Fleet Development Profile Series

An Interview with Fleet 37’s Britt Williams

 By Andrew Kerr


Fleet # 37 in Tulsa, Oklahoma is going from strength to strength – they started life sailing in PHRF and now they have a one design start, new boats are being brought to the area and the fleet hosts the annual South Western championships at Windy Crest sailing Club.

One of the principal architects of this development in the south west region is Britt Williams.

Britt and his team are the consummate road warriors and class promoters. They have brought their boat from Tulsa to numerous National Championships as well as the Eastern regional Championships when they were held in Sarasota, Florida.

At this year’s Nationals in Long Beach two boats came from Oklahoma – Britt and his team of Roger Adams & Flint Johnson and I.V. McNamara and his team of John Daily and Michael Gant. 

Andrew Kerr talked with Britt about how the fleet has developed and the plans for the areas continuing development.

AK:  Tell us about the early days of fleet 37, how did other sailors in the area view the 20?

BW:  I came to Windy crest sailing club in 1997 with a new S-20 #905 and began competing in a handicap fleet of very good J24 sailors, S2 7.9’s and Capri 25’s. It took us a couple of years to move up to the top third of the fleet. Each time we would go to a national event, we’d say we have to sail with our J24s as home to be competitive here with these guys. We would listen and learn and return home, and apply what we had learned.

We got a little better and finally in late 99 we started having a little success, we won a 0ne hundred mile event on grand lake with a crew of 4 sailing 24 hours and finished 3rd in our fleet at home. I bought every old 20 I could find and refurbished it and sold it at cost to anyone interested. We traveled to every central states event we could reach and created interest by winning or being in the top three boats in the event.

In 2000, old route 66 hull# 905 was sold and I bought our present boat hull# 920. Gradually interest began to grow in Oklahoma City and Norman and there were plenty of old boats setting around remnants of old fleet 17. None had been up dated with movable check stays or inboard jib tracks. The major concern in Oklahoma City was that the 20 was considered a light air boat not capable in wind over 20mph. 



It seems that a boat was sunk in OK city in the 80’s, great fear was expressed when we told them we launched out of the forward window.  Some former 20 sailors objected to the new deck and modifications to the rig. They just could not see the advantage of the inboard tracks, smaller jib and adjustable lower aft shrouds. I took this to be objections I could not argue about and just proved them wrong by sailing in every regatta we could, wind blowing or not and as a result we have had some growth in the fleet, several guys in Amarillo Texas came out to sail with us and fleet 38 was born, they usually come down to the spring Southwest Regional in may. 

So far we have not convinced the Oklahoma City fleet to travel much; one of their boats made it over this last spring, hull#930 a beautiful new boat.  Out last race of the year at Windy crest we had 6 Santana 20’s out.  We were beaten by a crew of MC sailors on a borrowed boat in the first race. These are three of the clubs best sailors, former Catalina 22national champion and two club centerboard champions. We nailed them in the second race but, my point is that our best sailors are really looking at the Santana 20 with a critical eye- especially since we are going to try to bring the nationals to Windy crest in 2007.

AK:  People are buying new boats and getting interested in the fleet, how are you making that happen?

BW: We keep sailing, traveling, and talking.  We answer every question we can, coaching any one who will listen.

Every thing we learn at a national event is quickly put into a newsletter and sent to all members of fleet 37, 38 and 17.  We confess our mistakes in an effort to keep others from making the same mistake.  We have a great educational program at our club. Our kids are taught to race centerboards and do very well, but if they need a keel boat for an event we make sure they have access to my boat, we teach adult classes on Thursday nights and we use my boat for that as well. Wednesday night, is our fun race night it does not count toward our over all club championship which is raced on Sundays, on the Wednesday s we split the crew up and help others or bring an inexperienced skipper on board to sail with my crew. We were pleased to have a Santana20 beat us on occasion as this tells us our fleet is getting stronger.  We won a 52-mile event in October, beating merit 25’s scratch, and handicapping over j22’s and J80s. These guys come back and look at the “little” boat in a different light.



