Fenton Twp. — There was barely enough wind pushing across Lake Fenton on Monday, May 27 (Memorial Day) to keep the Lake Fenton Sailing Club race going.
Several sailors were piled up at the first turn, including David Nickels, 78, of Holly in his 16-foot MC Scow sailboat.
With a laugh, he said the race didn’t go very well. “Not by my standards anyway,” he said, adding that he lost ground in the last 300 yards of the race.
David was out on the lake with his son, Kevin
Nickels, who won the race overall. Also sailing was his nephew, Tim Nickels of Rochester. His nephew, Brian Nickels, was elsewhere. “We race against each other all the time, we always have,” David said.
The Nickels family of the Lake Fenton Sailing Club is on their fourth generation of sailors, starting with Herman Nickels who passed away in 2007 at age 91. He was there before the Lake Fenton Sailing Club even existed, when it was called Lake Fenton Yacht Club, and they didn’t have a building. No other family has such a lineage with the club.
David’s father Herman Nickels was the first. Other family members include now-deceased George, David’s brother, and David himself. David’s son Kevin also took up sailing along with Brian, George’s son. Brian’s son Tim is the youngest, who was also sailing on Monday.
On Monday, David sailed an MC Scow with number “73” on the sail. On Wednesday, he sailed again with his Rebel, which he built himself.
Over the years, he built Lightning-class boats, starting at age 13, and retired from that in 2007. The “scow” name refers to a boat with a flat bottom.
The family not only sails, but literally helped build the sport. He’s since sold the business, but Nickels Boat Works continues today, as part of Windrider Outdoor Apparel and Sailboats.
David said he’s been an 11-time Rebel National Champion, and crewed with his dad Herman in 1959 when he was Lighting National Champion. He also built boats most of his life. “It’s competitive building the boats as well as sailing them,” he said. “I think sailing is one of the most interesting sports there is. It is a game you play on water which is always moving. If the wind and water changes, the boat needs to be adjusted. Nothing is constant.”
Kevin Nickels, 53, of Holly Township, agrees that the sport presents challenges through the changing landscape. “Unfortunately I think it’s kind of a dying art, and people don’t understand how fulfilling of a sport it can be,” he said. Kevin likes that as you sail, you are both working with, and against nature — the wind and the water.
He said he sees his father, David, the most during the summer sailing season. “It’s something that ties us together through generations,” he said, adding that extended family also partakes in sailing. “It’s a thread that runs through the family.”
Kevin also crewed with his father, like David did with Herman.
Read more about Lake Fenton Sailing Club, as well as other lake related features, in the Lake Living Featured Section included with this edition.