The 2016 Inductees to the National Sailing Hall of Fame:  top, left to right: Ed Baird, Deon Macdonald (accepting for Bill Ficker), Tor Perkins (accepting for Tom Perkins)
and Robert Johnson (accepting for Irving and Exy Johnson) bottom, left to right: Rod Johnstone, Bob Johnstone, Dave Ullman and Malin Burnham  photo credit: Igor Capibaribe Photography


The National Sailing Hall of Fame (NSHOF) marked its ongoing effort to preserve the history of sailing and its effect on American culture as it inducted nine sailing legends for their impact on the sport.  The sixth annual Induction weekend was hosted by the prestigious St. Francis Yacht Club from which sailboats could be seen racing on San Francisco Bay, from Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz, visually underscoring the link to the sport and its significant contributors who were being honored.

Six living and three posthumously inducted sailors make up the NSHOF Class of 2016:  America’s Cup winning helmsman Ed Baird (St. Petersburg, Fla.); legendary sailing champion (Star Worlds, Congressional Cup and America’s Cup) Bill Ficker (Newport Beach, Calif.); husband and wife sail training pioneers, adventurers and authors Irving and Electa “Exy” Johnson (Hadley, Mass.); brothers and J/Boats founders, Robert Johnstone (Newport, R.I.) and Rodney Johnstone (Stonington, Conn.), respectively, marketing guru and boat designer;yachtsman and sailmaker Dave Ullman (Newport Beach, Calif.); as well as America’s Cup sailor and Star World Champion Malin Burnham (San Diego, Calif.) and the innovator behind the superyacht The Maltese Falcon, Tom Perkins (Belvedere, Calif.), each of whom was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Beginning with a forum attended by a large contingent of high school sailors, the course of the Induction weekend was navigated by Master of Ceremonies and 2011 Inductee Paul Cayard. The student athletes were interested in what the Inductees did to win and why so many had stayed in the sport so long.

“First, and most important, is to have a good time while you’re doing it and to make sure the people you are doing it with have a good time, otherwise it will be a one-time thing,” said Inductee Rod Johnstone.

Johnstone and his brother Bob were born in Glen Ridge, N.J., and grew up racing out of the Wadawanuck Yacht Club in Stonington, Conn. 

When Bob Johnstone helped his parents build a Lightning in the garage of his childhood home at age 13, it was clearly a sign of things to come.  He worked as a sailing instructor and raced intercollegiate regattas while studying history at Princeton (class of 1956), before starting a 17-years long career with Quaker Oats, first managing subsidiaries in Colombia and Venezuela, before returning to Chicago where he would become the company’s Marketing Man of the Year. All the while he continued to sail in a variety of classes, including a Soling with which he placed sixth in the 1972 Olympic Trials.  Bob is the founder of the U.S. Youth Championship and the community boating program SAIL Wilmette. 

“What brings me joy in life is sharing that love of sailing and the sea with others,” said Bob Johnstone.

Rod Johnstone also graduated from Princeton (1958) but his career as a yacht designer got its start in the 1960s through a correspondence course he took with Westlawn School of Yacht Design (now the Westlawn Institute of Marine Technology). While working as an ad salesman for Soundings magazine, he too built his first sailboat in his garage.  It cost him roughly $400 in fiberglass and wood and incorporated rigging and hardware from his brother’s Soling.  Ragtime would go on to beat everything she came up against while being sailed by an all-family crew. 

In 1977, Bob and Rod founded J Boats Inc., after AMF/Alcort (producer of the Sunfish), which Bob had taken from the red into the black, passed on getting involved in the Johnstone’s new boat.  Bob left his position as Vice-President to go into partnership with Rod and Tillotson-Pearson agreed to produce the design on spec in return for the U.S. build rights.  They were soon producing the J/24 which has gone on to become the most popular recreational keelboat in the world. Rod’s designs (44 and counting) include 17 that have been named Boat of the Year, received ISAF international class status or recognition in the American Sailboat Hall of Fame. Four decades and 15,000 J Boats later, the Johnstone’s family business now includes six of their sons in various roles.

“I designed the J/24 because of my family.  Because I wanted a family sailboat,” said Rod Johnstone.  “It all came together because we loved to sail and because sailing together has been a thing for us right from the beginning… I thank everyone who sails our boats, for living the dream for me. Whether I wanted to go around the world or around Cape Horn, all these were dreams I’ve had while designing these boats.  There are a lot of our owners who’ve done that.  Thank you very much to everybody who has ever sailed a J Boat and has lived those dreams. I still want to live those dreams and I’ll still keep designing boats.”

