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PROSPECT – When he was 13, Neal Deaves crewed his first sailboat with a neighbor and he’s been on the water ever since.
Deaves, a Centerfield resident, then crewed a boat built by his father on the Delaware River outside Philadelphia to begin a lifelong love with the sport that has grown to include his whole family.
“I started doing it with a neighbor and then my dad built a boat and we started racing it together,” Deaves said. “I crewed here in Louisville and in 1980 got my own boat for the first time and started racing it.”
Deaves competes in two different classes, with a Thistle boat, a 17-footer with no deck usually crewed by two to three people, and a Highlander, a 20-foot boat also usually crewed by two to three people.
While sailing is his hobby, Deaves is passionate about the sport and recently found national success when he and partner/crew member David Bauer won the Masters Division title at the Highlander National Regatta at Lake Norman outside of Charlotte, NC for the second straight year. They also finished fifth overall in the open race. The Masters are for racers 55 and older.
“It was a thrill to win it for a second time,” Deaves said. “We were very excited about the fifth place finish because everyone that beat us was quite a bit younger.”
Deaves is a board member and active member of the Louisville Sailing Club located near Hays-Kennedy Park in Prospect, which has more than 50 families involved.
Sailing has become a family activity for the Deaves. Both of Deaves’ sons, Greg and Brent have been active sailors. Brent, in spite of a less than lucky first experience on a boat.
“The boat tipped a bit and he fell out and then the rescue boat hit him in the head,” Deaves said. “He survived it and got involved in a regular way when he was in college.”
Brent, now the principal of Oldham County High School, has his own boat he and his wife, Meredith, race together. They’re also active members of the sailing club.
The family aspect of the sport is one of the most appealing facets to Deaves.
“Most everyone involved has a family member or two involved in some way and it’s a very social sport,” Deaves said. “It’s competitive, especially at the national level, but in a good-natured way and it’s a lot of fun.”
Deaves, a retired teacher and coach from the Jefferson County system, still serves as an assistant track coach at OCHS working with the shot putters and discus throwers. When he’s not doing that, he is generally working on the boat or on the water.
During the summer season which starts June 1, he estimated he is on the water every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday in organized events. He also travels to events to compete in Chicago, to Lake Erie, North Carolina and Florida.
“A lot of people might think it’s an expensive thing, but it’s not motor boating so you are not buying the fuel and we usually camp when we go out of town,” Deaves said. “You know, they say sailors are the cheapest guys in the world. We tend to hodgepodge things together and are always working together to find better and less expensive ways to do things.”
A typical race at the national level can involve multiple lakes. Most are six miles long and involve heading around buoys and fixed marks. It takes anywhere from an hour to 90 minutes to complete the course depending on the wind.
In the Highlander division, a race can involve 32 total teams in groups of 16. In the Thistle division, there can be anywhere from 50 to 80 boats making safey precautions and navigation skills a must to avoid collisions which still happen on a regular basis Deaves said.
Ideal wind speed is 10 to 15 miles an hour. At 18 miles an hour it “becomes very exciting,” Deaves said and when the wind hits 23 miles an hour or more races are postponed.
There is also the prospect of no wind leaving the sailors with one option to move the 850-pound Highlander.
“There’s no auxiliary motor,” Deaves said. “If the wind dies you just get out the paddles and start rowing.”
Deaves has competed against other sailors up to 80 years old showing the sport is truly one with no limits.
“I can see myself doing it that long,” Deaves said. “I hope I can. There’s hardly anything better I would rather be doing.”
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