Eight Bells

Joni Hertell

Karl Johan Hertell

25 June 1939 – 9 February 2024

Last Friday, in a 6 knot breeze from the North East, our friend and co-founder of the International Eight Metre Association headed out to sea.

Joni meant so many different things to so many people. To me he was the co-founder of IEMA, a champion sailor, a restless explorer of the road less travelled, an arctic fisherman, a fireworks expert and so much more. To say he was an utterly unique and extraordinary bright but “somewhat” eccentric man is truly an understatement.

His life in Eights started back in 1972 when Joni Hertell and Krister Ahlstrom bought the champion Eight Silja from the Clyde and continued to win the 1975 Worlds hosted by the Kungliga Svenska Segel Sällskapet (KSSS) in Sandhamn. After the 1987 Worlds in Helsinki Joni and his closest of friends took over The Iroquois from Eugene van Voorhis and formed the notorious “Sex Grubbar Syndicate” to campaign what arguably was and remains one of the most famous Eights of all. Ten years later a few members of the syndicate, Joni included, bought Wanda, another legendary Sira Cup winner. They tried to explain it with needing a proper boat for their kids…

And meanwhile Joni lead IEMA, of course alternating with Eugene van Voorhis as president and executive secretary. Together they shaped what was a small and fragmented group of boats in to a class racings as one, a class ready to regain IYRU International status! For that, Joni set up a strategic and coordinated effort to convince the legendary IYRU chairman Beppe Croce. At the IYRU Conference not everyone agreed but Beppe wouldn’t have any of it and so it happened. The immediate result was that 12 new modern Eights were ordered and, once more, the Int. 8-Metre fleets grew with fierce and active racing on both sides of the Atlantic.

By default the diversity of the boats meant an equally diverse group of owners and characters. For me personally, taking over from Joni and having to deal with some pretty turbulent issues wasn’t always easy. But Joni was my absolute rock in the surf, always having a listening ear followed by a very very crystal clear opinion on how to deal with the never ending myriad of challenges one faces when running IEMA. Joni never shied away from confrontations nor did he suffer much from offering his opinion. I recall that went down really well with some of our Southern European members ! But whether you agreed or not, whether what he said mattered or not, there was always something about the way he spoke that made it worth listening too.

And, when out on the water, Joni was fiercely competitive, he was one of those sailors who 30 years later could still recite every important race “tack for tack”.

Trying to sum up his life look me back to the year 2002 when the designer of Iroquois, Olin J. Stephens II, came over to Helsinki. Olin was an undisputed genius and the foremost navel architect of the 20th century, his designs having won the America’s Cup Eight times as well as every ocean race on planet earth. We decided to take a week off and fly to St. Petersburg, Russia, as Olin wanted to see the impressionists at the Hermitage. I called Joni as he had an office in St. Petersburg and I figured he could help up bypass the Russian immigration jam. The short reply was “Leave that to me” and sure enough we leisurely walked from the plane to our taxi while others stood in line for an hour or three…. Welcome to Joni’s world !

Olin later sent me his dairy of that journey and it opened with; “Upon arrival in Russia Joni took control” and with that short sentence Olin J. Stephens summed up Joni’s life from birth until the very end.

Joni is gone but the memories will remain forever, what a man he was and what a privilege it was to have him as a friend.

Sail on dear Joni, sail on


John Lammerts van Bueren