Remembering Bill Iler

Published 8:24 pm Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A little more than a year ago, my partner, Mike Wright, and I visited Bill Iler in Belhaven and were so pleased to find that he’d put down roots in a community that is obviously enjoying a well-deserved renaissance. We have visited Belhaven countless times over the years, on voyages north and south, and stopped with Bill on his maiden voyage aboard his Trumpy yacht, “Windrush,” in 2006. Bill’s enthusiasm for the town he had embraced so wholeheartedly was “catching” and I subsequently wrote an article about Belhaven that appeared in a cruising publication.

We were horrified to hear through the boaters’ grapevine, and subsequently through Jimmie Southerland, that Bill had died suddenly last week. Life had recently tossed Bill some curveballs, and Mike and I had been thrilled when he told us he was enjoying his chartering life with his first mate, Diana.

I’ve been privileged to call Bill my friend for nearly two decades, and it was he who introduced me to Mike 10 years ago when we helped deliver “Windrush” up to Annapolis. I’ve sailed with Bill in places as far apart as Canada and the Grenadine Islands, and knew him as a neighbor when he lived in upstate New York. Those of us who rooted for Syracuse basketball throughout the winters (not much else to do here) had a little trouble with Bill’s loyalty to his alma mater, N.C. State, but because it was Bill, we played along and didn’t kill him or silence him with duct tape.

Over the years we watched him progress from racing J24 sailboats to becoming a charter captain of the J37 he owned in Annapolis…to the acquisition of his beloved “Windrush.” We helped with his early charters and were amazed by his tenacity and commitment to his chosen path. It wasn’t easy for Bill to walk away from his life ashore, and it wasn’t easy to keep going while so many others who attempted to charter boats had failed, but Bill kept pursuing his dreams.

Bill’s friendship was something we all cherished. If you needed Bill, you knew he would be there. It mattered not that it might be inconvenient, or almost impossible. Bill would come to help. Life had recently tossed Bill some curveballs, but it was obvious that recently he was enjoying his chartering life with his mate, Diana.

Bill was a man who cared. He cared deeply about his family (including his adopted family in Belhaven), he cared about his community and he cared passionately about his country. His commitment extended from local to national politics, but unlike so many others, Bill rolled up his sleeves and pitched right in to get things done. Often beyond his body’s limits. We aren’t at all surprised to learn that Bill died after working so hard to help out on the Fourth of July weekend. That was who he was, and despite our loss, it was a perfect punctuation point for a life of caring for people, animals and the principles in which he so deeply believed.

Wherever he traveled, Bill made friends. Not acquaintances. Lifelong friends. And as the story of his passing travels up and down the Intracoastal, hundreds if not thousands of people will truly mourn Bill.

His many friends in his longtime home of Cazenovia, New York, his boating friends who extend from Canada to Annapolis, North Carolina, and the Florida Keys, his charter guests, owners of marinas, restaurants and businesses, and nearly everyone who knew Bill will keenly miss the man who unselfishly befriended us all.

The following quote (via Jimmie Southerland) so aptly expresses both Bill’s course and his commitment to life on the water:


“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream, discover.”

– Mark Twain


And that’s what Bill did.

Bill Iler was, quite simply, a great guy and a gentleman, in every sense of the word. Our thanks to Belhaven for becoming his cherished last home.


Jody Reynolds lives in Cazenovia, New York.