AK: You and your team are known as road warriors and great supporters of regional events as well as the Nationals. Tell us about some of your experiences at different venues. 

BW: Seeing half the fleet auger in, in 1998 Dallas, my first Nationals. Getting to the weather mark when 920 was brand new, 2000, Newport, second boat, only behind Bruce Golison and being so excited we didn’t know what to do. Hitting one eyed Jack in Klamath Falls when I dropped the main sheet in the cockpit and needed to dump it in order to duck.

Being hit by Tom Schock in Sarasota, the embarrassment of seeing him do a 720 and still beat us and win the regatta on the worst looking boat I ever saw afloat. That was when Tom gave me his famous quote “it ain’t the arrow it’s the Indian”.

The square waves at Marina Del Rey, 90 degrees to the wind. The fog, on the Pacific as we sat there like sitting ducks.

The gusts on the water that had no punch at 7000 feet on Huntington Lake and the current at Long Beach that introduced us to the windward mark!

 The thrill of improvement by finishing 9th ahead of Disaster Area in race # 7 of this year’s nationals in Long Beach.  




The joy of finding a trailer tire in Santa Rosa New Mexico and paying $135 for a $65 tire!

 But the camaraderie of the crew as we prepare and travel together from place to place, great guys, each unique and each willing to practice and put up with my coaches mentality.  At each and every national we have experienced, the greatest thing is the people who are willing to share their knowledge, their spare parts and their homes. We are simply trying to carry this same attitude back to Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas.

AK: At this years nationals in long Beach there was another team from Oklahoma on # 700 – tell us a little about them, it was great to see they made the trip.

BW:   IV McNamara , new s20 owner, his crew Michael Gent and John Dailey.

IV grew up on a boat on Grand Lake and is far beyond my skills the first year I sailed an S-20. IV is an advanced instructor in our sailing school. His crews were both 420 sailors in our youth program. Both headed for college this fall, on e to Kansas and the other to Notre Dame. Both will pursue sailing in college. It was great traveling with them and talking sailing along route 66.   Our goals for next year are to bring 3 boats from Windy crest and two from Oklahoma City and maybe one more from Amarillo.

AK:  You typically host the Southwestern regional championships – tell us about that regatta. What might an out of town team expect?  



BW: This event is held in mid May usually the 3rd weekend. Last year we had boats from Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma City and our club Windy crest. We expect 10 to 12 boats this year.  Winds in the spring can be 10 to 25 and a little gusty, temperatures will be mild in the 70’s. We have ample camping space for both tents and RV’s and we will find places for those who need a place to crash. I can put 2 crews up in my home.

Lake Keystone is on the Arkansas River - backing up both the Arkansas and the Cimarron rivers.

Windy crest Sailing Club is located about 20 miles west of Tulsa on the north side of the Arkansas arm of Lake Keystone. The water is not clear, but as a result we have very few water skiers or powerboats cutting up the surface. The Tulsa Area is called “Green Country” beautiful rolling hills with the river running through it. We have every kind of restaurant imaginable, especially great southwestern Bar B-que and Mexican Food. We have Casinos just 5 miles from the sailing club owned by the local Indian Tribes. The greatest collection of Southwestern Art in the world is at Gilcrease Art Museum near Tulsa. The tall grass prairie preserve, with huge herds of Buffalo roaming the restored tall bluegrass of the Osage Hills.  So, if the wife and kids need something to do while you race there is much to keep them entertained.



AK: Where do you see the development of the South west region and fleet 37 going in the future? How can we keep growing participation and interest levels?

BW: I hope that in the near future it is moved back and forth from Oklahoma City to Tulsa on alternate years. This can only create more interest in both areas.

Wayne Lewis and BobHeaslet from fleet 17, Oklahoma City flew out to Long Beach to watch the National event. Those guys along with Jim Blakewell are doing a great job keeping interest up in the 20’s at OCBC.

AK:  Thank you Britt, it was great to see both teams in Long Beach and we look forward to seeing you and other fleet 37 teams at the Nationals in Eugene next year.