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Off Watch: What the Hall?

A lack of diversity in the ranks of the National Sailing Hall of Fame needs to be remedied.

February 23, 2021
The National Sailing Hall of Fame
Under construction: The National Sailing Hall of Fame, in my humble opinion, needs a whole lot of work. Herb McCormick

Capt. William “Bill” Pinkney, the first African American sailor to circumnavigate alone, who went on to skipper the replica slave-ship La Amistad. Lin Pardey, a two-time circumnavigator—west to east and east to west—and the co-author of nearly a dozen books, one of the most accomplished female cruising sailors/yachting journalists of all time. Dawn Riley, who competed at the highest ranks of Grand Prix sailing in both the America’s Cup and the Whitbread Round the World Race, and is now the executive director of the training center Oakcliff Sailing. Lynne Jewell-Shore, who won an Olympic gold medal in 1988 in the doublehanded 470 class dinghy with teammate Allison Jolly in a dominating performance. Tania Aebi, who took the world by storm as she became the youngest woman to sail around it.

For what do all of these sailing, racing and cruising luminaries have in common? Incredibly, not a single one has been inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame.

In a strange, ironic way, they probably shouldn’t feel bad about it. In Pinkney’s case, it’s not like he was shuffled aside by a similarly qualified candidate; after all, there’s not a single Black sailor in the NSHOF. Women haven’t fared much better; of the 90 sailors inducted since the first class in 2011, all but six have been white males, and of that half-dozen, the wife of windsurfing pioneer Hoyle Schweitzer seems to have eked in because she was…Mrs. Hoyle Schweitzer.

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The National Sailing Hall of Fame? Hmm, OK. More like the National Sailing Hall of Ancient Pale Dudes. (As a card-carrying old white sailing dude myself, I’m authorized to make that crack.) And it’s not like cruising sailors are wildly represented, as maybe another half-dozen would fall into that category. No, the NSHOF is, as it’s currently constituted, the National Sailboat-Racing HOF. If they called it that, I’d be fine.

As it is now, I’m not.

Some of the folks at the organization have already heard my “fine whine” on this matter. One member of the induction committee admitted to me, somewhat sheepishly, that the imbalance was real and needed to be addressed, but that they had an obligation to get all the old, deserving chaps in first. Which, honestly, is baloney. What other hall of fame operates on that assumption? They’re largely all about recognizing the latest stars.

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Look, I’m a sports fan. I like halls of fame. It’s cool when one of your old football or baseball heroes is recognized. But as far as I’m concerned, one of the huge problems with the NSHOF is the way in which potential inductees are nominated: by the public. That’s right, unlike Cooperstown, New York, or Canton, Ohio—the respective homes of the baseball and pro football halls—sailors are not considered by a committee of sportswriters and journalists and previously inducted members—you know, experts!—but by the public at large. Which is not only patently ridiculous, but also reduces the entire program to a popularity contest.

For example, as near as I can tell, if the criteria were similar, and a fan of Babe Ruth had not nominated Babe Ruth to be in Cooperstown, guess who wouldn’t be there? Babe Ruth!

Read More from Herb McCormick: Off Watch

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There’s lots of maddening things about all of it. Take Lynne Jewell-Shore. She was cheek to cheek—and by that I mean butt to butt—with mate Allison Jolly when they brought home the gold in the 470, but Jolly is in the NSHOF and Jewell-Shore is not. What?

Even as I type, the NSHOF is undergoing a huge renovation in my hometown of Newport, Rhode Island, in what was the old Armory building, which by total coincidence was built by my great-grandfather Mike, who erected several iconic Newport structures. Admittedly, that part is really neither here nor there. My greater issue with the organization is as a sailor, voyager, journalist, cruiser, lover of boats, and so on. I look at the list of inductees, and I don’t see many who represent me. I sure as hell never raced in the America’s Cup. And that’s before we even begin talking about race and gender. I mean, seriously, folks.

For all the above reasons, I’m taking this whole NSHOF thing personally. But what I’m aiming for here is constructive criticism. As a Newporter, as a sailor, as a cruiser, I want it to be great. And inclusive. And cool. Please, guys, make it great. Please?

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Herb McCormick is CW’s executive editor.

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