Jere Sullivan’s heritage propelled him into a life oriented around water. His grandfather captained a three-masted schooner, Moonlight, which won a race against another schooner, Porter, in 1880. The race went from Buffalo, New York, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, averaging 15 knots across the course. His grandfather established the Gartland Steamship Company in Chicago, Illinois. Jere was brought to the bridge of the owned vessels at a very young age, installing the desire to be active on the water for his entire life. His family migrated from Milwaukee to Cleveland, Ohio, where Jere started his sailing career. He sailed in Comets, Stars and R Boats out of Cleveland Yachting Club. In 1965 and 1966 he won the Yacht Racing Union of the Great Lakes’ Richardson Cup championship, sailing for the Inter-Lake Yachting Association.
In 1969 Jere and family moved back to Milwaukee, where he joined Milwaukee Yacht Club. There his first boat was a Soling in which he did very well. After a couple of years he and family relocated to Pine Lake in Hartland, Wisconsin, in scow country, where Jere moved to E Scows and A Scows. Jere won the A Scow National Championship aboard Iskareen in 1975 and 1976.
In 1979 Jere returned to deep water sailing and bought Knut Reimer’s 1936 75 Square Meter Bacchant. Besides being the most stunning, well maintained and prepared boat on Lake Michigan, Bacchant was a potent racing machine. With Jere at the helm, Bacchant won the Chicago to Mackinac Race overall twice: in 1998 and 2002. He won the Queen’s Cup in 1984, 1985, 1990 and 1999. He was also known to have a “fleet:” Fun, a Nantucket Splinter, Lala, a 22 Square Meter in Milwaukee, boats in the Chesapeake and Caribbean, including a Concordia yawl and a Swan 65, and smaller power boats.
Jere’s final boat was the first Santa Cruz 70, Merlin, a Bill Lee design which established light construction for offshore boats. Modifications were made to Merlin so that she could race with the best on the lakes. In 2015, Bill Lee repurchased Merlin and refitted her to race in the 2017 Trans-Pacific Race, forty years after her first run.
Jere had a great reputation of caring for his crew. Many sought a berth on his boats because of this. He regularly had kids sailing with him when not racing. He knew that replacement of sailors would keep the sport of sail racing popular.
In addition to his successes on the water, he never forgot that people needed training and experience to enjoy the sport of sailing. He generously supported the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center and Milwaukee’s Discovery World science and technology center. His single greatest contribution was made to the Wisconsin Lake Schooner Education Association which was attempting to build and complete a three-masted schooner to be used to teach and train the young to master sailing, navigation and maintenance of sailing vessels. When first contacted to make a donation to this project he declined. A second effort was made by his friend, Dr. Fred Horwitz, a fellow yacht club member and sail racer. This time Jere was willing to listen. Fred and Jere met in Milwaukee and on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay about the project. A deal was consummated which allowed Jere the naming rights to the schooner when completed. Jere, recognizing his heritage, asked the board to name the vessel the Denis Sullivan, which was granted.
The Denis Sullivan was completed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2000 by professional shipwrights and nearly 1,000 volunteers. The schooner is a modern educational sailing vessel with two diesel engines, a scientific laboratory, two computer workstations, and modern communication and navigation equipment. She maintains single bunks in co-ed areas, heads and showers, and limited storage. The vessel can carry up to 50 passengers on day sails and 21 participants overnight. She is complemented by a professional crew of ten. The Denis Sullivan provides an array of genuine maritime experiences, from two-hour lake watches for families to multi-day educational sails for teens and adults.
Jere donated $750,000 to the benefit of the young people who would enroll in the Wisconsin Lake Schooner Education Association.
Jere will long be remembered for his many vessels and generosity. It is with immense pleasure that Jere Sullivan is inducted to the Lake Michigan Sailing Hall Of Fame.
Milwaukee Yacht Club