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
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."