Forty years ago about this date we towed to Newport for the start of the selection trials to defend the America’s Cup.
We had had a small regatta in Marblehead over the Memorial day weekend in which “Courageous” was faster on every point of sail. Reggie Pierce looked up from the grinder handles and quipped: “It’s going to be a long summer”. Those words proved to be prophetic.
“Independence” was supposed to be the anointed defender. The rest is history.
Carl Eichenlaub passed away early this morning. In a sport full of iconic figures, he stands with the best and most unique. Few people in the sport have the breadth and depth of his talent.
Any one of his many accomplishments would have made him worthy of inclusion in a list of greats. Champion sailor in the Snipe, Lightning, while also sailing in the Star, Soling, FD’s and IOR classes. As a builder of those boats, a few of which helped to change the face of the sport, perhaps most notably Doug Peterson’s “Ganbare”. Friend and mentor to literally thousands of people around the world.
Carl’s boat building skills were legendary. “In many ways Carl is a genius,” says Lowell North, a sailmaker who has three times sailed himself to a world championship in Eichenlaub Stars. “Although some sailors on the East Coast may not agree, we on the West Coast know that he is the best.” This quote was from an extensive Sports Illustrated article in 1965, the entirety of which is well worth reading, because it captures the essence of the man, which almost literally never changed. Anyone remember the slogan “Any slob can win in an Eichenlaub”?
Away from the sport he played classical music on a bassoon and contrabassoon with several different local orchestras. He loved the San Diego Chargers and NASCAR and in recent years had taken to traveling to what he called “Dog Regattas”, otherwise known to the rest of us as dog shows, with his wife Jean and their herd of dogs. A graduate of San Diego State in ’53, Carl is a member of the Intercollegiate Sailing Hall of Fame and is an SDSU Distinguished Alumni. He was 83 years old. He passed away quietly with Jean and his children Betty Sue Sherman and Brian close by.
While winning races and building great boats for customers is interesting, of far greater importance is the esteem with which he was held in the sport. Carl was the shipwright for the US Sailing team for decades. He always took care of the US team first every day, but after that work was done he would help sailors from other countries fix their boats. For the sort of service he gave to the sport in 2000 he was awarded US Sailing’s highest honor, the Herreshoff Award.
Many people will have words of tribute for Carl, and we thought it appropriate to start off with what Dennis Conner had to say about him this morning:
“Carl Eichenlaub was truly a genius. He could sail a bath tub down the San Diego river with a sheet as a sail. He built championship boat after champion boat for the Snipe, Lightning and Star class He could play in the orchestra, build a railroad, invent a cedar core spruce star mast, go to the Olympics and not only repair the damaged US boats but help the entire fleet, He could build, paint and launch an ocean racing boat capable of winning the SORC “STINGER”, in 30 days from start to finish! All this as well a being a great sailor, winning Championships from Sabot to Snipes to Lightnings. He inspired some of our very best sailors, Lowell North, Pete Bennett, Malin Burnham, Earl Elms in San Diego.. He will be remembered as being one of our greatest sailing talents, along with Lowell, Buddy and Bill Buchan.There will never be another Carl, he was simply the BEST!”
I was in San Diego just one month ago. I saw Carl’s Daughter and asked after him. She replied that he was at the boat shed working.
I first met Carl when I was in San Diego, rebuilding a Dragon for the Olympics. That was 1971. The boat had been built by Kelvin Savell, a close friend of Carl’s and another lover of classical music. Kelvin’s first love was building musical instruments, but boatbuilding gave him a living. Our paths crossed a number of times after that. When Carl was about to build his first aluminum hull, we spoke, I had just finished “Courageous” the 12 meter.
I told Betty Sue the story and how the idea of this remarkable group in San Diego was a thought that remained with me.
1974 was both a Bermuda race year and an America’s cup year. I lofted and built “Courageous” US 26, designed by S&S, the last two time defender of the America’s Cup at Minneford’s Yacht Yard, in City Island,NY.The story really started in 1973.
Sailed the spring races in Long Island Sound on “Weald” a Swan 48 also designed by S&S, followed by the Bermuda Race with a crew, many of whom I still sail with today.(I believe we finished 3rd in class) Of note, our navigator for this race was Chick Larkin, a legend long before he came aboard. Not only a man of tremendous charm, but with a wonderful intuitive sense of where to place the boat on the race course. Remember this is long before GPS or Grib files.
From there I raced my first Chicago-Mackinac Race aboard “Country Woman” a Doug Peterson one tonner.
The reader will start to see a number of threads starting to appear. As many of the people I sailed with re-appear at various times in my history.