Lou Sandoval: Family Man With A Plan

By Rich Armstrong

A passionate racing and cruising sailor who relishes sharing the lifestyle with the uninitiated.

Lou Sandoval with his daughter at the helmChicago sailor Lou Sandoval, here watching over his daughter Sofia at the wheel, savors the "boating memories" made on the water.

The Windy City seems a likely place for a sailor's hometown. Lou Sandoval was born and raised in Chicago, and although his family didn't include boaters, he discovered the lifestyle early on. Today he loves nothing more than to sail Lake Michigan with his family.

I was originally exposed to boating through the Boy Scouts and learned to sail at Scout camp," says Sandoval, 53. Although he took a hiatus in college, his new career in health care and biotech took him to Seattle, then Miami, where he developed a passion for competitive offshore sailing. His father was a steelworker, his mom a homemaker, and he's the oldest of four siblings. His brother Martin also caught the sailing bug, and they still race their Beneteau First 36.7.

A self-described "entrepreneur by nature," Sandoval leveraged his business skills honed in the biotech industry and started a side business more in line with his passion. "I kept hearing from people who liked boating but couldn't use their boats enough to make them worthwhile," he said, explaining his pioneering venture into concierge service, so owners' boats were ready to go when they wanted them. The idea worked. Next, he sold his concierge business, replicated it in Florida, and once again sold that prior to moving back to Chicago. There, he bought a new 33-foot Beneteau, which he loves. He became friendly with the elderly dealers who were looking to pass on their business, and suddenly Sandoval was a boat dealer. He quickly built Karma Yacht Sales into one of the top three Beneteau dealers in North America.

Now officially a part of the boating industry, Sandoval got involved in the industry-driven "Grow Boating" and "Grow Sailing" marketing initiatives. "It's always been a passion of mine to see more people get on the water," he says. Sandoval is the vice commodore of the Chicago Yacht Club, serving as a volunteer on multiple committees, and remains involved in Scouting on its national council.

"It still feels like one of best programs for kids because it gets them outdoors and allows them to see things they might not normally see, like starting a campfire or hiking a mountain and taking in the view of the summit," he says.

Last year, he sold his dealership and later joined a new division of Brunswick Corp. named NAUTIC-ON, which focuses on developing a new smart technology for interconnected boats that improves the customer experience.

The Sandoval family takes in the annual Chicago Yacht Club fleet reviewThe Sandoval family takes in the annual Chicago Yacht Club fleet review aboard his boat, Karma.

"I've always been kind of a technophile," he says of the move, which kept him in Chicago with his wife and kids.

"My family are all boaters, my wife Sonia and our two daughters, Sarah and Sofia, ages 10 and 11," he says. Sandoval and his wife don't push the boating lifestyle on the kids, however. "We've made boating into family time. We sail together, and make boating memories together," he says of their parental philosophy. "It's still fun for them."

This sailor holds no tribal grudge against powerboaters. "At the end of the day, we all share a passion for the water. The more people are on the water, the better for everybody."

While he's all for fun, the competitive nature in him views sailing as great for developing a strategy to tackle a challenge, he explains. "There are multiple ways to reach a goal, and sailing is a metaphor for that. You may have to tack sometimes, you may have to jibe sometimes, but as a sailor, you have to keep the boat moving, and you're in control of your own boat, which is a metaphor for your life."

What's his perfect day? Sandoval says it's whenever he gets a chance to spend a morning or day on the water, watching his kids or Sonia sail the boat. "I'd rather trim sails, sit back, relax, and watch them enjoy themselves. There's nothing like a sunset in Chicago from a boat to get you hooked."  

— Published: October/November 2018


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