Maritime Explorers: The Willauer Family
The 61st annual Windjammer Days will take place Sunday, June 25 through Saturday, July 1, 2023. This year the Friends of Windjammer Days is celebrating our rich population of Maritime Explorers. Those featured have traveled extensively on different bodies of waters either for work, pleasure or both.
A serendipitous meeting set the stage for a lifetime of cruising, long-distance sailing and ocean racing for an Edgecomb family. Gale and Charlie Willauer met on board the R/V Westward in 1978 as the ship departed for the open ocean. That pivotal 6-week voyage on Sea Education Association’s 125-foot steel schooner Westward took Charlie and Gale from Woods Hole, Massachusetts to Bermuda and north again to St. Pierre and Miquelon - French Islands off the coast of Newfoundland and marked of the beginning of their 40 years together.
Charlie has deep roots on the Maine coast. His father founded the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School in Penobscot Bay in 1964. Charlie’s experience at Hurricane Island included years of “messing about in boats.” As a teenager he jumped at opportunities to race, cruise, or join deliveries on any sailboat. At age 18, Charlie had a 30 ton USCG license - and those credentials led to roles as captain, running several racing boats and campaigning them throughout the waters of New England. Charlie has competed in over a dozen Bermuda Races and captained multiple offshore passages from Newfoundland to the Caribbean and Trans-Atlantic. Charlie’s ocean-going experience wasn’t limited to sailing vessels. Working at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution as an ocean engineer and later, with several large consulting firms deploying oceanographic equipment, he sailed on oceanographic ships in the Atlantic, Pacific and the Chukchi Sea (Alaska) deploying instruments amidst the pack ice.
Gale grew up on Cape Cod where she sailed 420s and Day Sailors at the Stage Harbor Yacht Club in Chatham. Her ocean experience began on the R/V Westward on which she crewed for four years as steward. With several friends as crew, Gale and her 4-year-old son, Cory, sailed from Quissett Harbor to Cork, Ireland the summer of 1986 on her 41-foot sloop Flemish Cap. The following summer Gale and Charlie sailed Flemish Cap westward to the U.S. via Madeira, Bermuda and on to Woods Hole. Becalmed for almost two weeks in the “horse latitudes,” they finally found wind and a new spinnaker; navigating with a sextant, compass and Dead Reckoning (as it was before the time of GPS!).
Family cruising is how the Willauers “vacation.” Maine is among their favorite cruising grounds as well as the Bahamas, Caribbean or Puget Sound. Following the 2018 Newport - Bermuda Race the five Willauers returned their uncle’s Breezing Up, a J-46 from Bermuda to Portland as a family reunion of sorts! It was the Fourth of July weekend - why not sail the boat 700 miles home to Maine?!
The Willauers’ sons have continued the tradition of ocean sailing; Cory, who accompanied Gale on his first trans-Atlantic at age 4, was an instructor on Ocean Classroom’s Spirit of Massachusetts and led multiple Chewonki trips in kayaks; Cory and his brother, Charlie, Jr. made another Atlantic crossing with their grandfather on his J-42 Eight Bells from Newport to Gibraltar in 2006. All three sons have joined the family crew to compete in the Newport - Bermuda Race which is the biennial open-ocean thrash across the Gulf Stream 635 miles from Newport, Rhode Island to Bermuda.
Young Charlie holds the record amongst the brothers with eight Bermuda races under his belt. Not only has Charlie raced many times to Bermuda, he has competed in the Nantucket Race week, FIGAWI Race, Key West Race week and been on multiple deliveries from Martinique, Maine, Bermuda and Charleston.
Three in the Willauer family, both Charlies and Pete are members of the Cruising Club of America (CCA); the organization which coordinates and runs the Newport-Bermuda Race. Pete hopped aboard Eight Bells with brother, Charlie and their grandfather for an epic and rough voyage from Norfolk, Virginia to Nevis in the West Indies the autumn of 2012 in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Charlie and Pete crewed on board the 92-foot maxi boat Med Spirit the 2012 Bermuda Race when Med Spirit set the new Open Division record that year of 45 hours, 26 minutes, 28 seconds … three hours faster than the previous record.
In 2015, brothers Charlie and Pete raced in the Trans-Atlantic Race on board Solution - an Aage Nielsen 60-foot wooden sloop only to be knocked down mid-ocean and suffered damage to their rudder. They made their way to Horta for repairs. The piece de resistance in recent memory is of Pete Willauer (age 28 at the time) with his partner, Angel Collinson departing from the Willauers’ dock in Edgecomb located just west of the Oven Mouth
entrance. Gale and Charlie stood on their float and let go the dock lines of Pete and Angel’s 40-foot steel sloop, Sea Bear, knowing that their next landfall lay 2,400 miles to the east at the island of Faial, Azores. First Mate for that voyage east was brother, Charlie Willauer and his future wife, Maddie Carrellas. Pete and Angel continue their voyage on Sea Bear; Since departing they have sailed twice across the Atlantic and are now in Panama on their way to the San Blas Islands on their extended voyage around the world. I guess you can say it’s a family thing!
Gale and Charlie live in Edgecomb and memories of their sailing voyages adorn the walls of their house. They can be seen sailing their Watch Hill 15 Reverie out to the Cross Point Bell and in through the Oven Mouth passage on the high tide.