Jack Kelley’s racing career is long and distinguished, featuring everything from endurance Chicago to Mackinaw trips to the more leisurely races out of the Grand River Sailing Club events.
Through it all, Kelley has exhibited a great willingness to devote his time and talents to the local sailing community, and the ability to win races. On Thursday, Kelley will be inducted into the Lake Michigan Sail Racing Federation’s Hall of Fame.
“It’s quite an honor,” said Kelly, 81, who got his start in sailing in 1975, when he and his family moved to West Michigan from the Detroit area because of his job with Herman Miller.
“We settled in Ferrysburg and I bought a sailboat and kept it at Barrett’s, and I’d go out on Lake Michigan sailing,” Kelley said. “You can’t beat it. Inland lakes it’s nice to have in case Lake Michigan is too rough, but you can’t beat Lake Michigan for sailing.”
Kelley eventually began to expand his sailing exploits. He joined the Grand River Sailing Club, and in 1981, he entered the first William Tripp Memorial Race, which went from Muskegon to Milwaukee. That race served as a precursor to the Queen’s Cup race, which then sailed from Milwaukee back to a port in Michigan.
Kelley helped create the bylaws of the Grand River Sailing Club in the early 1980s, and at that time helped bring the Queen’s Cup finish to Grand Haven.
Kelley’s contributions to the local sailing scene include the inception of the 8+8 Rally, a concept to sail 8 miles out into Lake Michigan on a beam reach to a rounding boat, then return on a reach. This allows boats to better utilize the wind as opposed to sailing up and down the shoreline.
In 1989, Kelley helped organize the first Rubber Duck Race for Hospice of North Ottawa County.
“I ran that for 20 years, and we raised a lot of money for Hospice,” Kelley said.
Kelley continued to upgrade boats, eventually sailing a J/120, a 40-footer that took quite a crew to sail.
He’s since scaled back to a smaller boat, which he can sail on his own.
Kelley’s racing career includes 10 Chicago to Mackinaw races, including a third-place overall finish in 2001, when he won the Aries Trophy Award.
He sailed in the Lake Michigan Sail Racing Federation Offshore events for eight years, taking several first-place trophies.
Kelley made the trip across to Milwaukee for the Tripp Memorial and the return Queen’s Cup race 25 times, taking first in his division in the Queen’s Cup.
He’s sailed in all 30 of the Anchorage Cup races, which go from Grand Haven to Holland, and he’s competed in the Commodores Invitational 10 times.
For more than 30 years, Kelley has competed in the Grand River Sailing Club races.
He remains competitive in those races, but he spends an equal amount of time these days trying to promote the sport he loves. He recently assisted in starting the Grand River Sailing Club’s women’s sailing program.
Kelley served as commodore of the GRSC in 1984, and has received the club’s highest honor — the Larry Gardner Award — twice, in 1988 and 2009.
Kelley’s sailing exploits aren’t limited to Lake Michigan. He crossed an item off his bucket list when he sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from St. Maarten in the Caribbean to Marbella, Spain, back in 2011.
His most memorable race is the Queen’s Cup event in 1981.
“The thing that got me into racing was the Tripp Cup, going over there,” Kelley said. “That really turned me on to racing. Then, coming back in the Queen’s Cup, that’s the one they canceled because there was no wind. Thirteen hours from the start, we had gone six miles, and it’s 68 miles across.
“I had friends with little outboard motors but only two gallons of gas. They didn’t get in until Sunday afternoon.”
Kelley will be inducted into the Hall of Fame during a ceremony on Thursday at the GRSC clubhouse, 219 N. Harbor Dr. in Grand Haven. The event begins at 6 p.m. The public is invited to attend.