Wednesday, July 29, 2009

APS/Spinsheet Chesapeake Racer Profile: Dr. Walker

The following is the August APS Chesapeake Racer Profile, a monthy hi-light in Spinsheet Magazine (written by Molly Winans):

When Annapolis sailor Dr. Stuart Walker read C. Stanley Ogilvy’s Thoughts on Small Boat Racing, he was struck by a line at the end that said the best way to learn about racing was to write a book about it. So, he did. Nine of them.

Born in Brooklyn and raised mostly outside Larchmont, NY, Walker started sailing at the age of 12 on his father’s Q Class sloop, on which he and his father cruised as far as Nantucket and raced on Long Island Sound with various clubs. During World War II when he was in medical school at New York University, Walker bought an old Star and raced her. His top opposition was the world-renowned boat builder and racer Skip Etchells, “who always won,” says Walker. “Occasionally, I got close.”

In the same time period, he met Frances, who not only became his wife 64 years ago, but also agreed to spend her honeymoon sailing on his Star around Fisher’s Island and into Peconic Bay (NY)—a feat for which the groom’s father noted that she was either “the dumbest or the bravest girl he had ever met.”

While in Japan in the Army, using “struts from the Bachelor Officer Quarters fence and plywood from an assault boat we commandeered,” Walker built a Penguin, which he sailed and carted around on a Jeep trailer. Upon his return to the States in 1952, he requested an Army post near a sailing center and landed in Annapolis, where his Penguin habit evolved into a love of International 14s. In 1957, he founded Severn SA (SSA) and was commodore for five years.

The highlight of his 75-year sailing career remains being the first American to win the Prince of Wales Cup in an I-14 in Lowestoft, England in 1964. Walker was also the first American to win the Princess Elizabeth Trophy in an I-14 in Bermuda. In the 1968 Olympic Games in Acapulco, Mexico, he was the tactician on the U.S. 5.5 Meter and the team meteorologist. He has also raced on Ynglings, International One-Designs, Etchells, and Chesapeake Bay log canoes. In Solings, he has won the Great Lakes Championships (1973), Atlantic Coast Championships (1974), Australian Gold Cup (1982), European Lakes Cup (1988), and Jungfrau Trophy (Switzerland 1984-85-88) among other regattas.

Over the span of 35 years—with 25 of them being since his retirement from pediatric medicine and teaching—he has won the Soling National Championships in the United States (2003) and eight such titles abroad in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, and Scotland (2007). He will travel to Toronto, Canada in September to compete in the Soling World Championships.

As well as judging, umpiring, and acting as Senior Race Officer for a wide variety of major events in many classes, Walker has been writing a monthly column for Sailing World since 1962 and has contributed to multiple international sailing publications from Yachts and Yachting and Australian Sailing to Soling and International 14 class bulletins.

Longtime crew and illustrator of each of Walker’s books, Tom Price describes his friend as “one of those larger than life figures who you leave feeling lucky to have known. I could write a book about Stu.” We wish he would.

SpinSheet: Who were your mentors or influences in sailing?
Paul Elvstrøm, who convinced me to get a Soling. I’ve admired particularly Buddy Melges, Lowell North, and Bill Abbott, who is so at ease with competition.


Who are your best sailing buddies?
Tom Price (pictured above racing Stars with Dr. Walker in July off Gibson Island), Bruce Empey and his son Owen, and Doug Loup.

What is your favorite place on the Chesapeake?

The Wye River. We used to take the I-14s there just to go sailing.


What kind of music do you listen to?
1940s swing. Benny Goodman and the like.

What do you like to read?

I’m re-reading the Patrick O’Brien Aubrey/Maturin series. I read mostly historical novels, history, and biography.

What piece of advice would you give a young racing sailor?
I’d give the same advice I heard Buddy Melges give a journalist who asked the same question in Australia at the America’s Cup: “Marry smart.”

Do you have a sailing disaster story to share?
I sank a Soling right off SSA. We were racing in winter in a strong northeaster and broached. Two hours later when I was home, I got a call from Seattle saying, “I understand you sank your boat.” Bad news travels fast.

What gear do you depend upon?
Henry Lloyd foul weather gear and Dubarry boots.

Do you have any sailing pet peeves?
The racing rules. To use fewer words, they keep making them more complicated. They were simpler 15 years ago before they simplified them. These days, there are three groups: those who race; those who manage races; and those who write the rules. Unfortunately, they are no longer the same people.

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