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Sports Heroes Who Served: Vietnam Veteran Was Legendary Boatbuilder

July 27, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

Sports Heroes Who Served is a series that highlights the accomplishments of athletes who served in the U.S. military.

Jan Clover Gougeon was in the Army during the 1960s. He rose to the rank of sergeant and served a tour in Vietnam before his honorable discharge in 1969.

A man poses for a photo.
Jan Clover Gougeon
Famed boatbuilder and Army veteran Jan Clover Gougeon smiles in this undated photo.
Photo By: Courtesy of Jan Clover Gougeon
VIRIN: 090115-O-D0439-001

Although Gougeon was a soldier, his heart was in sailing.

After returning from Vietnam and transitioning to civilian life in late 1969, he and his brothers Meade and Joel founded Gougeon Brothers Inc. 

The company began building sailboats and iceboats and found great success in formulating and marketing epoxy resins for boat construction and repair.

A photo that lays on a tabletop shows two men posing, one with his arm around the neck of the other.
Ice Fishermen
Meade Gougeon, left, and brother Jan Clover Gougeon prepare for a day of iceboat sailing on Saginaw Bay, Michigan.
Photo By: Courtesy of Jan Clover Gougeon
VIRIN: 710615-O-D0439-001

Sometimes tragedy or near-tragedy is the inspiration of invention.

On June 20, 1979, while sailing in a qualifying race for the original Single-Handed Transatlantic Race, Gougeon's self-designed and built 31-foot trimaran, "Flicka," capsized in heavy seas in the North Atlantic. 

Gougeon floated on the overturned boat for four days before being rescued by a passing freighter.

It was the first and only time he had to be rescued. 

A man rides sailboat.
Sailing Flicka
Jan Clover Gougeon sails in Flicka in June 1979, which later capsized.
Photo By: Courtesy of Jan Clover Gougeon
VIRIN: 790615-O-D0439-001

Gougeon vowed to design multihull sailboats — such as catamarans and trimerans — that were self-righting, or what Gougeon called "self-rescuing."

The next boat he designed, "Splinter," was self-rescuing, as was every boat he designed afterward.

He also designed and built monohulls, including the 1975 Canada's Cup winner, "Golden Dazy."

Meade Gougeon's 1979 book "The Gougeon Brothers on Boatbuilding" was celebrated by boatbuilders and wood constructionists around the world and is in its fifth edition with hundreds of thousands of copies in print.

Although the Gougeon brothers are legendary boatbuilders, Jan Gougeon is equally famous for racing boats. His first sailboat race was in 1955 at age 10.

Aboard the "Splinter," Gougeon placed first in single-handed Michigan races from Port Huron to Mackinac Island in 1981, 1982 and 1983. 

A sailboat sails on the water.
Sailing Trimaran
"Ollie," a 35-foot trimaran designed and built by Jan Gougeon, sails on the water in 1985.
Photo By: Courtesy of Jan Clover Gougeon
VIRIN: 850615-O-D0439-001

While racing his trimaran "Ollie," Jan Gougeon won the single-handed Super Mac race from Chicago to Port Huron in 1987 and the Great Lakes Singlehanded Society Peter Fisher Memorial Award in 1989. 

He competed in the DN Iceboat World Gold Cup Championships over the course of four decades and took the cup home in 1975, 1982, 1985 and 1991. He also won the DN Great Cup of Siberia Race in Russia in 1989, and he won his eighth North American DN Iceboat Championship in 2000. 

Gougeon competed annually in the Bayview Yacht Club's Port Huron to Mackinac Race, the Chicago Yacht Club's Race to Mackinac and the 300-mile Florida Everglades Challenge. 

His last competition was in a Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac aboard the newly launched "Strings" in July, 2012. He died Dec. 18, 2012, in Ann Arbor, Michigan at age 67.

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VIRIN: 200706-D-ZZ999-903