Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Turmoil Docks at the City Marina

This story originally appeared on "Life Floating By" an on line column sponsored by the Charleston Post and Courier, back in May of 2007.

Today October 27, 2009 Turmoil returned to Charleston.


No I'm not talking about my marriage, rather the 40 million dollar yacht named "Turmoil" docked at The Charleston City Marina recently.

So why is another expensive large and beautiful yacht visiting Charleston newsworthy?


Because this yacht represents a lesson in life, in its straight forward sense it's tragic and sad, but in total, it's a profound story of one man's dream and passion and for me it may have just been a sign and maybe a wake up call.

The owner of Turmoil, Gary Campbell Comer was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago and graduated from the Paul Revere School, 1010 E. 72nd Street, Chicago, IL in 1942.

Comer taught himself to sail at a public boat landing on Lake Michigan and went on to represent the United States in the 1956 Olympics on the sailing team which earned him a silver medal.

An avid sailor since childhood, Comer decided at age 33 to give up his 10-year career as an advertising copywriter at Young & Rubicam to start his own company, as long as it had some connection with sailboat racing.

In the fall of 1962, he started a mail-order sailing equipment business, distributing sailing gear, rain suits, and sweaters. The first location for the company was in an apartment on North Kedzie Avenue.

In the spring of 1963, Comer and five partners incorporated Lands' End Yacht Stores (the misplaced apostrophe was a typo that became part of the firms history), and moved to a rent-free basement office on Elston Avenue.

By 1965, they had begun to make a small profit and they printed their first catalogue, which became an industry legend for its clever and creative writing.

After several years of increasing sales but with large inventories of hardware to maintain, Comer decided to focus the company on its sailing and outdoor clothing lines.

So in 1978, Comer moved the warehouse and phone operations to Dodgeville, Wisconsin. In 1986, Lands' End went public. Today it is the second largest apparel-only mail-order business and the world's largest clothing Web site.

All the while, Comer's love of the sea grew and led to a progression of larger and larger ocean going sailing vessels, all named Turmoil. Story has it, Turmoil became the name of choice after a sailing friend looked into the cockpit of Gary Comer's racing Star and said, "Gary, your boat is always in turmoil."

Over the years, Comer sailed throughout the islands of the Great Lakes and before long had sailed to the far reaches of the world.

Gary Comer was not just a sailor but also a builder, of boat and boat things. He once had a dock built on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan for a new boat, but wanted to know why the builder had installed light posts on it at either end. "In case you had to back a vehicle down the dock at night," said the islander. But why would he want to do that? Comer asked. "In case someone told you that you couldn't." The two light posts stayed.

In 1996, Gary Comer launched a 151 foot Palmer Johnson yacht named of course Turmoil, an expedition style vessel with a cruising range of 10,000 miles that could take him to any corner of any sea on earth — and did.

After a mere four years, Turmoil passed its 100,000 th nautical mile, the equivalent of one circumnavigation of the earth at the equator each year for four years. The following year, after a 1,100 mile cruise up the west coast of Greenland, Comer decided to press further into the Central Arctic Basin, and surprisingly Turmoil successfully navigated the Northwest Passage that summer, crossing into Alaska's Beaufort Sea when the Arctic ice pack suddenly receded.

Comparing this voyage to others, Comer recognized how quickly the Arctic was changing, literally melting away. He determined to use his considerable marketing and entrepreneurial talents to fund major new research into the emerging new field of abrupt climate change.

Turmoil's expeditions became the University of Turmoil's as Comer invited experts on climate change to travel along to remote places in the Arctic to study the ice packs, ice caps and glaciers.

During the past four years, the Comer Fellows Program has funded on the order of 100 post-doctoral students from over two dozen leading research universities and institutions across four continents, and literally defined this new field of research.

In the summer of 2003 Comer signed a deal to build a new Turmoil at the Royal Denship shipyard in Denmark. After a 3 year build Comer's long time captain Phillip Walsh took over the eighth Turmoil and began the long trip to Chicago.

After several weeks of effortless sailing Turmoil entered Lake Michigan and headed for the windy city. They arrived off of Lake Shore drive around noon during the last week of August 2006, sounding the yacht's horn as soon as the crew spoted the owner and his family waving from their Chicago apartment balcony.

Comer had built the new Turmoil for his kids, as his extended family was growing and the previous vessel was just not big enough for everyone at one time. Within a few days, Gary Comer moved aboard and the next four weeks were enjoyed as the crew of Turmoil did regular lunch or dinner cruises on Lake Michigan, rarely out for more than a couple of hours.

On a clear windless day in October, they departed for Milwaukee leaving Gary Comer and his family behind. But at Gary's request Turmoil passed close by the Comer residence and as the stunning yacht sailed past her proud owner, again a long blast from the horn made quite an impression as the sound echoed across the lake front.

The next morning aboard Turmoil, Captain Walsh received word that Gary Comer had passed away peacefully, during the night, after a long battle with cancer. Gary Comer died Oct. 4, 2006, just five short weeks after Turmoil sounded her arrival along the Chicago Skyline, he was 78.

Lesson learned; follow your dreams life is short.

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