John was born into a family which had extensive experience with the waters of Lake Michigan. His father, Harvey, had been a commercial fisherman for many years on the lake before changing his life to become a real estate broker in Muskegon. Harvey, winner of many events himself, owned a series of boats named Romahajo on which John crewed until Harvey passed away. It was then that John began skippering his own boats. John was recognized early in his life that he knew what he was doing on a sailboat. Wally Stenhouse, owner of Aura, had John crew with him during Wally’s campaign to win the World Ocean Racing Championship and Chuck Kirsch, owner of Scaramouche, had John aboard when Chuck won the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit, these adventures occurring in the 60’s.
John bought his first WINDANCER, a C & C 50, in 1973 and has raced a Windancer in the Chicago to Mackinac Island race every year since, with the exception of 1981, when Windancer was out of commission after losing her mast in a preparatory race. John has had the fortune of participating in a total of 65 Mac races. Dick Jennings, the owner of a Great Lakes 70, Pied Piper, approached John about joining the Great Lakes 70 Class Association, if an appropriate boat were to become available. That happened in 1998, with John’s purchase of the Nelson Marek designed 68, Saga. Renamed Windancer, this boat was a Ultra-Light Displacement design, similar to Pied Piper, which had won many prizes in the Mac race. In 1999, Windancer took first overall in the Port Huron to Mackinac Island race sponsored by Bayview Yacht Club of Detroit. First place in the Chicago Mac race was still denied.
In 2004, the Nedeau family purchased an existing member of the Great Lakes 70 Class, Cynosure, another ULDB designed boat, owned by Kohler and Reichelsdorfer of Sheboygan, WI. This vessel had already won the 2000 Chicago Mac race, so John had to crank up his crew to a higher level. On July 16, 2011, John did so in the 103rd running of the fabled Chicago to Mackinac Island race with a first overall. He had reached his pinnacle. John’s crew has always included his children and family members. His 2011 Mac victory was composed of three generations of family members and other close friends.
John is a Master Mariner, so designated by the Island Goat Sailing Society. To become a member of this very exclusive group, one must have sailed a minimum of 25 Chicago to Mackinac Island races. There are approximately 300 members of this society out of the thousands who have sailed the Mac race. When one completes his or her 50th race he or she becomes a Master Mariner and is so designated in their records. John is also a Double Goat, an individual designation to persons who have sailed a minimum of 25 Chicago to Mackinac races and 25 Port Huron to Mackinac races. This very exclusive group only has 31 members, some of whom have passed on.
John’s sail racing activity has not been exclusively offshore racing. John has completed and won many trophies in E scows, Tartan 10’s and J-35’s. He also has raced ice boats which almost was his undoing as in his first sail on one he almost sailed into a open channel created by the Highway 16, a freighter which operated year round in and out of Lake Muskegon. John also has been instrumental in building fleets of various boats in the Muskegon area.
John’s service to the sport of sailing has also been remarkable. He is a past president of the Lake Michigan Yachting Association, a predecessor to the Lake Michigan Sail Racing Federation. He did serve several years as a board member of LMYA and Lake Michigan Performance Handicap Racing Fleet, known as PHRF. His journey has found him a member of Chicago Yacht Club, Little Traverse Yacht Club and a member of Muskegon Yacht Club for over 50 years.
In 2004, John was recognized as a “sailing legend” and inducted into the Muskegon Sports Hall Of Fame. Other notables of this Hall are Gus Cohrs, Sonny Grandelius, Okie Johnson, Earl Morrall, Bennie Osterbaan, Leo Redmond and Sally Sessions. This past year, two-time Olympic luge medallist Mark Grimmette joined John in the Hall.
John’s six children and their friends, and later their children, have all become crew on the Windancers In fact four generations of Nedeaus have raced on the seven Windancers in the Chicago Mac race. Several have gone on to distinguish themselves in other sailing venues. Most recently, his granddaughter, Maggie Shea, qualified for the US Olympic selection series in Woman’s Match Race for the 2012 Olympics in London, England. In addition to helping train his family members John assists in raising money for the Muskegon Yacht Club Junior Racing Program and offers Windancer for fund raising efforts to many charitable organizations in the Muskegon area.
John is a strong advocate for amateur sail racing. He freely gives his advice and consul to competitors prior to and during regattas, raising the knowledge level of those who wish to best him. He is a sportsman, never having been protested by another competitor or failing an inspection in the many Chicago Macs and Port Huron Macs he has sailed. When he recognizes he has made an error under the rules of sailing, he quietly withdraws and this has happened seldomly.
John has spent a lifetime embracing the sport of sail racing, training the young, raising funds to further the sport and winning sail races. Welcome, John, to the Lake Michigan Sailing Hall Of Fame.
John Nedeau, born April 14, 1931, died June 15, 2016.