Llwyd Ecclestone, Looking for the Edge

From our October 2005 issue.

Ecclestone-Dynamite
Sailing World Archives

Although you shouldn't read too much into it, a boat's name can reflect its owner's personality. In Llwyd Ecclestone's case, with eight boats and more than 50 years of cruising and racing, he has favored two kinds of names. His first boats and his most recent have had playful names-Bikini and Keturah (Polynesian for scent of a woman). In between, he chose powerful names suggesting action and adventure, such as Dynamite, Volcano, and Kodiak. Last April I spent three days in Antigua with Ecclestone aboard Keturah and began to get to know this competitive 69-year-old businessman who never tires of sailing. Designer German Frers drew Ecclestone's latest-a 94-foot maxi cruising sloop. Down below, where Ecclestone's wife Diana has been heavily involved, Keturah goes way beyond being comfortable, with many unique touches, including half models of the owner's boats. Topsides, the boat is fun to drive: one day when the wind piped up to 25 knots and Ecclestone passed the wheel to me, I found the driving effortless despite the choppy seas. Born in 1936 to Canadian parents, Ecclestone grew up in Detroit and remembers chasing a 45-inch model boat with no controls around Timber Bay, a resort in Canada his family owned. A cat boat and a Lightning followed, but at age 17, along came the first Bikini, a 38-foot S&S Loki yawl built by Abeking & Rasmussen. Among regular crew were Dan Dyer, Alger Boyer, and Tommy Tapert, a team that developed its skills during day and overnight races on Lake St. Clair. Aboard Bikini, Ecclestone's skills improved, and he focused on how to maximize Bikini's performance under the old CCA Rule, beginning what would be a lifelong habit of tinkering with his boats. He hired Rod Stephens to help him get more speed, adding a bowsprit, extending the genoa to the masthead, and lengthening the mizzen. That was just the beginning. "Llywd's never been afraid to try new things," says Karl von Schwarz, another long-term crewmate. "He always spends a good bit of mental time planning and looking at his rating and possible changes. As an example, we tested a bunch of rudders for Kodiak and Volcano through the years just to try and get that one detail right." Not only would Kodiak's rudder be changed several times, the 66-foot Frers built by Concordia started life with a centerboard and ended up with a deep keel. Ecclestone went to prep school at Taft, in Connecticut, and later attended Brown University where he won the New England Freshman Championships as crew for Charlie Shumway. But the Midwest called, and as a junior Ecclestone transferred to Wayne State, in Detroit, to be closer to home. Later, during a stint in the Air Force Reserves, Ecclestone began running his father's shopping centers, and at age 25, he branched out on his own, building clinics, condos in Detroit's Lafayette Park, and buying real estate. By 1965, at 30, Ecclestone had moved to Florida where, over the next 40 years he developed major projects including PGA National golf courses. Von Schwarz says Ecclestone's inspiration for his next boat came in 1967, while crewing on another boat in a distance race. "The weather was nasty, and the wind was right on the nose," says von Schwarz. "We had three reefs and a storm jib. The rest of the guys had given up, but on the second day, Llwyd leans over and says, 'I'm going to build a real ocean racer if you want to go ocean racing.' We've been together ever since." The next year, Ecclestone hired Ted Hood to design a 50-foot Bikini. Ecclestone has enormous respect for Hood, and says, "He's a near genius, a tinkerer, a great sailor, and made great sails." Dyer says Hood and Ecclestone are cut from similar molds: "Both put up a sail and say whether it is good or not by simply looking at it." As an emerging leader at Detroit's Bayview YC, Ecclestone was encouraged to challenge for the Canada's Cup a few years later. No more boats named Bikini now-this was serious. He named his new Ted Hood design Dynamite. As always, Ecclestone drove his own boat, but he recruited rising young stars like Robbie Doyle and Tim Woodhouse to join the likes of von Schwarz, Dyer, and Mike Tapert (Tommy's uncle). Typically, Ecclestone remembers the race preparation as much as the race itself, saying, "We had an edge over our main rival Frank Picu, sailing for Grosse Pointe YC, because we sailed early in Marblehead. It was cold out there, but by summer we were ready." Dynamite won the preliminary rounds on Lake St. Clair, the final eliminations on Lake Ontario, and then beat the Canadians 3-2 to win the Cup. Ecclestone has raced in 28 Port Huron-Mackinac races, 17 Newport-Bermudas, 13 Chicago-Macs, and cruised all over the world. He won the Chicago-Mac in 1990, but his proudest victory is the 1998 Bermuda Race on Kodiak. "We sailed east of the rhumb line (usually west is best), jibed at the Gulf Stream just as the wind clocked and took the lead," says Ecclestone. "It was torture waiting for the smaller boats to finish after crossing the line, but luckily the wind stayed light. "The Lighthouse Trophy is the most valuable trophy an amateur can win. It's worth $15,000. Initially I just wanted the trophy, but the excitement of winning the race surpassed winning the trophy." Dyer says Ecclestone loves being offshore, racing at night, but also thrives on "the challenge of getting the boat ready and optimizing it." His crew like to go with him because he's so well prepared. "We've always had the best equipment," say von Schwarz. "It was always better than we were." Even aboard Keturah on our cruise, Ecclestone was working through a long typed list of items. Another common theme I heard from Ecclestone's crew was his calmness under pressure. In 1972 he was on a hijacked flight from Detroit to Miami. Afterwards, passengers praised his leadership and calm resolve throughout. Twenty years later during a Bermuda Race, trimmer Brad Dimeo was flicked overboard by a genoa sheet at night. Fortunately, Kodiak's experienced crew never lost sight of Dimeo while doing a quick-stop maneuver and had him aboard in three minutes. But Ecclestone had a number of suggestions he included in subsequently published articles. Among them: 1) stop the boat immediately; 2) keep the engine off-it adds confusion; 3) keep a double lookout; 4) the helmsman must only steer; 5) all crew should carry flashlights; 6) the life ring should have a retrieving line attached; 7) practice man overboard drills before going offshore. Ecclestone's next goal is to win the 2006 Bermuda Race. "It will be exciting," he says, "the 100th anniversary of the race. We've won once and placed second in class three times. I'd like another Lighthouse." Keturah may be a heavy cruiser with a playful name, but Ecclestone will be tinkering with it in the year ahead, looking for an edge.