By Jean DePlacido
---- — The sailing community of Marblehead plays a prominent role in the National Sailing Hall of Fame. Last month, another was added as Dave Curtis was one of 10 inductees at the ceremony held at Annapolis, Maryland.
The honor was also bestowed posthumously on Marbleheaders W. Starling Burgess and John Gale Alden, who were represented by their grandchildren, Steve Taylor and Julia Clough, respectively.
“It’s a pretty cool honor. I was really nervous,” said Curtis, a two-time Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association All-American (1967-68) while at Tufts University. He has also won numerous one-design titles in various classes, including the Soling World Championship in 1981, two Soling North American championships and Pan Am Game victories in the J/24 and Soling classes.
“We had no idea what order they were going to call us up in. I was the seventh, so I kept getting anxious with each one ahead of me. When I got up there I said I was more nervous than at any other awards I had been to ... and that I had been to a few. That was good for a laugh.”
The event was held in a huge tent with the back open and a view of the water, said Curtis, with upwards of 750 people in attendance.
Curtis said immediately after he was inducted, a 40-foot boat all decked out like a pirate ship with water cannons went by and blew its horn loudly.
“There were a lot of people on that pirate boat, especially young children,” said Curtis. “Somebody was on a dinghy and they’d shoot the water cannons at him until he pretended to be shot. The kids loved it.”
For Curtis, a seven-time Etchells World Champion and two-time Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, one of the nicest surprises of the weekend was racing a 44-foot sloop with a team practicing for the Navy Regatta (which was held the following day). It’s an event that Curtis won back in his college days.
“The Navy runs a collegiate race and they were practicing the afternoon we arrived,” said Curtis, who had a very successful career as a sail builder. “Four of us went out on the water with the teams; the other three were all excellent sailors from my generation. When we got out a ways they told us we were going to race. I was on the Coast Guard team boat, and we ended up winning with the best score in the two races.”
Curtis and his wife came up from Florida for the induction ceremony. They still make their home in Marblehead, but head to Florida when the weather gets cold.
There are now five members of the Eastern Yacht Club in Marblehead in the NSHOF. Ted Hood and Gary Jobson were members of previous induction classes.
This year for the first time, the three-day event was held on the site of the future National Sailing facility at City Dock in Annapolis, in partnership with the US Naval Academy. The goal is to preserve this country’s sailing heritage and to recognize the men and women who have made significant contributions to the sport.
Alden, who died in 1962, was a famous naval architect and yacht designer. Burgess designed the revolutionary 52’ scow sloop Outlook in 1907 when he was a freshman at Harvard. He is also famous for designing aircraft and motor yachts, becoming one of the first to take off and land on water.
“It was a tremendous honor to represent my grandfather,” said Clough, who grew up in Marblehead but now lives in Maine. “I was able to sail on one of his boats the afternoon before the ceremony. I raced boats all over the world, so it was exciting to see my idols growing up as well as people I’ve raced against.
“They talk about Annapolis being the yachting center of the world, but we always think of Marblehead that way. It was a great place to grow up racing. I’m a member of Eastern Yacht Club, but we were welcome in all the yacht clubs in town because the races were open to everybody, not just members. That’s not true in a lot of places.”
For a brief time Alden worked for Burgess before getting an apprenticeship with B.B. Crowninshield of Boston, where he designed yachts. Burgess became famous after his Malabar design won the Bermuda Race with him at the helm.
“This gave me closure with Burgess and, to a lesser degree, with Alden,” said Curtis. “Steve Taylor and I were in the sail making business, although not at the same time. His grandfather Starling and my grandfather Greeley Curtis were co-owners and partners who built sea planes in Marblehead 100 years ago.
“Marblehead has been the capital of the sailing world, and It’s pretty impressive that five of the 30 people in the Hall of Fame are from this little sailing community. It all began here on the East Coast with the early pioneers of the sport living in the Boston or New York area, then spread across the country.”
Commander Les Spanheimer, director of the Naval Academy, spoke about how midshipmen will encounter some very difficult situations in their work as submariners, Navy Seals, Marine officers and other positions. He stressed the importance of working on a sailboat as part of a crew to gain practical experience and build leadership skills. That is why the NSHOF and Naval Academy partner together to recognize legends of the sport.