Maple Grove man sets his course on adventure.
Andy Spence-Parsons hasn’t always been a seafaring man. It wasn’t until his mid-30s in his native England that he discovered a sailor’s life was for him. “We were living about the furthest possible distance from the coast,” says Spence-Parsons, (who moved to the U.S. in 2002). “For me, there was a desire just to be on the water and engage in a competitive activity.”
The Maple Grove resident is all aboard the sport of sailboat racing, honing his skills on Lake Minnetonka and Lake Superior as a longtime member of the Wayzata Yacht Club (WYC), where he now serves as the commodore.
Spence-Parsons served on the club’s board for several years, including as vice commodore. Its website touts the club as overseeing one of the largest sailing programs in the U.S. “You’re making a boat that doesn’t have an engine make the best use of the wind,” Spence-Parsons says. “That requires a certain amount of learning how to trim a sail, about aerodynamics. There is a visual, mechanical aspect to it.”
Spence-Parsons, who began his two-year stint as commodore last November, says his passion for sailing is propelled by the teamwork and camaraderie of his teammates. Most sailboats racing on Lake Minnetonka have a crew between three to five people. WYC also has an Apostle Islands station, where bigger boats with eight to 10-person crews sail on Lake Superior. “There are lifelong friends that you’ll make that you quite literally trust with your life,” he says.
Though the commodore leads the 15-member board in overseeing the WYC, he says the yeoman’s work is done by the volunteers, who give their time to run club events. “The yacht club is essentially a federation of different [racing] fleets,” says Spence-Parsons, vice president of operations for Mate Precision Tooling in Anoka. “Each fleet has its own needs, wants and desires, and the board’s job under my leadership is to try to make sure we meet those guidelines.”
Spence-Parsons talked more about the WYC, which he describes as the “antithesis” of what most people commonly think of a yacht club.
Maple Grove Magazine: How would you describe the club’s mission?
Andy Spence-Parsons: It’s all about sailboat racing. People think of a yacht club as having a dining room and blue blazers and fancy bar. We don’t have any of that. It’s a hub of dedicated, passionate sailboat racers. Everything we do passes through the lens of ‘How is this somewhat connected to sailboat racing?’—whether it is growing the fleets, developing people’s sailing skills or finding ways for new people to get involved.
MPG: The club was founded in 1965. What was its initial goal?
ASP: The founders wanted what they called a workingman’s yacht club, an affordable club that was an active sailboat racing club. Over the next 50 years, we added a significant number of boats and slips and fleets and a building, and membership grew from 15 to 600-plus members. It’s thriving at a time when many yacht clubs around the country are in decline. Part of that is because we have this singular focus on sailboat racing.
MPG: What is the key to the club’s success? Is it all about member-volunteer participation?
ASP: In our last season, more than 250 individual volunteers participated in helping with many activities. Putting on racing-related events takes people doing the registration, buying trophies, making lunches, stuff like that. It’s members and/or members’ families who do that.
MPG: The club is described as a community sailing center for adult and youth racing programs. What’s offered?
ASP: Monday is pretty much the only day of the week where there isn’t some sailboat racing activity [during the sailing season]. There are multiple fleets, and each fleet has its own character. You might have a fleet that is laid-back while another is hypercompetitive. Additionally, we have practical training all year. We also offer classroom training on rules, strategy and tactics, plus clinics with regional, national and international coaches.
MPG: Who is your typical member?
ASP: There is no such thing as a typical member. We have people ages 8 to 88, from a Fortune 500 CEO to a carpenter to an Olympic sailor and everything in between. The common bond is a passion for sailboat racing. We have a high percentage of women who race, which is unusual. Many yacht clubs—and the sport itself—[are] male-dominated. Here, it’s very much co-ed. The founders did that by design. One of my responsibilities is to continue to perpetuate that.
MPG: What’s it like to race on Lake Minnetonka? Is it the thrill of victory or just the fun of being out on the water?
ASP: WYC races many times a week from ice out to late October. Thursday evening racing attracts the most participation, where 130 boats, with an average of four crew [members], leave the dock in Wayzata Bay, heading to the main lake. We describe dividing the experience into thirds. The first third is arranging to leave work a little earlier on Thursday evening. The second third is a well-run race. The third, and arguably the most important, is the camaraderie of your crew.