Don Harring's Sailing story

Updated: May 23, 2021

Don said, because you “learn how wind converts into energy that pushes the boat in one direction.” “When conditions get bad, you can handle it,” he said.

“Sailing is one of the best sports, at any age,” said Don Harring, as a final thought to wrap up our time together. He closed out his interview sharing that in his family, which has people from ages 4-65 years old, all enjoy sailing and being out on the water. The whole family is headed to Croatia this year to sail. Planning this trip required for Don to get an International Sailing Efficiency License, and to verify his sailing skills and become licensed he needed to connect with a school. Thankfully, there is a school very nearby to him located right on Flathead Lake.

This summer will be the first summer that Don is teaching as an instructor with Go Sail Flathead Lake. He knows and understands racing sailboats and because of his experience, when the owner and founder of Go Sail Flathead Lake, Genevieve Evans, crossed paths with Don, the connection between him and the school was immediate. He will be teaching lessons in the north part of Flathead Lake so he “won’t have to drive very far”, he said with a laugh. I added that it will be a new adventure, and Don agreed, saying “yes, it will be an adventure!”

Don’s father was a passionate sailor, and his father’s passion rubbed off on him from a young age. Don grew up with sailing in Wisconsin. In summertime, he would sail every day of the week on Lake Geneva. He would rig the sailboat, take it out on the water, and he was hooked. He still is.

Don described himself as “an outdoor person,” and said that anytime he can get outside, he will. The natural elements are what keep him sailing. The wind and the water are what make the experience of sailing, and he said his favorite places to sail are where he can find “good wind.” That’s where you’ll find him, where the good wind is.

Most days, Don, and his family sail on Flathead Lake, which has some of the best sailing in the world according to folks I’ve been fortunate to connect with to learn more about sailing. “Once you have a love for sailing,” Don said, “you better watch out.” It can be an expensive sport, but it also doesn’t have to be. Once a person learns how to sail, they can find clubs and people looking for crews, so you do not need to buy a sailboat to consistently sail. But, Don shared, “sailing has dictated where I live because I have to live near water,” and “water needs to be accessible.” Plus, having the time to sail, he added. “It’s addictive,” Don said as he smiled.

A memory that he shares with his wife, is when they raced together, and his wife was crew with him. She had sailed before, but not a ton, and together, they went to Colorado for Nationals, Canada for Districts, and last year, when Nationals were hosted in Eugene, Oregon, they came in 8th out of 110 boats. 5 or 6 were collegiate racers from around the country, so they both “felt pretty good about that result,” Don said. Don and his family split their time between Montana and Vancouver, Washington, since they have extended family in both places, and because they have activities to participate in in both locations.

When Don was young, he had the incredible opportunity to sail with really good sailors and learn from some of the best. One such sailor was Buddy Melges, Jr. A quick Google search revealed that Melges “is considered to be the greatest sailor in the sport of sailing,” that he’s “a native of Lake Geneva,” and that in 2001, he “was inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame,” as well as other hall of fame induction mentions as well.

Don was on crew for Buddy in a Regatta, and it was the first time an aluminum mast was used on a sailboat. Before then, all masts had been made from wood. Don said he “learned from the best what it takes to win.” What he meant was that he learned how to get a sailboat ready to race, how to prep the boat, sand the hull to make it fast, and prepare gear for racing. He learned the mental side which he said he “appreciated later in life.” Preparation is key to winning races.

A memorable story Don shared was when he was on an 8-person crew, racing a big boat, a J-35, from Astoria, Oregon to Victoria, B.C. The crew worked 2 shifts a day, 4 hours on, 4 hours off, 24 hours a day, and when asked how they did in the race, Don said they “did really well.” The crew practiced a lot together and it paid off. They won class and line honors, which meant they were the first sailboat across the finish line of all 40 boats and first in their class which was based on speed and the size of the boat. He shared that he remembered the “beauty of the water” and the “big wind and waves” during that race. He also remembered seeing a fisherman way out at sea, but no other sign of life because they were so far out in the ocean. Listening to Don, I could hear the pride in his voice from those wins, and the nostalgia from sharing the memory.

For those wanting to get started and learn how to sail, Don highly recommends racing because he believes it accelerates a person’s learning with sailing. “It’s different from pleasure sailing,” he said, you have to sail in a given direction, rather than where the wind takes you. Also, “you should learn the physics behind sailing.” You’ll be “scratching your head a lot less,” Don said, because you “learn how wind converts into energy that pushes the boat in one direction.” “When conditions get bad, you can handle it,” he said.

“Even a person who isn’t technical can understand it,” Don offered. Plus, there are many people to support and teach new sailors, like Don. “Sailors are a rather friendly bunch, even in the racing crowd,” he said, and Don fits his own description of sailors very well.

His dad was a founding member of North Flathead Yacht Club, and his father loved teaching people how to sail. His dad even taught a sailing class at Flathead Valley Community College. Following in his dad’s footsteps, you’ll find Don at North Flathead Lake Yacht Club this summer, racing and working as an instructor with Go Sail Flathead Lake. He’s an experienced racer and he’s ready to teach those who are willing and wanting to learn, a thing or two about sailing and racing. So, pay Don a visit, and learn some of the wisdom he has from his time sailing with some of the greats, and from his years of experience on the water.