Put two or more sailors in a room and ask them for an opinion on any sailing-related topic, and before you know it you’ll have an argument. Ask a group of SAIL editors for a list of the most influential people in the sailing world and before you know it, you have a brawl.
As SAIL magazine marks its 40th anniversary, we decided to highlight the 40 sailors who’ve had the greatest impact on our sport over the last four decades. After considerable debate, we came up with the following list. Odds are, however, that the debate is far from over.
Lowell brought a blend of science, computers and hotshot racers (who he called his “Tigers”) to the business of sailmaking and to the competitive racing scene. Lowell and North Sails raised the bar on grand prix competition.
The Gougeon Brothers
Jan and Meade Gougeon’s WEST SYSTEM Epoxy is probably the most widely used product in the market and has found favor with countless sailors in a vast array of uses, including both boatbuilding and repair.
Bernard first made his name by sailing non-stop from Tahiti to Spain via Cape Horn in 1966 aboard his 39-foot ketch Joshua. He cemented his reputation during the 1968 Golden Globe, the first non-stop race around the world, when he dropped out despite being in a position to win the race and continued sailing alone around the world again. He spent another decade cruising and writing about his exploits and in the process inspired a generation of solo sailors in France and around the world.
In addition to creating the trend-setting Catalina 30, Frank ushered in a new era of sailboat construction when he pioneered the extensive use of hull liners at Coronado Yachts in the 1960s. He also transformed sailboat marketing with his owner-focused sales strategy, which built loyal owner’s associations and allowed customers to have direct input into future models.
For many years the king of carbon-fiber custom boat construction, Eric pioneered and perfected many of the high-end boatbuilding techniques in use today.
Isabelle competed at the top level of solo ocean racing during the 1990s and proved once and for all it was no longer a male-only sport. Her exploits inspired many other female sailors to enter the sport, in which they now compete and win against men on an equal footing.
Sir Peter Blake
Sir Peter professionalized long-distance and round-the-world racing with his organizational skills and intensity. He also led and inspired the accomplished sailors of Team New Zealand to win the ultimate prize in sailboat racing, the America’s Cup. His tragic death at the hands of pirates on the Amazon River in 2001 cut short his quest to educate the world on environmental issues.
Best known for bringing sailboat racing to television with his ESPN coverage of the America’s Cup, Gary is also a successful writer, lecturer, navigator and America’s Cup winner himself.
The founder of Hunter Marine, Warren has created the largest sail and powerboat manufacturing powerhouse in the industry. Competitively priced Hunter models range from small daysailers to 50-foot offshore cruisers and boast many innovative Luhrs features.
Most famous for his escapades during the 1977 America’s Cup when he skippered the defending boat Courageous, Ted, affectionately know as the “Mouth of the South,” brought sailing to the attention of the general pubic with his outgoing and sometimes outrageous behavior.
As a founder of Pearson Yachts, Everett helped launch the “Fiberglass Revolution” by introducing the Pearson Triton in 1959. He continued to improve production boatbuilding techniques at Bristol Yachts and TPI, which created the environmentally friendly and strong Seeman Composites Resin Infusion Molding Process (SCRIMP) building method.
Charlie and Ginny Cary
While not the first business of its type, Charlie and Ginny’s Tortola-based bareboat company, The Moorings, took bareboat chartering and charter yacht ownership to a whole new level.
Founder of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC), the largest cruising rally/race in the world and author of such bluewater cruising bibles as World Cruising Routes and the World Cruising Handbook, Jimmy has inspired and educated thousands of cruisers seeking to pursue the bluewater cruising lifestyle.
Rod and Bob Johnstone
Founders of J/Boats and creators of the ever-popular J/24, the Johnstone brothers have continuously introduced new models with innovative features, such as the integrated retractable bowsprit. The J/24 in particular is widely credited with sparking the rebirth of one-design keelboat racing.
Best known for his unique character and his engineless yawl Iolaire, Don was a pioneer in the West Indies charter trade and the first to write and publish useful cruising guides covering the Caribbean. He also helped create the Imray-Iolaire charts that remain the standard in Caribbean navigation and has helped countless cruisers safely sail off to faraway harbors.
Lin and Larry Pardey
America's first couple of cruising, Lin and Larry have inspired countless sailors to adopt the cruising lifestyle with their ever-popular books and videos chronicling their voyages, philosophies and practical techniques.
Dame Ellen MacArthur
Ellen picked up where Isabelle left off, becoming one of the world’s most successful singlehanded sailors, in the process setting new standards for tenacity and motivation. Her second-place finish in the 2001 Vendee Globe and her successful bid to set a solo circumnavigation speed record in 2005 electrified the world of sailing.
Robin Lee Graham
The youngest solo circumnavigator of his time, Robin captivated the world via a series of articles published in National Geographic. He completed his 5-year circumnavigation in early 1970 and published a popular book about his voyage, Dove, that inspires young sailors to this day.
