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'Crazy British sailor' spreads his love of the sea

'Crazy British sailor' spreads his love of the sea

EAST CHICAGO - He's nowhere near 250 pounds. He doesn't live in a thatched

hut. He doesn't have a tag-along little buddy named Gilligan. But he's the

closest thing Northwest Indiana has to "The Skipper."

Geoff Barrow, 49, of Munster helped develop the sailing class sponsored by

the Indiana Sailing Association that aims to introduce young people to the art

of sailing. For the past five years, he has taught the class in conjunction

with East Chicago Central High School.

"The kids all call me Skips, or Skipper," he said.

The ponytailed Barrow can hold a dry index finger in the air and produce a

more accurate weather forecast than the 6 o'clock news.

"I'm a crazy British sailor," said Barrow, who grew up near the port of

Liverpool. As a child, he learned to sail from the old hands who manned the

ships there. "Sailing gets into your blood - all that beautiful, expansive

nature around you. It makes you very grateful, very respectful, too."

When Barrow moved to Northwest Indiana 10 years ago, he was disappointed to

discover that most inner-city youths did not get the opportunity to sail, or

even to see Lake Michigan.

"In England, there are a lot of Outward Bound-type programs for inner-city

kids or ornery kids," he said. "Anyone with half a salt in England with a chunk

of water like Lake Michigan would have a sailing program."

Barrow said his life has unfolded differently than he once envisioned.

It was once his dream to enter the English Navy to pursue his love of the

sea and different sailing vessels. But the dream was met with staunch

disapproval by his family.

They had a good reason, he said.

"I was an only child. My family was afraid they would lose me if I went

into the Navy," he said. "My father was the captain of a destroyer that was

bombed on D-Day, June 6, 1944."

However, he remained determined to do "something" with the sea. So he

majored in Spanish at Leeds University.

His goal: to use Spanish while working on a "beef boat" that shipped

rationed meats and fruits into England from the Caribbean and Latin America.

While in England, Barrow worked with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution

of Great Britain and received the Royal Life Saving Society Bronze Medallion

and Bronze Cross. He also raced 14-foot dinghies and worked as a deckhand on

tugboats. He got into weekend sailing as a hobby.

In 1966, he went to Brown University, where met the love of his life, wife

Arleen, whom he describes as "an exotic Italian from Chicago." They have three

children.

Today, one of Barrow's major ambitions is to share his love of sailing with

as many young people as he can.

"There's a real tradition of the sea," he said. "And it's great to show

youngsters who don't realize what a wonderful heritage they have right here in

their own back yard. It's better than Great America."

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