Growing up in Southern California, Dave Ullman knew at age 16 that he would pursue sailing as a career. He may only have learned to read in his late 20s – due to dyslexia – but it would appear he was well on his way in his chosen profession when he founded Ullman Sails in 1967 at the age of 21.  Two Olympic campaigns in the 470 class would earn him three world championship titles (1977, 1978 and 1980), and by 1996, when he was honored as Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, he had added 28 national titles in nine classes to his resume.  At the time, many were surprised that he was a first-time recipient of the award which acknowledged that he had beaten some of the toughest competition in the world that year, including America’s Cup and Olympic champions, to win regattas in five different classes: Catalina 37, Etchells 22, Melges 24, Shock 35 and ULDB 70.

Ullman’s personal success led to demands for his expertise as a coach, and he has been heavily involved with the campaigns of several Olympic aspirants while running his international sailmaking business.  At the age of 61, he won the 2007 Melges 24 World Championship. 

“I’m a sailmaker, a professional sailor, and a professional coach,” said Ullman, who now resides in both Newport Beach and Santa Barbara.  “Sailing to me is a total team sport.  100%.  I’ve never sailed singlehanded.  I’ve always sailed with crew or on a bigger project. I’ve been lucky to be tutored by some of the best offshore sailors.  I’ve been an Olympic coach, and my success is because of them, not because of me.”

Inductee and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Malin Burnham (88) is best known in sailing circles as the youngest-ever winner of the Star World Championship (at age 17 in 1944, which he followed with a second world title in 1945) and for his decades-long involvement in the America’s Cup, including as skipper of Enterprise during the 1977 defender trials.  He sailed frequently as helmsman of the trial-horse for Dennis Conner’s 1980 America’s Cup winning Freedom campaign, reprising that role for the Liberty campaign in 1983. In 1987 he played a leading role in bringing the America’s Cup to San Diego, founding and serving as President/CEO of the Sail America Foundation which funded and provided logistical support for the winning Stars & Stripes campaign; in 1988 he chaired San Diego Yacht Club’s successful defense of the Cup.

His participation and leadership in America’s Cup competition continued through 1992 when he served as General Chairman for the overall America’s Cup in San Diego. Burnham’s passion for sailing and love of America’s Cup competition have helped him to make a unique personal contribution to the sport.

A native San Diegan who graduated from Stanford University in 1949 with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering, Burnham’s career has been in real estate development and he has chaired nine major non-profits and co-founded 14 organizations, earning him wide recognition for his civic leadership, community involvement and charitable work.

“I have never won a sailboat race in my life by myself,” said Burnham, who feels there is no sport in the world that is a better character builder than sailing.  “I have always been part of a team.  Not always the skipper, and that applies to my life.  I’ve never accomplished anything in my life by myself because I learned in junior sailing that it’s a team effort.”  

Posthumous Inductees Irving and Electa “Exy” Johnson were sail training pioneers who circumnavigated the planet seven times between 1933 and 1958.  With mostly college-aged crew, each of their voyages lasted roughly 18 months during which time they would visit approximately 120 ports of call. These trips foreshadowed today’s experiential learning experiences, with the Johnsons having a direct influence on today’s sail training programs. Upon their return home, they would spend 18 months lecturing and making films to bring their experiences to a broader audience, while also chronicling their adventures in National Geographic and other publications. The couple made a major discovery in 1957, finding the anchor of the H.M.S. Bounty in 50 feet of water off Pitcairn Island, one of their frequent destinations. They searched for aviator Amelia Earhart, discovered five previously uncharted South Sea islands, and documented the ceremonies, traditions and customs of the inhabitants of the remote islands they visited. 

Born in Rochester, N.Y., Electa Search (1909-2004) graduated from Smith College in 1929 and attended UC Berkeley for a year to continue her studies in French.  A summer in France culminated with meeting Irving Johnson when, instead of travelling by steamer, she returned to the USA aboard the schooner Wander Bird. It was her first-ever sailing experience.  Johnson (1905-1991), a native of Hadley, Mass., had grown up reading the novels of Jack London and Joseph Conrad, inspiring him to become a professional sailor.  His talent as an amateur filmmaker became evident in the now-famous film Around Cape Horn, filmed in 1929 on the barque Peking.  Marrying in 1933, the Johnsons sailed hundreds of thousands of ocean miles, before sailing the inland waters of Europe.  They returned to Hadley in 1975 and retired on the farm where Irving had grown up.

“It’s important to remember they sailed around the world largely with young and inexperienced sailors,” said Mystic Seaport’s Chris Freeman.  “They invented this [sail training] industry which carries this these traditions of sailing and this legacy forward for future generations…  They sailed during a remarkable time. It was the end of the great age of sail and sailing ships and the dawn of the great age of aviation, and they took that moment in time to explore our globe under sail on oceans all around the world.”

