Byline: Taylor Hill
SAN DIEGO — Fifteen sailors were selected for induction into the National Sailing Hall of Fame and were honored Oct. 23 at ceremonies held at San Diego Yacht Club. The newly formed Hall of Fame, based in Annapolis, Md., plans to hold annual induction events for the nation’s top sailors.
Hall of Fame honorees were selected for their impact on sailing in North America — and the inaugural group included Californians Hobart “Hobie” Alter, Paul Cayard, Dennis Conner and Lowell North.
“To be mentioned with sailors like Lowell North, Malin Burnham and Carl Eichenlaub and all of the things they’ve done special … I feel so privileged to have lived up to them, especially Lowell, who in my mind, is probably the greatest sailor we’ve ever had,” said inductee Dennis Conner during his induction speech.
The awards ceremony was held at San Diego YC’s Sail Wash Lawn, and all living Hall of Fame inductees were present, along with family members of posthumous award recipients. In total, nine living members were inducted, along with six posthumous inductees.
“To see all of these sailors together is just stunning — and that’s something you’ll hear me say throughout the day,” said ESPN senior production executive Geoffrey Mason, who served as master of ceremonies for the event.
Alter, 78, born in Ontario, was selected for his innovative entrepreneurship, creating a “beach toy” that altered the sport of sailing: the Hobie Cat 14-foot catamaran.
Alter, who started shaping wooden surfboards in his father’s garage in Laguna Beach in 1950, moved to lighter, foam-core fiberglass boards that became the future of surfing. When he sketched out his first catamaran design in the sand in the 1960s, the term “beach cat” was born. Today, more than 100,000 Hobie Cat boats have been constructed in 14 different designs.
Cayard, 52, of San Francisco, was the youngest member inducted in the inaugural Hall of Fame class, and noted it in his speech: “Looking at this group, I’ve got a lot to live up to,” Cayard said.
With six world championships in various classes, Cayard became known for his skills around the buoys at a young age, with his first world championship coming in the Star class in 1988.
In 1997-1998, the two-time Olympian and five-time America’s Cup participant surprised the sailing world by entering the Whitbread Round the World Race — a change from his dominance on buoy courses — and winning. Cayard became the first American to win the grueling race, and he followed it up with a second place finish in the 2005-2006 Volvo Round the World Race. Currently, Cayard races RC44s and is CEO of Artemis Racing for America’s Cup 33.
San Diego sailing legend Dennis Conner, 69, competed in nine America’s Cup campaigns before retiring in 2003, becoming known as “Mr. America’s Cup.” After becoming the first American skipper to lose the cup in 1983 since the U.S. first won the Cup in 1851, Conner worked tirelessly to win it back in the Cup’s next cycle at Perth, Australia in 1987.
The following year, Conner defended the Cup with a catamaran that bested challenger New Zealand and their 90-foot monohull. Conner has won 28 world championships and has been named Rolex Yachtsman of the Year three times.
North, 82, has been creating and optimizing sails since he was 14, re-cutting the mainsail of his Star boat. He went on to win four world championships as skipper in the Star class, leading Starlights magazine to call him “the perfect sailor.”
North opened his first North Sails loft in San Diego in 1957, and was among the first sailmakers to use computer modeling in his sail drafting. Conner was the first to use North Sails in the America’s Cup in 1980 — and in 2007, 11 of the 12 syndicated entered in the America’s Cup used sails by North.
Other living inductees present at the ceremony included Betsy Alison, five-time Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year; Ted Hood, sailmaker and 1974 winning America’s Cup helmsman; Gary Jobson, commentator, author and 1977 America’s Cup tactician; Buddy Melges, two-time Olympian and winner of 17 world championships in four classes; and Ted Turner, America’s Cup winner, and the only person to be voted Rolex Yachtsman of the Year four times.
Posthumous inductees included Charles Barr, winner of three America’s Cups; Nathanael Herreshoff, yacht designer and innovator responsible for sail tracks and slides, bulb and fin keels, hollow masts and early catamaran designs; Emil Mosbacher Jr., two-time America’s Cup winner; Joshua Slocum, writer of “Sailing Alone Around the World,” who is credited as the first person to sail singehanded around the world; Olin Stephens II, yacht designer with six winning America’s Cup designs to his credit; and Harold “Mike” Vanderbilt, winner of three America’s Cup races in the 1930s.
Next year’s National Sailing Hall of Fame inductee ceremony is scheduled to be held in New Orleans, at Southern Yacht Club.