larger custom boats. Today, Gougeon Brother's epoxy systems are sold across the United States and in a dozen foreign countries.

Much of the early success of WEST SYSTEM epoxy was due to its compatibility with wood. The epoxy was used for construction of new craft and repair of old. By the early 1970s, mass-produced fiberglass boats had essentially replaced the traditionally built wooden boat. But with the aging of the fiberglass fleet came the need for a dependable repair resin. Epoxy resins became a popular choice because of their superior moisture resistance and their ability to bond to a wide variety of substrates. However, because of the nostalgic value and beauty of wooden boats, the wooden boat
market did not completely disappear.

The construction technique based on laminating wood veneers together with epoxy, which the Gougeon Brothers developed for building the iceboats, was also used to build a few high profile racing sailboats. The first complete boat built incorporating WEST SYSTEM epoxy and composite construction techniques was Adagio. This 35-foot trimaran was designed and built by the Gougeons and launched in 1970. Another notable boat built in this manner was the Holland-designed Golden Dazy, which won the Canada's Cup Regatta in 1975. The success of these wood/epoxy composite boats led to a "mini-revolution" amongst builders and designers. They realized that they could build
stiffer and stronger hulls with wood and epoxy than they could with fiberglass, and do so without increasing the weight. Many custom builders continue to choose wood and epoxy as their construction materials today.

Other important boats built by Gougeon Brothers include Accolade, a Bruce Kirby-designed 30'-0" half-ton monohull in 1974; Hotflash, a Gary Mull-designed 32'-0" half-ton monohull in 1976; Phil Weld's Rogue Wave, a Dick Newick-designed 60'-0" Trimaran, in 1977; and Slingshot, a Georg Thomas-designed 60'-0" proa in 1978. Slingshot recorded the second fastest time at the World Speed Trials in 1979. Gougeon Brothers developed a production version of the Olympic Class
Tornado catamaran, which they built in 1975 and 1976. A Gougeon-built Tornado was sailed to win a Silver Medal in the 1976 Olympics. Patient Lady, a C-Class catamaran built by Gougeon Brothers, won the 1977 Little America's Cup. Adrenalin, a Formula 40 Trimaran, was built for Bill Piper of Ossineke, Michigan in 1987. This boat amazed the sailboat racing world by taking an extremely close second place during her first regatta in the Formula 40 Grand Prix circuit in Brest, France, in April of 1988. But later Adrenalin was legislated out of contention when the Formula 40 class rules were changed.

The manufacturing experience and research and development associated with the use of wood/epoxy composites in the construction of wind-turbine blades has also largely influenced our company. In 1979, the Gougeons' reputation for excellence and innovation in wood/epoxy composite construction captured the attention of NASA researchers who contacted the company to build experimental wind turbine blades for use on wind energy machines. The success of the wood/epoxy blades led to multi-million dollar contracts with General Electric, Westinghouse, and Bendix. 4,300 blades, from 10'-0" to 70'-0" feet long, were produced between 1979 and 1993. The wind turbine business allowed the company to fund a extensive research program, the results of which have been instrumental in developing extremely light weight structures, both on and off the water. Data collected was also used to improve the performance of WEST SYSTEM Brand epoxy and to test new construction methods.

In 1990, Gougeon Brothers built the prototype for the Gougeon 32 catamaran, Wildcard. The G-32 was markedly different than previous Gougeon-built boats because it used foam-cored composite construction and the new Gougeon Laminating Epoxy and only minimal amounts of wood. It seems to be the first female-molded production boat built with epoxy. Wildcard enjoyed a very successful racing career and, to date, fourteen G-32's have been built.

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