Call Bill Wright: (727) 403-4985

Bill Wright

Bill Wright, racing and building sailboats

Bill Wright

Bill Wright

Bill Wright was born in Wilmington, NC  in 1954, but within a year moved to Elizabeth, LA where he spent his formative years. Growing up he had an interest in horseback riding and Geology. Elizabeth, LA is up in the middle of the state, so he did not grow up a boater, however, in 1970 Bill’s father, who worked for the Jim Walter corporation, moved his family to Tampa Florida, and it wasn’t long before Bill Wright’s love affair with the sea, and boating, began.

Bill Wright first discovered Hobie catamarans, and started teaching himself to sail on a Hobie 14. More exciting that rock collecting, or even horseback riding, racing fast sailboats soon became a passion. He found himself developing friendships with others who had the same passion. Like so many of us, Bill Wright had fallen in love with life on the water, and become hooked on the excitement and competitive spirit of racing. It was a passion which would define his path in life.

Bill Wright on his Hobie 14

Bill Wright on his Hobie 14

Bill remembers fondly those early days of racing at the Gulfport Yacht Club, and the camaraderie and strong friendships which came of that shared zeal for contests of skill on the water. It was those friendships, and connections, which led to Bill Wright’s first job in the Marine industry, at the age of 18. He started assembling masts for Jopie Helsen for his Helsen 22’s.

Eventually a position opened up at Kiwi Boats, building IOR racing boats. Originally the company was located in Plant City, in a former casket manufacturing facility, but as the builder grew the production facility moved to the Largo Florida area. The company produced a number of successful boats, including Kialoa IV and  the Ron Holland designed “Imp.” That boat became one of the most winning, and well recognized racing boats of its day.

Bill Wright, Steve Sears and Keith Yeoman aboard Quest

Bill Wright, Steve Sears and Keith Yeoman aboard Quest

For Bill Wright, this period of his life was an incredible learning experience, and an amazing inside look at the boat building industry, and more specifically the custom racing boat industry. If you wish to gain an understanding of every aspect of boat building, including hull lay-up, keels, rigging, mast construction and implementation and running rigging layout, there is no better “school room” than a builder like Kiwi Boats. Bill soaked it up.

 

 

Bill Wright, building sails in St. Petersburg, FL

Bill Wright aboard Bootlegger

Bill Wright aboard Bootlegger

For a racing sailor, like Bill Wright, the only thing more fascinating than the construction of racing sailboats is the creation, and refinement, of sails for those racing sailboats. This fascination eventually led Bill to the sailmaking industry. The delicate balance between weight (lighter is faster), strength (the ability to hold the design shape through a broad range of wind strengths) and cost (the average sailor needs to be able to afford new sails) presented a daily challenge which kept Bill enthralled. And the constant quest for a faster design shape became the holy grail.

Bill learned the sailmaking craft over many years at sailmakers like Johnson Sails, Hood Sails, Sobstad and UK Sailmakers. He learned every aspect of that industry, and along the way became an expert at Canvas and Upholstery as well. During his 10 years with UK Sailmakers he soon became Production Manager, and was in charge of the entire facility. He worked directly with racing sailors, major production boat builders, custom boat builders and long range cruising sailors. He was directly involved in creating sails for many of the winningest boats of the 70’s – 80’s. And, he was integral in developing a complete sail inventory for  the Star Clipper, 360 feet long, 50 feet wide, with 4 masts and 16 sails! Bill became a problem solver, and an expert at how boats are used, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and which boats meet owners needs the best.

Bill also continued his racing career, sailing with the likes of Mark Ploch, Butch Ulmer,  and John Jennings. Along the way he was an integral part of teams that won the J/24 Midwinters in 1980, the S.O.R.C. in 1986 (aboard ABRACADABRA) , and the Kenwood Cup in 1990. When a group organized a race to Havana, Cuba, in 1998 Bill Wright jumped aboard Jade, a custom Brewer 38 owned by his old friend, and former employer, Jopie Helsen.

Bill Wright, Managing Marine Businesses in St. Petersburg, FL

Bill Wright aboard Bootlegger

Bill Wright aboard Grey Mist

By the mid-nineties Bill Wright was running all of the production departments for Larry French at St. Petersburg/Clearwater/Tampa’s largest marine supply business, JSI. That business had grown from the modest Johnson Sails, where Bill had worked at a much younger age. It now sold anything, and everything, you could ever want for a sailboat, and produced on their property in St. Petersburg Masts, Rigging, Canvas, Cushions and Sails for all manner of sailboats; racing, cruising, production, custom, …you name it.  If it was powered by sails, JSI  built and sold what you needed. Bill’s extensive knowledge and experience enabled him to continue to grow JSI, and to help develop it into a nationally, and even globally recognized brand. Sailors from around the world depended on JSI to help them keep their boats seaworthy and ready for the open ocean. (or a man-made lake!)

Bill Wright aboard Bootlegger flying spinnaker and blooper

Bill Wright aboard Bootlegger flying spinnaker and blooper

At the beginning of the 21st century JSI was purchased by an internet company called Sailnet which was riding the wave of interest and investment in “Tech.” companies. With a large influx of  capitol, and a powerful global marketing platform (the internet) Sailnet.com produced some rapid growth, but as that wave crested and collapsed, Sailnet found themselves in a position where it no longer made sense for them to try to own and operate a large production and fulfillment company. For a brief moment in history it looked like one of the most significant sailboat supply companies in the world would disappear. JSI was going to be gone!

At this point, Bill Wright had spent a huge hunk of his life helping to grow, solidify and nurture JSI. He had pride, responsibility and a strong attachment to this brand and what it had become over the years, and he was not prepared to let it slip away to the depths of obscurity. So, with the help of a couple of like minded friends, he purchased what remained and New JSI was born! Before long a new location was chosen and Bill was hard at work restoring the reputation of, and maintaining the vast capabilities of, one of the the world’s great sailing suppliers. For 12 years he polished the gloss of this brilliant brand, helping sailors live their dreams.

Bill Wright rides the rail aboard Grey Mist

Bill Wright rides the rail aboard Grey Mist

But for Bill the daily operation of a major corporation seemed to pull him further and further from his true love, which was boats and sailing. His days had become a little bit too much about administrative decisions, accounting and piles of bureaucracy. Not really the life of a sailor. And that brought Bill to one of the most difficult and challenging decisions in his life. But, eventually, he became sure in his heart. It was time to put JSI in the capable hands of someone else, and move a lot closer to where his heart lived. For Bill, it had started with boats and the people who love them, and it was time to bring it back to boats and the people who love them. It was time to reconnect with the love of the sea, …with people who dream of crossing an ocean, the Gulf, or just the Bay. It was time to fall in love with the marine industry again, but in a more connected way.

Bill Wright had known Stanton Murray for years, and as he began to explore ways to reconnect, Stanton suggested that Bill join Murray Yacht Sales and help boaters with the “two best days of their lives,” the day they buy, and the day they sell so they can move on to their next dream. What could be better than helping people live their dreams of a life connected to the sea. What could be better than helping folks experience the joy and passion which has fueled Bill’s own career all these years.

Please come celebrate your love of the sea, and of boats, with Bill Wright, St. Petersburg Yacht Broker with Murray Yacht Sales.

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