Posthumous Inductee and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Thomas J. “Tom” Perkins (1932-2016) was born in Oak Park, Ill., and grew up in White Plains, N.Y., before attending M.I.T. from which he graduated in 1953 with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science. He received a M.B.A. from Harvard Business School in 1957. Founding Kleiner Perkins in 1972, with Eugene Kleiner, he blazed a trail as a venture capitalist through involvement and investments in promising start-up companies which led to the creation of Silicon Valley. In sailing circles, Perkins was famed for building, in 2006, the 289’ modern square rigged Maltese Falcon. At the time it was the largest privately owned sailboat on the planet, incorporating technology advances with energy saving features. His passion for sailing was honed on Long Island Sound in Lightnings; he circumnavigated the globe; was competitive on the racecourse; and was responsible for restoring the legendary schooner Mariette of 1915 using designer Nathanael G. Herreshoff’s original drawings.

“Tom brought into being Maltese Falcon,” explained Stan Honey.  “It’s a modern square rigger and Tom was personally involved in designing the systems that allowed a modern square rigger to be sailed with the sailors, for the most part, remaining on deck.  Tom has set a standard which I think we all aspire to.  In supporting the Leukemia Cup, he has had a positive effect on many lives.”

Inductee Ed Baird (58), a native of St. Petersburg, Fla., started his sailing career at St. Petersburg Yacht Club as a nine-year-old taking summer sailing lessons in the Clearwater Pram. In the early 1980s, he won world championship titles in the Laser and J/24 classes, and graduated from the University of South Florida with a major in business. Highlights of his coaching career include the successes of 1992 Soling Olympic Silver Medalist Kevin Mahaney as well as Team New Zealand’s win of the 1995 America’s Cup.  As a professional sailor, he was ranked #1 on the 1995 Omega World Match Race Ranking List, won the 1995 World Match Racing Championship, and was named the 1996 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year.

Active in bringing new participants to the sport, Baird raffled his Team New Zealand memorabilia and sailing gear to raise money for St. Petersburg Yacht Club’s junior program.  In recognition of his efforts he was presented with the keys to the city by his home town.  In 2007 he was helmsman for America’s Cup winner Alinghi against his former Team New Zealand, and that year he was named the International Sailing Federation World Sailor of the Year (male).  On the international circuits of the TP 52, Melges 32 and RC 44 classes he has won additional titles, and is well-known as a champion match racer.  He has written an instructional book (Laser Racing) and authored numerous articles on the tactics of sailing while also commentating for televised programs on sailboat racing. 

“Nobody is talking about races that they’ve won, or the successes they’ve had,” said Baird who explained that talk usually centers on when things didn’t go so smoothly.  He explained that he was having a conversation with a young man who was complaining about his day on the water.  “I couldn’t help myself, my coaching instincts kicked in and I said ‘sometimes things happen and today it didn’t work out for you.’  And he turned to me and said ‘Dad, you have no idea what goes on out there.’  So, I want to thank the NSHOF committee for giving me some ammo in my future conversations.”

Newport Beach architect William P. “Bill” Ficker (88), a graduate of the University of California and former member of the city’s Planning Commission, left his native land-locked Pomona, California, when his family was looking to escape the smoke from smudge pots warming the citrus orchards that surrounded their home.  They started visiting Newport Beach in the mid-1930s and that was where Bill had his first introduction to sailing – in a Sabot racing program.  By 1950, sailing his first Star, he won the Southern California Yachting Association’s midwinter championship. His second-place finish at the 1957 North American Championship was followed with a win of the 1958 Star World Championship, both events raced in San Diego.

After serving as tactician and co-helmsman on Columbia in the 1967 America’s Cup trials, Ficker went on to skipper Intrepid ~ US 22 through its successful defense of the 1970 America’s Cup over Australia’s Gretel II ~ KA 3, becoming the first west coast skipper to do so.  Ted Turner coined the phrase “Ficker is Quicker” which was printed on buttons, one of which was worn by Jacqueline Onassis while watching the final series.

Ficker’s daughter Deon MacDonald represented her father at the Induction and shared his sentiment to “Honor those who have spent their time, effort, creativity, skill, energy and enthusiasm to give to the sport that we love so much and make it special.  My dad always says he has lived a blessed life.  He was able to pursue a career in architecture, which he loved, and have the thrill to compete in sailing which took him all over the world. It gave him the opportunity to meet so many interesting and wonderful people.  I now know as an adult what my Dad has always told me.  When you sail, you have a friend wherever you go in the world.  To passionate sailors everywhere, and most of all, to our friendships.”

The 2016 Induction Ceremony, was sponsored by Condé Nast and Rolex Watch U.S.A., with additional support from Anchor Steam, Dream Yachts, Hawkstone Vineyards, Mount Gay Rum, and Volvo Penta.  The NSHOF dedicated the 2016 Induction to the AmericaOne Foundation which has been supportive of sailing on many levels, including Olympic Sailing, disabled sailing and exposing underprivileged youth to sailing.