Thursday, December 27, 2018

Header Photo: Stuart Walker: Over the Bar

The previous header photo was of the legendary Stuart Walker, on the plane in his International 14, US 578, a Fairey Mk VI. The photo was taken in 1956. The crew was his college room-mate. If I remember correctly, this photo was included in one of his first books, "The Techniques of Small Boat Racing."

This past November, age 95, Stuart Walker passed on.

I've written about Stuart Walker before on Earwigoagin. Of all the Type-A competitors in sailboat racing, he was the most singular human being I have come across. Stuart, for his entire adult life, was obsessed with winning sailboat races. It wasn't unusual to wander down to Severn Sailing Association, his beloved home club, and see Stuart, age 90 or so, climb up the ladder, clamber in the cockpit of his Soling sitting on the hard on the trailer, to look carefully at a new jib. It wasn't unusual to see Stuart, age 90 or so, and his crew launching the Soling in the winter to go sailing by themselves to tweak something that wasn't quite right the weekend before. (Stuart loved winter sailing and the SSA Soling fleet had a winter series.)

Stuart readily admitted that, if he won on the weekend, it set him up for a happy week; if he lost on the weekend, the following week was not happy as he analyzed and came up with a plan to return to the top.

The result of this constant striving to be a winner was a spate of books and magazine columns that covered all aspects of winning sailboat races; boat handling, tactics, tuning, weather, psychology and sail trim. For my generation they were the bibles and they were frequently referenced in post-race kibbitzing. Most of Stuart's writing on tactics and wind were of his own races, good or bad, and he could present his failures with unvarnished clarity.
"My disastrous showing in the Ice Bowl of '68 prompted my competitors to remark that I wouldn't write that one up for publication. However, disaster to me is a challenge which demands the salvage of some profit. I barely fought my way out of last in the final yards of the race but I learned something and I can write about it!"
Yacht Racing, February 1972

This past August, Stuart had a party down at Severn Sailing Association to introduce his latest book, a history of Severn Sailing Association. I bought the book. I've owned several of his books, which I read cover to cover, but they seem to have gone missing. In my library, Stuart's last book will have to do. He will be missed.

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