Ted and his father, Steadman “the Professor” Hood, changed the sailmaking industry by developing low-stretch Dacron sailcloth woven on custom looms. Ted also pioneered such innovations as the C-Stay grooved-luff headsail device, the in-mast Stowaway roller-furling mainsail and the use of exotic sail materials like Kevlar and Spectra.
In addition to being the first American skipper to win the Whitbread Round the World Race, Paul was among the first in a new generation of America’s Cup sailors who devote their lives to winning the Cup—no detail too small, no amount of practice sufficient.
Known as the “Wizard of Zenda,” Harry C. “Buddy” Melges is one of the most successful racing sailors in history and was the driving force behind such innovative designs as the Melges 24 and 32, as well as many racing scows by Melges Performance Sailboats.
From his Freedom 40 cat-ketch to the Hoyt Jib Boom to the latest Hoyt Offset Rig, sailing’s greatest innovator, Garry has never been afraid to challenge the status quo.
Dennis has won and lost the America’s Cup more that any other sailor. He was the first to bring serious corporate sponsorship to the America’s Cup and raised the bar on what it takes to win.
The father of the ULDB (ultra light displacement boat), Bill took his motto “fast is fun” to a new level with a string of very light, very easily driven, fast boats. From the famous one-off Merlin to a string of Santa Cruz ULDB production boats, Lee led the ultra-light design craze.
The latest in a long string of successful French singlehanded racers, Michel (known as “The Professor,”) is the only person ever to win the Vende Globe twice. He has become a major force in contemporary long-distance solo racing, continuously raising the bar on design, equipment, technology and expertise.
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston
The winner of the 1968-69 Golden Globe, the world’s first single-handed, non-stop around the world race, aboard Suhaili, Robin remains a force in long-distance sailing and an effective ambassador for the sport to this day.
The founder of Hobie Cats, Hobie brought catamaran designs to the masses and sparked the beach cat craze of the 1970s with his Hobie 16.
Many consider Nick to be one of the most inspiring sailors in history. A rising star and an Olympic hopeful, he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2002. As his disease progressed, Nick never gave up his dream of winning Olympic gold. In 2008, he won the Gold medal with his crew Maureen McKinnon-Tucker in the SKUD class during the Paralympics in China. Nick succumbed to his illness in January 2009.
One of England's most prolific designers, Nigel is especially well known for his creative rigs and his huge, envelope-pushing oceangoing multihulls, like the Jules Verne Trophy-winning Enza and Ellen MacArthur’s B&Q/Castorama.
One of the fathers of modern yacht design, Olin's influence and dominance lasted for decades. Designer of multiple America’s Cup defenders, Olin and his design firm of Sparkman and Stephens introduced many innovations to the sailing world and was a training ground for many of the world’s great yacht designers.
The new “Mr. America’s Cup,” Russell has won the Cup three times. Along with Brad Butterworth, he took the international and professionalized nature of AC competition to a whole new (and some might say shameless) level when he abandoned his native New Zealand to sail for the Swiss-based Alinghi team.
Born Bob Miller, Ben changed his name and went on to change sailing forever when he created the winged keel design that helped Australia II wrench the America’s Cup from the New York Yacht Club in 1983.
Co-holder of the patent for the windsurfer (along with Hoyle Schweitzer) Jim is considered by many to be the father of windsurfing. He engineered many unique windsurfing components and was a driving force behind the early growth and advancement of the sport.
For more than 20 years, Bruce has been a dominant force in yacht design in everything from America’s Cup boats to performance cruisers, maxi racers, offshore racers and performance one-designs. A consummate engineer, designer and creative thinker, Bruce has left an indelible mark on sailing worldwide.
The Harken Brothers
Peter and Olaf revolutionized the production of sailing hardware for everything from the tiny Optimist pram to the largest sailboats on the planet. Harken hardware has made sailing easier and safer for racing and cruising sailors alike.
Tania was just 18 years old when she began a solo circumnavigation in 1985 aboard Varuna, a Contessa 26. With minimal experience and equipment, Tania completed her voyage, became the youngest female circumnavigator, and proved that personal strength and a desire to succeed can overcome insurmountable hurdles. Her book Maiden Voyage is still very popular today.
A prolific author, John's ubiquitous Annapolis Book of Seamanship has helped train and educate generations of sailors. His many other titles have earned him a reputation as the dean of sailing authors.
This may seem an unorthodox choice, but Jimmy has serenaded many a sailor at anchor, at sea and on the hard. His words and music have provided both entertainment and a unique “attitude” for many sailors.
Steve and Doris Colgate
As leaders and innovators in the creation of the modern sailing school, Steve and Doris have provided thousands of sailors with everything from introductory courses to training in offshore sailing. Thanks to the Colgates, the sport has many new members and many safe sailors.
As skipper of Australia II, John broke the longest winning streak in the history of sports when he took the America’s Cup from the New York Yacht Club in 1983. Since then, the Cup and the sport of sailing have never been the same.