Fair Winds: National Sailing Hall of Fame Plans Next Phase of Development
Oct 09, 2015 01:36PM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
The Pride II, one of several educational tall ships to have docked at City Dock, Annapolis.
The phrase, “Future Hall of Famer,” sure seems to be used frequently to describe an athlete on sports telecasts, and yet very few athletes actually receive such a distinguished honor. The process of being inducted into a Hall of Fame is appropriately done with great care by using strict guidelines. Most sports feature a Hall in a location where a specific sport is played. For example, the Lacrosse Hall of Fame is located in Baltimore. The Hockey Hall of Fame is in Toronto, Canada, and the Tennis Hall of Fame is located in tony Newport, Rhode Island. Some Halls have made a few small towns “must see” destinations, such as the National Football League’s in Canton, Ohio, and baseball’s in Cooperstown, New York. So it is fitting that a Sailing Hall of Fame exists in Annapolis. After all, our town is known as, “America’s Sailing Capital.”
The careers of the sailing inductees are inspiring. Take Nathanael Herreshoff as an example. He was educated at a new engineering college in Cambridge, Massachusetts called the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Young Nathanael was fascinated by steam engines in the mid -1800s. Unfortunately, there was an explosion of one of his engines that caused fatalities. He lost his license to work with steam power, and shifted to sail boats. Over the course of the next 60 years he designed, built, and raced on six successful America’s Cup defense campaigns. Herreshoff’s story is a nice tale on how to overcome adversity.
The legendary designer, Olin Stephens created a breakthrough design with his 12 Meter, Intrepid for the 1967 America’s Cup. The yacht easily won the trials, and defended the Cup. But, for the 1970 match, his new design, Valiant, was seriously off the pace. Olin was 62 at the time, and people wondered whether the master had lost his touch. But, four years later Olin returned to his brilliant form and designed Courageous, which defended successfully in 1974 and again in 1977. Proving that he was still on his game, Stephens designed another winning 12 Meter in 1980, named Freedom. He was 72 years old at the time. In all, Olin Stephens was the designer of eight successful America’s Cup yachts, and designed 15 Bermuda Race winners.
Dennis Conner was nearly a house hold name in 1983 when he skippered Liberty in the America’s Cup final against the innovative wing keel Australia II. The Aussie boat was lightning fast, and yet Conner and his crew kept the racing close. The score was tied at 3-3 with one race to go. Liberty led for the first four legs, but a tactical error cost the USA the race, and the match. Conner was vilified for the defeat. But 40 months later he successfully challenged the Australians in Fremantle with his patriotically named 12 Meter, Stars & Stripes. Conner became a worldwide hero for his inspiring comeback.
The stories of the National Sailing Hall of Fame Inductees are impressive. The idea to form the Hall came to my mind when the Whitbread Round the World Race visited Annapolis in May 1998. Before the start of the leg to England, a Skipper’s Forum was held on City Dock. A huge crowd of more than 1,000 people were in attendance to hear the thoughts of all the skippers that were racing that year. I was the Master of Ceremonies of the session. It dawned on me, at that moment, that sailing should have a Hall of Fame recognizing outstanding achievement and service in the sport. The idea was to inspire young people to aim high and achieve great things on the water.
It was a long road getting the initial concept rolling. With the approval of U.S. Sailing, the National Governing Body of the Sport, the National Sailing Hall of Fame was established. In December 2005, then Governor Robert Ehrlich announced that the State of Maryland would sign a long term, 50-year lease with the Sailing Hall of Fame on the state’s property adjacent to City Dock. Initially, there was considerable concern about what kind of structure might end up being built on the property. Of course, any change to City Dock triggers emotions. But that is a story for another day. Over the past 10 years, the National Sailing Hall of Fame (NSHOF) has initiated many programs to promote sailing, honor inductees, as well as inspire and teach young people to appreciate sailing—working hard to build awareness of the sport.
