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LOFT HIGHLIGHT: Doyle Sails Midwest

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Doyle Sails Midwest loft owner John Baxter is one of the most accomplished sailors not only in the Great Lakes area but in the US.

As both a Doyle sailmaker from 1989 and a professional sailor, Baxter has twice completed the Sydney to Hobart race, winning his class in one edition and placing third in another. His accolades also include competing in 27 Key West Race Weeks (Winning on numerous occasions), various Superyacht Regattas around the world, Admirals Cup, and Sardinia Cup Trials, several SORC's, Montego Bay Races and Mexican distance races. John has also proudly competed in several World and National Championships in classes such as TP52's, Maxis, Corel-45s, Farr 40, Mumm 30, Beneteau 36,7, Beneteau 40.7, J-111 and J-109s. Additionally, Baxter has raced in 35 Chicago Mac races with several overall and class wins over the years most recently, winning Division One of the 2019 Chicago to Mackinac aboard the Nelson Marek 68 "Sagamore."

John Baxter's passion for sailing and sailmaking started at a young age, with several opportunities being presented to him early on. John Baxter said, "My family was extremely involved in sailing around the globe, and I wanted to be around those people as much as I could – I made the most of every opportunity to get onto a big boat. As a child, my father was involved in the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit (SORC), and I was lucky enough to start my career with his support and involvement as a National and International Race Official. I was allowed to meet, learn, and sail with the top level of sailors when I was only 12," says Baxter.

Having had the pleasure to sail with many inspirational sailors over the years, several sailors have played a part in shaping the life and career of John Baxter. John credits Chris and Richard Bouzaid, Tommaso Chieffi, Peter Isler, Robbie Doyle, Tom Lihan, Tim Woodhouse, Peter Bowker, Lowell North, Dee Smith, Jud Smith, Dave Curtis, Brian Hancock, and Gary Jobson to name a few.

With John's passion for sailing growing, his focus turned to sailmaking – beginning his career in Ft. Lauderdale, FL with Hood Sailmakers in 1984 before moving onto UK sails for a short time in 1987. "I would go straight to the loft after school every day. I started consulting on sails in 1986 by accident, and shortly after that, I realized I could make a career out of it," says John. In 1988 Baxter opened the new Doyle Sails loft in Ft. Lauderdale with Peter Grimm and Bob Meagher Sr.

By 1989, John was being encouraged to join Rich Stearns in Chicago, whose father Dick Stearns was an Olympic Silver medallist and Star World Champion - "Rich asked if I could come to Chicago and take up a position in his loft. Before making the permanent move to Chicago, I had spoken with Rich about becoming a Doyle loft, which he loved, and we made a move to Doyle Sails shortly after. I had the privilege to spend several years making sails with both Rich and Dick and the opportunity to continue to learn about all aspects of sailmaking, including design, construction, and sail shape from two very passionate and experienced people".

John's forte is linking his passion for sailing with his skill as a professional sailmaker. Over the years spent in Chicago, John spent a great deal of time juggling a successful sail loft and furthering his career as a professional sailor.

"The early days were spent working with the flourishing IOR 50 fleet. In a short time, we had 15 or more that were sailing out of Chicago. I remember one Port Huron race well, we were sailing downwind on the Frers 50 in 25knots of breeze, and suddenly out of the distance, the brand new Nelson Marek 43 went ripping past us going twice as fast. The owner of the boat looked at me and said, I guess we know what's next".

Chicago saw a shift in yacht racing, which saw the fast growth of the largest local IMS fleet of 39-50 feet in the US, replacing the IOR 50s. When the owners began to lose interest in the rating game, One Design was the obvious next progression. The Farr 40 fleet strengthened and quickly became the most extensive local fleet anywhere in the world. John and his team at Doyle Sails Midwest worked closely with their clients as the market continued to develop and evolve and supplied sails to over ¾ of this fleet.

For John, a successful loft in Chicago and the opportunity to work and sail with a significant number of his clients around the world is his dream. "It has always been the hands-on approach and the attention to detail, accompanied by the importance I put on service that allowed me to do what I do."

As the Farr 40 fleet saw significant growth in Chicago, it wasn't the only One Design class that was gaining momentum in the United States. Doyle Sails Midwest is proud to have played a part in the development of many other classes, including the J-111, J-109, J-105, J-88, J-70, Ben-36.7, Ben 40.7 fleets.

"The opportunity to sail with my clients continues to give me the chance to learn every day. This sport is always developing and advancing, so the learning can never stop. I enjoy working with clients and their teams on sailing their boats and helping them progress and improve."

With a long history in racing sails, they also supply sails for cruising boats of all sizes, both in the Great Lakes and around the world. With the early part of his sailmaking career in South Florida, John is very familiar with the ins and outs of Cruising sails and the requirements of Cruising sailors. "Every customer is a little different and is looking for different solutions, so that keeps many of the cruising projects exciting. We have yet to work with a cruiser who doesn't want to go faster and have their sailing made easier."

Chicago is home to some of the best sailors in the world, and John considers it an honor to be able to sail amongst this caliber of people. "We live in a part of the country where some incredible sailors have earned their stripes," Baxter says. "These sailors include Gary Comer, Dick and Rich Stearns, Dave Howell, Joe Londrigan, Don Wilson, Skip Novak, Helmut Jahn, Dick Jennings, Peter and Olof Harken, Brian Earhart, Maggie Shea, and the entire Melges family. They've created a sailing legacy that we can all be proud to be part of."

"One of the most rewarding things for me is the ability to teach and share knowledge. The focus for me is always the customer. Sailing is a pleasure sport, and if the owner and crew aren't getting any pleasure out of sailing, we are doing it wrong."

John Baxter is joined at Doyle Sails Midwest by long-time colleague Christina Donnermeyer who assists with all day to day operations at the loft and all general services and project management.

To learn more about John, Christina, and the team at Doyle Sails Midwest, click here.

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