Gannon Troutman with his parents Dan and Robin
Gannon Troutman was one of the biggest stories of Quantum Key West 2015. The 12-year-old skipper of the J/70 Pied Piper captured the imaginations of fellow competitors and spectators alike.
A feature story about Troutman that appeared on the event website received thousands of views and the youngster became an instant folk hero. Making the story even more remarkable was the fact Troutman and the Pied Piper team finished fifth in a talent-laden 56-boat fleet. The youngest skipper in Key West Race Week history won a race and also had a second and third.
It was the type of feel-good story that resonated with a lot of people, sailors and non-sailors alike.
“Over the course of the year we found out that a lot of people did read it and Gannon got a lot of attention at some of the other regattas he attended,” said Dan Troutman, who crews for his son on Pied Piper.
Gannon’s piano teacher saw the story and passed it along to the local paper where the family lives in Gloucester, Virginia. The Daily Press out of Newport News wound up running a front-page story about the sailing prodigy.
“It was right after we got back from the worlds in France. We stopped at Starbucks on the way to church and I picked up the paper and there Gannon was on the front page!” Robin Troutman said. “I think the fact he’s driving the boat was what made it a bigger deal. We know a lot of kids that sail in the J/70, but they are just crew.”
One year later, now 13-year-old Gannon Troutman has returned to the annual race week off Key West and is a well-known player in the popular one-design class. After all, the young hotshot placed 15th out of 78 boats at the J/70 World Championships.
Looking back, Troutman admits he never expected to do so well at last year’s Key West Race Week.
“I was very surprised. I didn’t think we would do that well in our first regatta. It was amazing,” Troutman said prior to racing on Thursday. “I was fortunate to have a very good crew and I do think that team worked really well together. We all put our minds to it, we wanted it and we went out and did it. We weren’t really worried about how we placed. We just went out and had fun.”
In the process, young Gannon beat some outstanding skippers while getting to know some of the top professionals such as Tim Healy, Dave Ullman and Vasco Vascotto. He admits to being in awe of getting to compete against and get to know some of the stars of the sport.
“Many times I thought that. I still think that. It’s awesome that I get to race with these professionals. It’s just an honor to be out on the course with them,” Gannon said. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of the guys in the class and it’s neat to kind of be part of the culture.”
Tomas Dietrich, Gannon’s Optimist coach at Fishing Bay Yacht Club, is back this year as tactician while Federico Norman is trimming the man and Dan Troutman is working the bow. Gannon got off to a rough start on Monday, but posted a fourth and seventh on Wednesday.
Dietrich said the goal for this year is to have Gannon take more responsibility for strategy and not simply take directions from the crew. “Gannon has been getting better. We’re helping him a lot less at this regatta. He’s doing a lot more on his own as far as thinking and making decisions,” Dan Troutman said.
Dan and Robin Troutman have allowed Gannon to pursue a very ambitious racing schedule this year, culminating in October with the J/70 Worlds in San Francisco. Gannon intends to compete in Key West again next year, but won’t be doing nearly as much traveling since he will be attending Christchurch Academy after being home-schooled up until now.
“This whole season we’re maxed out with the J/70 campaign. By the fall of next year he’ll be in high school and all this traveling will be over,” Robin said.
While Gannon is a year older, the novelty of seeing such a young skipper sailing in one of the world’s greatest regattas has not worn off.
“Monday I was on the spectator boat and a gentleman heard I was with Pied Piper and said ‘The only reason I came out here was to watch your son. I read the story last year and I thought it was cool.’ That kind of blew me away,” Robin said.
Dan Troutman said there are no concerns about all the attention going to Gannon’s head. “We don’t have to worry about that. Gannon keeps his head on straight. He doesn’t want the publicity. He could care less about the trophies. He just loves to sail.”