The mission of the organization is to promote sailing by preserving America’s sailing legacy and engage the next generation by sharing the benefits, excitement, and beauty of sailing. The vision is to engage people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to participate in sailing, and to appreciate the life lessons it offers. Sailing teaches critical life skills, including; athleticism, teamwork, leadership, self-reliance, and responsibility. The sea is never predictable, therefore, sailors must constantly adapt to a changing environment. Once you spend time on the water, you will see life on land differently.
The NSHOF executive director, Lee Tawney, has worked tirelessly with hundreds of volunteers to create and manage these programs. The center piece is the annual induction ceremony. The 2015 ceremony is the fifth edition. The inductions have taken place in San Diego, New Orleans, Annapolis, Detroit, and Bay Head, New Jersey. The next two events will be held in San Francisco and Newport, Rhode Island. The roster of Inductees is impressive. The Selection Committee looks for excellence in racing performance, innovation, promotion, and service. Any sailor in America can send in a nomination. Every year, well over 100 nominations are received. The Selection Committee spends two months researching the body of work submitted for all applicants. The next step is to narrow the list down, and finally make a selection. The first year featured 15 inductees, now there are six chosen annually, which includes a Lifetime Achievement Award selected by the NSHOF Board of Directors.
The Induction Ceremony includes a junior forum the day before, a dinner for the inductees and their families, and the main event on a Sunday afternoon in October. The speeches are inspiring. In 2014, brothers, Peter and Olaf Harken were both inducted. Olaf is battling Parkinson’s disease. Peter gave a powerful speech about how he and his brother spent their younger years fighting, but once they teamed up they were able to build a very successful and innovative boat equipment company. The list of inductees has included both living and posthumous sailors. There is no shortage of outstanding achievement by American sailors.
The NSHOF has a very engaging website, www.nshof.org, which includes biographies of the inductees, dozens of films available for online viewing, and an interactive list of more than 1,500 sailing programs by state. The website also features several galleries including: Sailors and Stories; Sailing in American Literature; Photographic Exhibitions; Sailing in American Art; Sailing in American Music; the Gowrie Group Yacht Club Stories Project; American Women in Sailing; the Tom Morris Library; and an extensive education program focused on STEM Sailing (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). The Navigation and Science Program has attracted educators from across the country. The information is available at no charge.
The NSHOF has sponsored events and programs to help get people on the water. The location is a gateway to, and from, the Chesapeake Bay. The most notable sailing program is the Wounded Warriors Sailing Squadron. This event takes place twice each year. Veterans and wounded service personnel are able to spend time on the water in boats provided by the U.S. Naval Academy. A new event will take place this fall in Charleston, South Carolina. Two replica sandbaggers from the 1860s are in constant use during the summer months. These 50-foot open skiffs once shuttled cargo between ports in protected waters. Many classic and modern yachts visit the NSHOF and spend time at the Hall’s docks. The public is always welcome.
Environmental stewardship of our waterways is another priority. The NSHOF is a partner with Sailors for the Sea and every event is Clean Regatta certified. Environmental information is distributed in cooperation with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Department of Natural Resources.
Support for the NSHOF has been received from sailors from across the country, with 44 yacht clubs from 20 states listed as Founding Members for a contribution of $10,000. Since December 2005, $3.5 million has been raised. The next step is to build a structure on the existing site. Initially, the NSHOF envisioned a 30,000-square-foot structure, but that plan has given way to a more realistic sized building. The current plan is to create a new design over the next year, and then apply for the appropriate permits. The new structure will have to be raised about four feet higher to allow for a potential storm surge. There will be discussions over whether the building should be two or three stories. The first floor will be for exhibit and meeting space while the second floor will house a library honoring the late Tom Morris who was a prominent boat builder from Maine. The heritage of the current structure will be part of the plan. The land covers 6,000-square-feet of waterfront property and 300 feet of recently renovated dock space. The Board of Directors envisions opening the NSHOF to the public with no admission fee. Support for the Hall comes from donations, sponsorships, grants, and programs.
The many programs built around sailing that have been created by the National Sailing Hall of Fame have given Annapolis, and the sport of sailing, an excellent national reputation. The building phase of the NSHOF will be the priority over the next few years. The goal is to provide a home for sailing and inspire everyone who is interested in spending time on the water.