Fleet 8 is the oldest windsurfing organization in the United States. We’re proud to be organizers of many windsurfing & kiteskiing/kiteboarding events including Mille Lacs Crossing- the oldest windsurfing competition in the U.S.
Fleet 8 was formed in 1972, ten years before the first Crossing. It was the 8th fleet in the nation under the original International Windsurfer Class Association. It is probably the oldest active organization in the country, if not the world.
Although it hosted a district championship in 1975, it existed rather informally until 1978 when an early season picnic brought out over 50 of the 150 windsurfers in the state. Later that summer, they hosted the District Championships on Lake Waconia, drawing 51 sailors from five states, the third largest attendance in the nation.
Travel was a key factor in the early years. Fleet 8 sailors traveled to regional and national regattas in mass. Twenty-two traveled to Petoskey, Michigan in 1980 for the Districts, bringing the total count to 104, largest in the nation for that year. There was also strong representation at national championships in Corpus Christy, Deer Creek Reservoir in Utah, Cape Cod and Grand Haven, MI. A group of ten traveled all the way to Key West for the Manana Regatta, a three-day event that ended on New Year’s Eve day.
Travel was also key for the Fleet’s own activities. Local lakes were mostly reserved for weekly evening race series. Weekends would usually mean packing up the car and heading out of town for a regatta somewhere in Minnesota or Wisconsin. Besides Mille Lacs, Fleet 8 initiated and hosted events on Waconia, Gull Lake, St. Croix, Lake Pepin, Lake Wissota (WI) and Lake Superior at Park Point and Madeline Island.
Even though the Crossing wasn’t on the 1982 schedule when published, there were certainly enough activities. The schedule consisted of a picnic, three long-distance races, eight regattas, the Aquatennial and 18 evening races split between three series on Calhoun, Minnetonka and White Bear. And there was still some energy left to put on the first Crossing.
The focus wasn’t just on racing. At least once a year, Fleet 8 sailors would host an informal instructional session at one of the city lakes allowing dozens of interested passer-bys to give it a try. There was also Fleet-wide participation supporting a three-year campaign that passed the first state legislation nationwide recognizing the Coast Guard PFD exemption.
Today, the Crossing takes up most of the Fleet’s energy. An all-volunteer staff and membership dues provide support. It’s future may be in the hands of the sailors. They have the tools to further enhance the entry level of the sport.
Michael Fox (’82)
It all started on a trip to Mexico in the spring of 1977. Michael returned an accomplished sailor and started instructing on the city lakes. The next year, he fired up Fleet 8 by throwing a picnic, starting an Aquatennial event and hosting the District Championships. In 1979, he opened Free Ride, specializing in windsurfing, skateboarding and roller skating. He was regional coordinator from 1978-82. During that same time, he successfully taught the first blind student and lead the fight to pass the first state legislation recognizing the Coast Guard PFD exemption. Returning home from a regatta on Gull Lake in 1981, he decided to drive by Mille Lacs. The wind was building, so he and his cohorts hit the water. That experience planted a seed that wouldn’t germinate until August of ’82. While visiting a friend, he was introduced to Jim and Pat who operated the Garrison Creek Saloon and Eatery. The rest is twenty years of history. Looking back, a little insanity can be good…and contagious.
John ‘J.W.’ Whortenbury (’82)
To find inflatables for the first Crossing, we were directed toward the scuba shops where we found J.W. He was also working as a radio technician which would prove very valuable. J.W. and his fabled Grey Ghost, one of the first rigid-hull inflatables, were there for the first 13 Crossings, until J.W. moved to the Florida Keys. He has returned several times.
Bob Karl (’82)
Bob came up to the first Crossing with J.W. He waited patiently until the Crossing was postponed due to 30+ knot winds, wind-chills in the teens and limited visibility, then he piped up “Does that mean we can go out and play now?” That attitude is still there. Since J.W. moved to Florida, Bob has become the leader of the inflatables. In his real life, he teaches Scuba and runs charters on Lake Superior.
Steve Stenger (’82)
Steve sailed in the first Crossing attempt. He was one of our ‘sailing staff’ which meant he helped out when he wasn’t sailing. He retired from racing after 1986 and has missed only two Crossings since. Because of his sailing background, he is assigned to the rescue launch, Captain Hook, where he can handle and break-down rigs quickly.
