US Sailing Honors Bob Johnstone

Johnstone received the 2023 Nathanael G. Herreshoff Trophy, which is US Sailing’s most prestigious award.
Bob Johnstone and Malinda Crain
Bob Johnstone, left, with Youth Championship Chair Malinda Crain, right, at the 2023 US Sailing Youth Champs. Lexi Pline/US Sailing

US Sailing has honored Bob Johnstone with its 2023 Nathanael G. Herreshoff Trophy—the organization’s most prestigious annual award, for an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the sport of sailing.

Johnstone, along with his yacht designer brother, Rod, co-founded J Boats Inc. The company became one of sailing’s leading performance brands, with five World Sailing International Classes and thousands of boats being sailed at all levels of the sport, from grassroots to World Championships.

After starting fleets of Solings and 470s in Wilmette, Illinois, Johnstone revived Sunfish sales with AMF Alcort. He then used marketing skills that he had honed at The Quaker Oats Company to create the J/24 phenomenon, the first of 21 J/Boat designs to win Boat of the Year or Sailboat Hall of Fame honors.

Fifteen thousand J Boats of all sizes have been built, including about 5,700 J/24s. The story of J/Boats, and of the powerboat company that Johnstone later founded, MJM Yachts, are documented in his 2023 book, Maverick Marketer.

In addition to this legacy in the boat design and marketing, Johnstone has a long-standing connection with US Sailing, having been a member of its board of directors. He also chaired the One-Design Class and Industry Councils.

In 1973, Johnstone founded US Sailing’s US Youth Championship, establishing the pinnacle event in American youth sailing that continues to thrive today. He was frustrated by the lack of a pathway for youth sailors in the 1970s, leading to poor performance at the Youth Worlds, so he lobbied the organization now known as US Sailing to create a single US qualifying regatta for the Youth Worlds in Lasers and 470s. That became the US Youth Sailing Championship.

The 50th anniversary of the event, held in 2023, saw more than 250 competitors across nearly every Youth Worlds discipline, from ILCAs to Nacra 15s and iQFoils.

The J/24 is the world’s most popular keelboat class, with over 5,500 boats built and over 50,000 people actively sailing in more than 150 fleets in 40+ countries. Courtesy J/Boats

“Bob’s vision and commitment to the sport is one of a kind,” said nominator John Pearce, who is US Sailing’s youth competition manager. “When the alumni of the first Youth Champs reunited at the 50th anniversary regatta last summer, it became clear to me the huge impact that Bob has had on American sailing. We received letters from so many notable sailors telling stories and praising Bob’s vision for the US Youth Championship. And it goes without saying that the J/Boat brand is iconic in our sport.”

When will the trophy officially be presented? During the 2024 US Youth Championship in Bristol, Rhode Island, in late June.

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