A great idea from a guy named Goofy

One man’s great idea bumps into en­gi­neer­ing ego

Boating - - NEWS -

When he walked into the Lake View Inn, our old friend Mal­colm Sohm was greeted with a re­sound­ing cho­rus of “Goof! Goof!” It was not a de­ri­sive chant. Only the IRS and the DMV know the man as Mal­colm. To the world at large he’s known as Goofy, a nick­name he’s owned since 1972.

How Mal­colm be­came Goofy is a long story that in­volves green beer for lunch on St. Pa­trick’s Day, a Santa suit and a minibike, and an ill-fated dare to lap the halls of Oshkosh High School. “What a goofy thing to do!” ex­claimed Prin­ci­pal Rohm as Mal­colm lay sprawled on the ter­razzo. It was that easy.

Life for Goofy and his wife, Terry, took a turn for the worse in 1995 when their 21-year-old daugh­ter was di­ag­nosed with AIDS, pretty much a death sen­tence in those days. Goofy was run­ning a one-man body shop south of Oshkosh, Wis­con­sin, at the time.

“I sat in my shop, and know­ing I would lose my daugh­ter, I needed to cre­ate some­thing for the fu­ture. I looked at my pon­toon boat, and the old light­bulb went off,” Goofy told me in his funny, Yogi Bear voice. “I wanted to be able to run across Lake Win­nebago on a rough day and have it ride like a Scarab and re­al­ized I needed to keep the front end up. I C-clamped two pieces of alu­minum to the fins on the bow of my boat’s tubes, and it made a big dif­fer­ence. I had Terry drive while I watched the water pat­tern un­der the boat and fig­ured it out.”

Thus was born the TAP Fin Sys­tem, for which Goofy re­ceived a patent in 1999. A chine welded to the length of the pon­toon tubes, TAP has a lip that cap­tures en­ergy from water flow­ing off the tubes and lifts the boat to re­duce drag and im­prove han­dling and the ride. Imag­in­ing the in­come from li­cens­ing his patent to pon­toon builders, Goofy started mak­ing the rounds.

“I ran into a lot of not-in­vent­ed­here at­ti­tude,” he ex­plained. “A lot of the en­gi­neers didn’t want to be­lieve a guy named Goofy from Oshkosh had come up with a bet­ter­work­ing sys­tem. They all have some sort of fin sys­tem, but TAP still works best.”

Goofy did li­cense TAP for a few years, and he sells about 100 kits an­nu­ally di­rectly to boat own­ers. He and Terry re­cently moved to North Carolina.

Back for a visit this win­ter, Goofy took a Lake View bar stool next to mine and whis­pered over his soda: “I’ve got an­other trick up my sleeve. I’ve solved the prob­lem of vor­ta­tion on these big pon­toons, all the tur­bu­lence that cav­i­tates the prop. My at­tor­ney is writ­ing the patent. I’ve got them again!”

I think “vor­ta­tion” is a Goofism. Maybe this time boat­builders won’t let ego get in the way of a good idea. Even if that idea comes from a guy named Goofy.

A lot of the en­gi­neers didn’t want to be­lieve a guy named Goofy from Oshkosh had come up with a bet­ter­work­ing sys­tem. They all have some sort of fin sys­tem, but TAP still works best.

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