Daryl Yngsdahl (’83)
Captain Hook was recruited to assist the Seguchie pontoon launch since his craft might be better for picking up sailors. He was also the only other launch operator that would talk to us at that time. As the years went by, his seamanship combined with the maneuverability of his boat proved invaluable as our rescue launch. He has recently retired from his position as a music teacher for Onamia schools
Pat Fleming (’85)
Pat broke into windsurfing in the mid-seventies by sneaking out his brother’s board while he was away at work and hauling it down to Lake Harriet on a wagon behind his bike. With a strong background in scow-sailing, it was only natural for him to become involved with race management. He stepped up to bat in 1987 when he volunteered to be head judge for a recreational series on Lake Calhoun. He bought his first boat in 1991, a lightweight, 15′ aluminum runabout with a 75-horse outboard. It was the first official Fleet 8 committee boat in ten years and Pat proudly towed it to both Madeline Island and the Crossing. Bad news for the sailors, good news for Pat. It was a light wind Crossing that year. But going back across the lake, Pat realized that this little boat would not return to the big lake. By ’93, Pat had successfully procured what was to be the ultimate boat for crossing Lake Mille Lacs, just in time for the roughest Crossing ever. Over the next six years, Pat and his 20′ Sylvan center-console, Blue Dog, would become notorious for questionable sanity, logging more airtime than any sailor on the lake.
Dennis Kenny (’85)
Dennis was so impressed with his first Crossing in 1984 that he wrote an article about it. Since than, he has contributed several pieces, including one in this year’s Reflections. He has twice been published nationally. But his real talent is his impressions of eggs and bacon in the frying pan.
Alyse Kenny (’85)
Alyse took a break from sailing the Crossing so she could focus on going back to school. That made her available when we short staff for Captain Hook. She directed the rescue of more sailors in the roughest conditions than ever before or sense.
Renee Robinson (’85)
Renee showed up at the 1985 Aquatennial Beach Party as a volunteer from Daytons. She immediately clicked with the staff and accepted an invitation to join them at the Crossing. Her life would never be the same. She has missed only one Crossing since. She heads our shore patrol, checking out sailors before the start, recording finishes at the other end.
Bucky Weitnauer (’90)
Bucky hosted the 1990 banquet at the Y-Club. Recognizing our limited funding, he offered to initiate a proposal to the Garrison Commercial Club for sponsorship. Later, when we were in desperate need of boats, he recruited Bob and Jim Gross, and then borrowed his son Curt’s boat.
Sean Jones (’91)
Sean came up in ’91 to assist J.W. and Bob. By the next year, he had his own inflatable. It probably seemed inadequate for all that was asked of him. By 1995, he had procurred an 18′ Avon that he set up specially for LakeMille Lacs.
Chuck Nelson (’92)
Chuck sailed in the first Crossing attempt but retired after ’87. In 1992, he stopped in to the banquet to say “Hi” and was promptly put to work straightening out finishes in the computer. Besides his computer wizardry, he’s also in charge of setting up the finish line area. In ’94, he sailed his original Windsurfer in honor of our recently departed friend, Lynn Nelson.
Jan Snyder (’92)
When the Saturday banquet outgrew the Y-Club, there were few choices left. Jan invited us to use the clubhouse at Wilderness and it has been our home ever since. Each year as we arrived, we would find a tray of appetizers and fresh flowers on each table, Jan’s personal touch. Although she lost a battle to a health issue earlier this summer, her memory will remain in the hearts of sailors and staff alike.
Joette Rispalje (’94)
Joette learned of the Crossing on a weekend outing with friends at the lake. She claims she was recruited by the promise of learning how to windsurf, but actually, she had to search us out thru a notice-of-race just so she could volunteer. To recruit another staff member, she married Jim who now stays with their son, Jameson, so Joette can attend the Crossing.
Teresa Cooper (’96)
Teresa told us right off she was not a ‘water’ person. So we promptly took her out on Mille Lacs to race water spouts. Since then, she has been more than happy to climb on a launch and monitor the sailors.