W.W. "Mo" Cleland

By Don Sanford

I first met Mo in 1977 at an after-race party when my skipper, Don Ermer, introduced us. At the time Mo sailed an E Boat named Mo's Miss, the replacement for his first E Boat, Dorothy D. Who Dorothy was or how William Wallace Cleland picked up the nickname of Mo remains an enigma, at least to me. Mo arrived in Madison as a grad student in 1951. Before to long, he connected with Hoofers and began riding the same slippery slope into a lifetime of sailing as the rest of us. Those were heady days at Hoofers. Mo and other UW Students like Peter Harken, Charlie Miller, Art Mitchell and Peter Lundt raced Tech's and Finn's with Peter Barrett as he prepared for his quest of Olympic Gold.

Peter Barrett once said that the Finn "is a boat that demands raw guts." That describes Mo in more ways than just sailing. Certainly he was a great sailor, winning the 1964 midwest Finn championships--Barrett came in second. You'll find "W.W. Cleland" or "Mo Cleland" engraved on many of our E Scow trophies, recognition of a sailing career with MYC spanning almost two decades. Iceboating formed another chapter of Mo's sailing dossier. In the mid-1960s Mo, Peter Harken and Peter Barrett all crewed for the legendary Jim Payton on the equally legendary Class A iceboat, the Mary B. When I asked Mo about that he nonchelantly recalled, "I do remember sailing on the Mary B at Oshkosh in a real blow. That was the race where we made one downwind leg (2 miles) in one minute flat. Quite a thrill!" Peter Harken's recolection of those days on the B were a bit more dramatic. "Mo was fearless. Regardless of how hard the wind was blowing or how close we were to losing it, Mo would keep pushing us to sheet harder and harder refusing to ease the mainsheet even an inch."

Though he retired fom active sailing in the late 1970's he wasn't done. His daughters Erica and Elsa raced X boats. Then in 1981 when the A fleet was revived, Mo served as PRO and coach for the Falcon and later Silver Bullet syndicates organized by Doug Tormey and Mo's wife Joan.

In 2002 I invited Mo to join the board of the Madison Community Sailing Orgznization. I didn't realize what I'd gotten myself into. He was not only enthusiastic about our project but fearless. In the face of what I can politely describe as some contentious public meetings, Mo was unflappable. He waded right in, becoming our liason with the Northside Planning Council (NPC) letting them see that our group of sailors were not as flakey as everyone made us out to be. While our project never materialized, it launched Mo into a decade-long relationship with NPC. He served first as a board member and recently on the editorial and proofreading team for Northside News.

Mo's home at 1154 Sherman Avenue was bookended by two other E Boaters--Bill Mattison and Harry Field who said, "Mo truly was a wonderful character. A knowledgeable person you could always count on for help and who always let you know where the world was supposed to be."

Mo has now "crossed the bar" on his way to join so many other sailors at the big regatta in the sky where you're always sailing on the lifted tack under a perfect sky. He is survived by his daughters Elsa and Erica; grandsons Max, Finn and Griffin and his brothers, Robert and Charles. A memorial reception will be held at a later date.