The Taipan Man

Farr 40 skipper Lloyd Karzen is a fixture of the Chicago area sailing scene, on and off the water.

Lloyd Karzen
Longtime Chicago sailor Lloyd Karzen is a fixture of Chicago YC, active at the club and around the waterfront.Paul Todd/NOOD Regattas

Everyone around Chicago YC has a Lloyd story. "Love that man," says Nancy Arnold, the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta's chief scorer. "He's our go-to guy, especially with the Mackinac Race. He's one the that goes to the island early, builds it all up, schmoozes anyone he has to, and then breaks it all down—usually by himself."

Plumbing issues at the club? Lloyd’s on it, unplugging kitchen sink drains and getting his hands dirty if he must. Club Santa Claus? He’s got the outfit, the beard, and the jolly laugh. As a longstanding yacht club member, one could say, he’s all-hands-on-deck, all the time. “If he sees it, he’ll fix it,” Arnold says.

Eighty-one-year-old Lloyd Karzen has served on practically every committee at the yacht club, but he's not just a rubber stamper. He's a devout racing sailor with a personal armada that includes a J/70, a Farr 40 and a variety of remote control raceboats. At the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta this weekend he's racing his Farr 40 Taipan, and then afterward on Saturday night, rubbing elbows and sparring remote control units in the fast-paced, small-course DragonForce 65 races off the club's eastern bulkhead.

Karzen has been around so long, most club members know he’s been sailing the waters of Lake Michigan since the early 1950s, when he was introduced to sailing by his wife’s aunt. “She taught me how to sail,” Karzen says, “and then I got involved in the racing and eventually became race committee chairman.”

He’s a permanent and jovial presence around the Chicago YC’s Monroe and Belmont Stations, but he’s also legendary up on Mackinac Island. For more than two decades, he’s been in charge of setting up the club’s race operations, hanging banners, greasing the local skids and waiting for finishers to trickle in over days and nights. “I enjoy giving back to the club what they gave me when I grew up,” Karzen says.

As a fan of the NOOD regatta, now in its 31st year in the Windy City, he’s seen the ebb and flow of big boats and big fleets, famous sailors and one-design classes new and old. He’s virtually a walking historian of Chicago yachting.

“It’s changed with smaller fleets and smaller boats,” he says, “but it’s great to see the younger people getting involved and older guys going to smaller boats because they had crew challenges [with their bigger boats].”

He’s also a champion of his beloved Chicago, it’s vibrant lakefront and downtown, teaming with shops, parks, music, food and outdoor recreation. It’s a venue for regattas, he says, which is why Chicago has long been a place where sailors are drawn to. “The city has a lot to offer between the two clubs and the sailing school,” he says, even if the wind and weather can often be “iffy.”

The Farr 40 is a big and comparatively complicated boat to race, but it fits his preference for team sailing and crew camaraderie. “I like the boat,” he says. “It has a nice cockpit, it’s made well and fun to sail with a good program and a great crew. I’m fortunate to be able to have a good time. When I get off the boat, they ask is everything fine, I say, ‘Yes,’ then go sit down and have a beer while they get it ready for the next time!”

While the NOOD Regatta is the first major event of Taipan's summer racing season, the crew did attempt to shake its winter rust at the Columbia YC Colors Regatta in early June. The races didn't go as well as Karzen would have liked, but he's philosophical about his team's inability to finish a single race.

“We had some issues with the boat,” he says with a chuckle. “We rebuilt winches and now we’re all ready. The rest of the fleet will know we’re around. This weekend we’ll show up with a pocketful of broken fittings and toss them at the competition to shake them up now and then.”

Perhaps he’ll have better luck at this weekend’s NOOD, but if not, he still has the DragonForce 65 to show off his veteran skills, with no one to blame except himself and his opposable thumbs. Believe it or not, he says, some techniques do crossover between the Farr 40 and the 25-inch remote control yacht. “It’s the same, but the DragonForce operates so fast,” he says. “I know when I screwed up.”

Win or lose, it doesn’t really matter for Karzen though. The good life is on the water, at the club, with family, sailing, fishing and taking it all in one day at a time. “You have to take every day while you can while the weather is good,” Karzen says, “and when the weather is bad, you can just work on your boats.” He doesn’t feel any bit of his 81 years, he adds. It’s the sailing that keeps him busy and young at heart.