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SAILING: A man’s passion

Eighty-year-old Don Mason smiled as he sailed his sunfish sailboat on North Long1 / 3
Don Mason (right) sailed with his son, Monty (center) and grandson Jay, all on D2 / 3
Don Mason (right) sailed with his son, Monty (center) and grandson Jay, all on D3 / 3

Life doesn’t get any better for 80-year-old Don Mason than when he is out on the water in one of his sailboats.

Sailing is Don’s passion. You can see his love when he sits in the cockpit with his hands on the rudder with his short gray hair blowing in the wind. 

“It’s exciting,” Don said while getting his 70s model Sunfish ready for a sail along his shoreline on North Long Lake. “I’ll go sailing every day as long as there is enough wind and it has to be warm. I’m a little picky when it comes to wind. I prefer the wind to be between 6-20 mph.

“When it comes to sailing, I feel the time on earth doesn’t count. It’s free time for me out on the water.”

Don started sailing in the 70s. He said his family would go camping and they’d spend a lot of time on the lake. At first they had two canoes and a runabout and they’d go water skiing. Mason eventually turned his canoes into sailboats and began a hobby that would stick with him for the rest of his life.

Don’s love of sailing rubbed off on his adult children and grandchildren. Don recently celebrated his 80th birthday party with his family. They went sailing. It was a majestic moment, when Don, his son, Monty Mason, and his son, Jay, 15, went sailing. It was three generations of the love of sailing.

Monty, who lives in Buffalo, said he tries to drive up to his father’s house in rural Nisswa once a week to go sailing. Monty has two sailboats.

“I learned how to sail before I had my driver’s license,” said Monty. “I learned on my dad’s canoe sailboat. I really didn’t get into sailing until my early 20s. 

“In the beginning I liked sailing for the fact that I could go fast without a motor. But now I enjoy it for the peace and quiet. It’s amazing. I’m like my dad in that I like to sail by myself.”

However, father and son also enjoy friendly competition.

“Monty is more of the daredevil,” said Janet Mason, Don’s second wife. The two married in 2000, after their first spouses died, each from cancer. Janet said she doesn’t sail much, but sits on the dock and watches Don sail.

Monty and Don compete in things such as who can reach the finish line the fastest and who can hold one hull of the catamaran out of the water the longest.

Don not only enjoys the family fun, he also enjoys teaching children how to sail. He’s been teaching youths how to sail for 40 years for free. He does it out of pure enjoyment. He said any child is welcome to come to his home to learn how to sail. 

“As long as they can swim and wear a lif jacket I can teach them,” said Don. “I’ve taught more than 300 kids. It’s a cheap sport.”

Don owns three Sunfish sailboats, a mini fish sailboat, a 16-foot Hobie Catamaran and an 18-foot Sol Cat Catamaran that he enjoys sailing.

As Don is getting older, Janet worries about his safety with sailing. Don has a heart problem and he has a defibrillator and a pacemaker, which have “fired out” two times in his life where Don could have died.

Don said the scariest moment sailing for him was in 2009. He was sailing by himself and got caught in the middle of the lake during a thunderstorm. The wind picked up and he couldn’t sail back to the boat landing so he sailed to a nearby marina. He made it to the marina, tied the boat to the dock and that’s when his defibrillator and pacemaker “fired out.” This was the second time this had happened, but Don said he thought that he got hit by lightning.

“It fired a second time and that’s when I realized it wasn’t lightning,” said Don.

“She (Janet) tells me I have to give up sailing, but I say I need to be a better sailor.”

With a laugh, Janet said when she first met Don she didn’t know how passionate he was about sailing. The couple met in Florida in 1999. Janet was visiting her sister and her sister’s neighbor was friends with Don.

She said she can’t sail because she has back problems, but she serves as the rescue boat person.

“I just sit on the pontoon watching him sail and I read a book,” said Janet.

When Don is not sailing, he and his wife enjoy playing cards with friends. They spend their summers at the North Long Lake home and the winters in Florida and spring and fall in Indiana, where Janet is from.

Don retired in 1986 after working 30 years in the computer programming business in Bloomington. 

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at or 855-5851.