“The largest group of black sailors of both men and women in the countrycruising and racing.”







Compass Rose

Chicago Defender - 2004


by Karen E. Pride /Staff writer

It was late July and the weather was overcast and windy, and Lake Michigan seemed to not be in a good mood for the opening day of the 96th AnnualRunning of the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac.

That's not particularly unusual for that time of the year. The waters were choppy, and that wouldn't make for necessarily a smooth ride for the more than 300 participants who would travel 333 miles to the lighthouse on Round Island, off Mackinac Island, Mich.

But what may have been a bit jarring to the casual observer was seeing a sole African American and an all-white crew prepping a 36-foot, Nelson Marek IMS racer. And they might have been surprised to learn that it was the brother who was the owner of the racing vessel.

Meet Stan Bailey.

A retired sales director for Rockwell International who runs his own private tele-communications consulting business from his home in the western suburb of Lisle, the 68-year-old Bailey was I an old hand in the race. This was his 18th year participating.

Bailey says his passion for race sailing didn't come about during his retirement. It started a long time ago when he was a Boy Scout in Rochester, NY. I would go swimming on Lake Ontario, which was different for a Black kid." he fondly recalled. "That's where I learned to sail." The love of water followed Bailey through his 33 years with Rockwell, and several job transfers brought him and his wife, Natalie, to the Chicago area in 1982. Shortly after that, Bailey purchased his first sailboat, and has since traded up three times to his vessel, the Erleichda.

Bailey said when he's competing, it's not all about kicking back and relaxing. He likes to focus on the strategy and the and adjust to nature's weather whims. You have to develop a strategy but be flexible with it. You also have to be able to manage your crew. And in the tight quarters on the boat, there's not much room for modesty," he laughed.

While he's well known at the Chicago Yacht Club, he's also conspicuous in his skin tone. There simply aren't many people who look like him. But if you travel a few miles south on the lakefront, the boating complexion changes.

At Jackson Park Harbor, you'll be greeted with dozens of faces of color most notably that of Alpha Thompson, the “mayor” of the harbor.Known to many as the “Yellow Submarine” because of his penchant for yellow casual dock attire. Thompson keeps order no the dock.

His boat, the Alpha Ray, sits at the front of a gated entry to the narrow floating dock where a number of African Americans keep their sailboats.The former Brooklyn native celebrated his 69th birthday this summer, but that hasn't slowed him down. When he spoke with the Chicago Defender, he'd just come back from a ride on his JetSki

Thompson came to Chicago in 1960,newly married and looking for a job. After working for Chicago Public Schools as a physical education instructor, he retired in 1990 after 31 years on the job. Now he pursues his love of sailing and all things water full-time. We are here all the time," he said while pointing at the dock. It may be all smiles today, but Bailey and Thompson said when they first started showing up at various boating locations in the city, they were not welcomed with open arms. "It was hard i the beginning," Bailey said. "There just wasn't anybody interested (in sailing)."

Thompson's initial experience at Jackson Park was harsher. "There was definitely hostility from other (white) members," he said. “Now things are pretty diverse and cool."

All sailing, all the time.

It’s like a family outing on the weekends at Jackson Park Harbor. Skippers, sailors and landlubbers alike bring food and lawn chairs for basking in the sun throughout the boating season. There is even camaraderie with a boating inspector Richard Tinker,for the Chicago Park District. "It's truly like a family here," said Tinker, who hails from the Bahamas.

Thompson and other sailors, like Pam Rice, practically live on their boats from April to October. Rice developed her love of sailing in the early "70's while growing up in Evanston. She and a friend bought their first boat from Sears. "It was a 'cartop, she said, referring to a small, 12-foot boat that could be transported on the roof of a car

Since then, the graphic artist has become one of the growing numbers of African American female captains inthe country. There are at least 45 captains in the Chicago area alone, and they're listed at www.blackchicagosailors.org, which Rice launch in January 2003.

"I never saw any other black sailors until I met Alpha,” said Rice.”Now there are quite a few here at Jackson Park.

Sailing isn’t as easy as it looks

Last weekend, Rice, along with Ted and Wendy Graves, demonstrated just what goes into being a sailor and why they consider sailing as a sport, and not a hobby. While heading out of Jackson Park Harbor, Ted, a laid-back investment banker, had a lot of quick maneuvers to perform while getting the sailboat "out to sea." "I was just always interested in man versus nature," he said while steering the boat out into Lake Michigan. "You never go out in the same situation twice." His words were proven true after he let out the sail and handed the wheel over to Rice. The ride was pleasant sailing at first heading toward downtown But on the way back, the water turned choppy and the wind gusted up to 40 m.p.h. Suffice to say it was a rough and wet ride back to the harbor.

Most African American sailors here owe their pursuit of sailing to Chicago native Captain Bill Pinkney, the first African American to sail solo around the world in 1992. Pinkney retired this year but continues to lecture about sailing. He also still participates in the Black Boaters Summit, which is held annually in the British Virgin Islands. Most recently, he appeared at Strictly Sail Chicago in January at Navy Pier. He will receive a lifetime achievement from the Chicago Yacht Club this fall. While Bailey didn't finish this year's race because of bad weather, he participated in at least six smaller races this summer. He's still looking for some young African Americans to experience the adventure and friendships he's made through sailing. "I'd really like to see some Black kids get involved," he said. "I'd take one a year and put them on my crew.

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