PALM HARBOR — Meade Gougeon spent his life honing his skills as a boat builder. A part-time resident of Palm Harbor, his projects ranged from constructing ice boats at his family's boat shop in Michigan to his late-in-life projects completed after his 70th birthday, building outrigger canoes. The canoes, built for the Everglades Challenge, a 300-mile race with a starting line near the Sunshine Skyway, garnered him first place honors in his division twice, in 2014 and this year.
Mr. Gougeon, renowned for his role in ushering in new boat-building techniques in the 1970s, died at his home on Saginaw Bay in Michigan on Aug. 27. He was 78.
Mr. Gougeon, along with brothers Jan and Joel, opened Gougeon Brothers Inc. in 1969 and became the largest builder of ice boats. However, Meade and Jan soon turned their focus to the use of epoxies and resins. With help from friends who worked at nearby Dow Chemical, the brothers found success, becoming one of the first boat builders to construct wooden boats without the use of mechanical fasteners.
Along with their solid reputation in Michigan, through building two boats within a five-year span, the Gougeon products' reputation continued to grow worldwide. First, in 1970, the brothers launched the Adagio, an all-epoxy bonded and sealed wooden trimaran, which continues to be sailed on the Great Lakes more than 40 years later. Second, in 1975, the Gougeons built another landmark vessel, the Golden Dazy, a two-ton monohull, which successfully defended the Canada Cup that year.
Charley Morgan, founder of Morgan Yachts, was a longtime friend of Gorgeon's who also had several boats that garnered international attention. Morgan's included the Paper Tiger, the first fiberglass sailboat to win the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit (it won in 1961 and again in 1962) and the Heritage, a 12-meter wooden boat built in 1968, which served Morgan during his attempt to gain entrance into America's Cup competition.
Morgan, a Treasure Island resident, recalled the first time he met Mr. Gougeon was in the mid 1970s at a construction convention in Annapolis, Md.
"It was an exciting time; it was a cadre of forward thinkers," he said. "What I think made their business a success was that you had these brothers who were personally involved with the boats, and they were technically minded craftsmen who were out in the trenches. Jan was a great boat builder, and then brother Meade was so good with marketing."
Mike Jones of Jones Boat Works in St. Petersburg also considered Mr. Gougeon a friend. He recently spoke with him concerning getting Clark Mills, the creator of the Optimist Pram of Clearwater, nominated for the National Sailing Hall of Fame. On Sept. 22, Mills will be inducted.
"I know how excited Meade was about this getting this done," Jones said.
Over the years, Mr. Gougeon and his wife, Janet, took many trips in Florida, sometimes for Mr. Gougeon's work and often simply for sailing.
"We used to travel all the way to Florida in a camper because we have a rather large family, but then we decided we wanted to find a house," Mrs. Gougeon said.
About 10 years ago, they saw an article in the Wall Street Journal that talked about Ozona.
"We decided to look into it. We did. We loved it, and we now consider Ozona home," Mrs. Gougeon said.
Once they were settled in the house on St. Joseph Sound, Mr. Gougeon realized he needed a new boat.
"It is a special boat for our home in Florida," Mrs. Gougeon said. "St. Joseph Sound is very shallow, so we built a pontoon-style boat."
Until recently, it was not unusual for Mr. Gougeon to entertain on his custom-made boat, whether it was a group of friends or his crew of children and grandchildren, whom he gave naming rights to.
"Our kids and grandkids named it," Mrs. Gougeon said. "We call it the Gougeonmaran and we love to take it island hopping on the out islands near St. Joseph Sound."
Contact Piper Castillo at [email protected] Follow @Florida_PBJC.