When William “Scott” Piper III was a child his father laid a piece of advice on him that still resonates after 60-plus years: “There’s no reason to live in Florida if you don’t do what it has to offer.” With this, a passion for sailing was born, and with it a legacy that Piper’s father, now passed, would be proud of: Four “near” circumnavigations, podium finishes in high-profile events such as Key West Race Week and the now-defunct Southern Ocean Racing Conference (SORC), a third-place finish in the double-handed Newport-Bermuda Race, an invitation to sail with Dennis Conner in his Stars & Stripes ’87 campaign, and numerous ocean crossings, including rounding three of the world’s five great capes.
Piper began sailing at age 10 aboard Spray, his father’s 37-foot Alden yawl, and within a year had a boat of his own, a Moth (Pipe Dream I). Next came a Comet (Pipe Dream II) and a penchant for buoy racing. By the time he was in high school, Piper was racing Lightnings and doing foredeck on big boats, including offshore SORC events with his father. “There’s no better place in the world to live as a sailor than Miami,” says Piper, now 70. “There are great winds, a million places to go, and the Gulf Stream is right there.” By age 19, while still an undergrad at Dartmouth, Piper made his first Atlantic crossing; his second came two years later.
Shake Dr. Piper’s hand and you know that you are in the presence of an intelligent, driven man. Forget the thinning silver hair and the paunch belly–imply bring up the subject of adventure and you’ll see his eyes alight. While Piper may appear to be somewhat withdrawn, it’s obvious that he’s constantly evaluating the outside world.
You also immediately know that, should things turn ugly offshore, Piper’s reticent faade will immediately give way to a calm, clear-thinking command that has “been there, raced that.” You simply don’t sail as many offshore miles (185,000 and counting) as Piper without having dealt with serious weather and trying situations; likewise, you don’t practice emergency-room medicine for as long as he did without encountering some truly horrific scenes.
When I visited Piper in his home in Coral Gables, Florida, Pipe Dream IX, his J/160, was in Vancouver being refitted for his next adventure. Crawling around on Pipe Dream XVI, his latest Etchells (a class in which he’s been active for the past 15 years, and which he helped seed in Florida), I found his spark for adventure and serious competition much in evidence when I queried him about rig details. The same analytical mindset that allows Piper to quickly evaluate a car accident victim also allows him to utilize his knowledge of sailboats to the utmost while competing in one of the world’s toughest one-design fleets. Imagine him competing in the 1999 Sydney Hobart Race aboard his J/160–which he sailed to Australia on its own bottom–with 55 knots square on the nose, and, well, you get the idea.
Piper has lived a life that any sailor would admire, but medicine, not sailing, tops his chart of personal accomplishments. “I’m a third-generation doctor,” says Piper, watching the sunset from his waterfront patio. “Anybody can sail around the world four times, but not everybody can be an orthopedic surgeon.”
There was a period of 13 years–from the age of 21 to 34–when Piper didn’t sail at all. It wasn’t because he lost interest. But when you’re a young resident in the demanding field of orthopedic surgery, working shift rotations of 36 hours on, 12 hours off, it’s hard to find time for anything else. Yet Piper beat the odds at this game too, maintaining his relationship with his wife, Gillette, as well as his interests in sky diving, flying and scuba diving while still surviving the rigors of resident life.
Piper spent five and a half years in the military during Vietnam, working as the Assistant Chief of the Department of Orthopedics at West Point. While there, he also served as Officer in Command of the Cadet Skydiving team (he held the rank of Major) with a Class-C jump license and racked up an impressive 226 jumps, some of which he made with his adventurous wife. After the military came private practice, but in typical fashion this too was executed at a high level. “Long hours are the norm when you first start medicine,” says Piper. “Hospitals love a new surgeon who’s willing to cover the emergency room. I worked on the ER staff of six hospitals concurrently and also taught medicine at Jackson Hospital through the University of Miami Medical School. I got a lot of patients this way.”