Meade Gougeon — Innovator, Designer & Sailing Legend Dies at 78

I recently learned that Meade Gougeon has died at aged 78 of melanoma.  More than 45 years ago, I was a young student of naval architecture at the University of Michigan. I met Meade when he came to speak to the Quarterdeck student society about a relatively new wood-epoxy laminate boat building technology that he and his brothers had developed. They called it the Wood Epoxy Saturation Technique, or the WEST System.

More than 45 years ago, I was a young student of naval architecture at the University of Michigan. I met Meade Gougeon when he came to speak to the Quarterdeck student society about a relatively new wood-epoxy laminate boat building technology that he and his brothers had developed. They called it the Wood Epoxy Saturation Technique, or the WEST System.

Working with chemists from Dow Chemical they had developed a range of epoxies which were both good at sealing and adhesives, which made them perfect for cold-molded boat construction. Using their epoxies, it was possible to build wooden laminated hulls which were very strong, durable and rot resistant. Meade explained why it worked very simply. As I recall he noted that wood is very strong in tension but not so much in compression, whereas epoxy is strong in compression but not tension. The saturation of the wood in epoxy also helped protect the wood from the air and moisture necessary to support rot. 

They had developed the epoxy blends initially for their own boat building projects but were quickly selling to other professional builders. The WEST System quickly became popular with the designers and builders of racing sailboats because it allowed them to build custom boats with wood and epoxy hulls which were stiffer and stronger than could be built with fiberglass.  The WEST System has also become very popular with home boat builders and for boat repair.  WEST SYstem Epoxies are now distributed all over the US and in many countries around the world. 

In addition to building and sailing beautiful and fast boats, the Gougeons also built wind turbine blades for NASA,  General Electric, Westinghouse, and Bendix. Between 1979 and 1993, the company built 4,300 wood-epoxy laminated turbine blades. 

Born and raised in Bay City, Michigan, Gougeon based his operations there and showed his commitment to the community where he was born.  He created an employee bonus program through stock in the company. The employees then decided how much of the profits to donate to charity and invest in local projects. Over the years, the company heavily invested in the United Way of Bay County and other area nonprofits.  A rotating committee decided which causes to donate to. 

“It was probably the best idea I’ve ever had,” Gougeon said in 2015. “All of a sudden, you not only have employees giving to great causes, but giving to causes that maybe you wouldn’t have ever thought to give to. Each employee was aware of different problems and issues in the community, and it really gave us an opportunity to address a lot of things.”

In 2015, Gougeon was honored for his philanthropic work with the Peggy Rowley Community Enrichment Award.

Meade and his brother Jan Gougeon were inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame in 2015.

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One Response to Meade Gougeon — Innovator, Designer & Sailing Legend Dies at 78

  1. Bill Koller says:

    A loss indeed, Rick. Thanks for the post.

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