By Bill Wagner
Dalton DeVos is one of the youngest skippers competing at Quantum Key West 2014. The 22-year-old college student is skippering a Melges 32 entry and was second in the overall standings going into Wednesday's racing.
Dalton got into the class four years ago after hearing good things about the Melges 32 from his 23-year-old cousin Ryan. Dalton and Ryan are the sons of Doug and Dick DeVos, brothers who followed their famous father into the sport of sailing.
Richard DeVos, co-founder of Amway and current owner of the Orlando Magic, is an avid competitive sailor with two national titles and numerous regatta victories to his credit. Dick and Doug DeVos grew up sailing with their father on his series of racing boats.
So Dalton and Ryan are continuing a family tradition while also getting a chance to sail with their own fathers.
"Dick and Ryan bought a Melges 32 so Dalton and I thought 'Why don't we get one as well.' We kind of figured it could be like a two-boat program," said Doug DeVos, who now serves as Amway president. "Dalton and Ryan train and tune together before regattas. It's been a healthy rivalry. It's a two-boat program until the warning signal goes off."
Doug DeVos called tactics for Dalton when the two competed at the Melges 32 World Championship in 2012. Dalton is pointing toward the 2014 worlds, being held off Miami in December, and plans to sail the entire North American Circuit, which kicked off with Quantum Key West 2014.
"I was doing tactics for Dalton one time and at some point I instinctively grabbed the helm. I knew I was in trouble because Dalton just looked at me and said 'Keep your hands off the tiller.' It was a reminder that I was on his boat," Doug said.
Jonathan McKee, a two-time Olympic medalist, is calling tactics for Dalton aboard Delta and said the youngster is a quick study.
"Dalton comes from an unusual background in that he didn't come through a junior program and didn't sail in college. So he hasn't done a lot of sailing in small boats," McKee said. "But he's a really bright kid and a very fast learner. He's very calm in the boat, under control at all times. He also has good athletic ability, which is important in these boats. With every regatta, he gains more experience and confidence."
Of course, Dalton grew up sailing aboard big boats with his family and "knows the game," McKee said. However, having not come through the Optimist and Club 420 programs as a junior sailor means his "situational awareness is not as strong as someone with more dinghy experience," McKee said.
Dalton DeVos is a senior at Grand Valley State, which is near his home in Ada, Michigan. Being a responsible student, he flew home after racing on Monday night in order to attend a full day of classes on Tuesday.
"It worked out pretty well because we only had one race that day," he said.
Dalton returned to Key West in time to go racing on Wednesday and had a great day on the water with two first place finishes and a second in three races.