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Tidying Up the Redford in the Sky

/SW/'s Michael Lovett remembers a one-of-a-kind one-design sailor.

February 15, 2010
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Courtesy Bauer Family| |Jack Bauer-pictured with his son, Fred (left), and fellow Thistle sailor Steve White (middle)-coached generations of young racers at Cleveland YC.| For my stack of plastic boxes-labeled “car cleaning,” “rags,” “misc. cables,” etc.-I hold Jack Bauer personally responsible.

Jack was a perennial champion in the Thistle and Highlander classes, one of the best sailors with whom I’ve ever shared a racecourse, but what I admired most about him was his mastery of cleanliness and organization. As I get older, I aspire to Jack’s pinnacle of neatness. It’s a summit I know I’ll never achieve.

The epicenter of Jack’s carefully controlled universe was his red Ford Econoline van. He called it the Redford. As in, “Where you staying tonight, Jack?” “Oh, over at the Redford.” At a place like Pennsylvania’s Pymatuning YC, the Redford boasted the finest accommodations in town. I know because I stayed at the Blueford. I thought the plywood bed my dad built for the back of our van was nice until I saw Jack’s setup. His bed was topped by a thick, plush mattress that didn’t smell like shop dust-thanks to the Dustbuster vacuum stationed near the side doors-and the hatches opened upon rows of tightly rolled sails, canvas duffels, and toolboxes. I once made the mistake of jumping into the back of the Redford without removing my shoes. I never saw a nicer guy look more distressed.

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The van was only part of the ensemble. Jack kept his Thistle so clean you could drink the bilge water. At his house in Lakewood, Ohio, the carpets smelled like baby powder. He carried a clean rag in his back pocket, so nothing in his possession ever had time to get truly dirty. The proudest I ever saw Jack was when his son, Fred, maybe four years old at the time, began parading around the living room with the push sweeper.

They say the sailor who wins is the one who’s best prepared, which explains part of Jack’s success on the racecourse. But he was as crafty as he was clean. No matter how lousy his start, he’d always battle back, finessing his way up the beat by patiently playing the shifts. (When I read Ken Read’s recent From the Experts story, “Staging a Comeback in Shifty Conditions,” I couldn’t help but think of Jack.) In blustery conditions that would see the majority of the fleet capsize at the jibe mark, you’d look up from your bailing bucket to see Jack, all 145 pounds of him, planing downhill with his mesmerized crew-often his wife, Cherie, and fellow Cleveland YC member Kevin Carroll-peering out through the spray.

Courtesy Bauer Family| |Jack Bauer (at helm) with his cousin Rob Spring (middle) and wife, Cherie| Jack gave me my first crew spot. I was seven or eight years old; the regatta was Thistle Lake Erie East Districts at Atwood YC in Sherrodsville, Ohio. Jack’s cousin, Rob Spring, was the middle crew; I was up front. Since I wasn’t tall enough to see over the rail, all I can picture is climbing over the centerboard trunk when Jack said “Hard-a-lee” and, in between races, fetching the sandwiches out of the spinnaker bag. I must not have shown much promise: from then on, Jack was perfectly content to let me crew for his competitors.

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Always economical, Jack repurposed a plastic jug of Gilbey’s Gin as his water bottle. One time, after a day’s racing on Lake St. Clair, I was talking to some fellow junior sailors. “Man, it was crazy,” one of them said, “I looked up the course at the guy who was winning, and he starts chugging a bottle of vodka. That Jack Bauer dude is hard-core!”

The last time I sailed with Jack was in Sandusky, Ohio, in 2005. At forward crew was his daughter, Charlotte, who didn’t hesitate to point out, shortly after the start, that we were dead last. It was ridiculously hot that day, the wind was light, and, thanks to a swarm of jet skis, the surface of Sandusky Bay was churning like a Maytag. I took one look at the fleet sailing away from us and started thinking about a swim. Jack was unfazed. He’d been there before. With a few well-timed tacks, he had us at the front of the pack, and we went on to win the race. I still don’t know how he did it.

Jack died earlier this month, a victim of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis-Lou Gehrig’s disease. For those of us who loved him, it was hard to watch a man who had maintained such perfect control over his physical domain lose that ability. But he never lost his wit. At Christmas, I asked him if he’d been seen the latest America’s Cup boats. On his keypad communicator, he typed one word: “Insane!”

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So long, Jack. May you keep your slice of heaven as spotless as your van.

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