Résumé: Owner, co-founder, and chief designer of Tippecanoe Boats, based in Everson, Wash. Transatlantic sailor. Former commodore of the Princeton University Yacht Club and skipper on the Princeton varsity sailing team. Majored in English.
WIND IN HIS SAILS A wooden racing yacht glides along the water — sails full, cedar hull gleaming in the sun. It makes no noise, leaves no wake. Just as it starts to pick up speed, another boat comes barreling straight at it. The wooden beauty tacks hard and tips violently. No one’s on board to keep her upright.
From a nearby dock, a 6-year-old boy fiddles with the yacht’s rudder via remote control, trying to avoid a collision with a rescue boat on a mission, as Will Lesh ’74 looks on calmly. Lesh and his small team at Tippecanoe Boats put 30 man-hours into crafting that 8-pound, 50-inch ship. “Everything’s perfect on it,” Lesh says. He should know: He took 15 years to get the design just right.
HOBBY MASTER Lesh has been a true hobby master since 1983, when he co-founded the model-sailboat company with his wife, Cynthia. Since then, they’ve sold roughly 65,000 boats and model-making kits. Adults use the 5-inch floaters in their hot tubs, and Olympic gold-medal-winning sailors Carl Buchan and Jonathan McKee favor the 37-inch, radio-controlled racing sloop for model-boat regattas. “Our model boats work the same way as full-size boats,” says Lesh. “People can learn all about how sailboats work from sailing ours.”
KEEPING A TRADITION ALIVE A native of Washington, D.C., Lesh was sailing on the Chesapeake before he was old enough to ride a bike. Summers were spent at Lake Tippecanoe in Indiana, building and sailing wooden boats with his father. After college, Lesh taught English and spent a year at law school before drifting back to his passion. He handcrafted a 24-foot racing sloop and sailed it across the Atlantic in 1981. Lesh lights up when he talks about model-making, a tradition he’s dedicated his career to keeping alive. “I see my boats as art. ... Watching a wooden fleet gracefully and swiftly maneuver is like watching ballet,” he says. “I always hope our boats will inspire a passion that will last a lifetime.”