Arnold Gay, champion yacht racer

January 29, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Staff Writer

Arnold C. Gay, a yachtsman who competed in some of the world's most challenging ocean races and once flew an airplane underneath a bridge, died Wednesday at Anne Arundel Medical Center of scleroderma. The Annapolis resident was 74.

He had sailed in every Annapolis-to-Newport, R.I., race except one and in 1978 won the St. David's Lighthouse Trophy in the Newport-to-Bermuda Race aboard his vessel, Babe. He won numerous Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association races and was a longtime coach and teacher in the Naval Academy's offshore sailing program until becoming ill several years ago.

Rest and good food were his secrets for maintaining the stamina needed to compete in ocean races. "I specialize in hot meals four times a day no matter how hard it's blowing," he said in a 1979 interview in The Sun. "The cook's main job is to prepare hot meals no matter if he's standing on his head. Many a time I've taken a pot and wired it to the stove."

He inspired his Naval Academy crews with the same discipline that he required of himself.

"He could smell wind changes and was enormously strong and athletic," said Nicholas Brown, executive director of the National Aquarium in Baltimore, who first sailed with Mr. Gay in 1949.

"He was able to melt the tension in a competitive situation and was looked on kindly by crews. A fabulous shipmate, he was also a terrific sportsman, and he was wonderful to race against," Mr. Brown said.

Known as "Arnie" or "Ace," Mr. Gay was born in Attleboro, Mass., and spent summers at West Falmouth on Cape Cod, where he began sailing at the age of 4.

He studied engineering for two years at Union College before dropping out and going to work for a stock brokerage and a household finance company. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1939 and was an instructor on B-17 bombers.

While flying a patrol plane in search of German U-boats, he flew under the Bourne Bridge over the Cape Cod Canal.

After being discharged as a captain in 1946, he bought a 36-foot schooner, the Delilah, and sailed from Boston, intending to reach the Bahamas, but went broke near Annapolis. He went to work in the boat yards of Oxford and Easton as a 90-cent-an-hour rigger before becoming manager in 1952 of Tommy Lanagan's boat yard in Annapolis, which he eventually bought with a GI loan.

In the 1970s, he sold another yard he had operated in Eastport, but he continued to operate the Arnold C. Gay Yacht Yard on Shipwright Street until his death.

He was active in Annapolis civic affairs and was one of the founders of the Clean and Beautiful Committee in the 1960s and in 1965 of the Alcohol Beverages Control Board, of which he was chairman for eight years.

He was a member of numerous sailing organizations, including the Corinthian Yacht Club, the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association, the U.S. Power Squadron, the U.S. International Sailing Organization, the New York Yacht Club, the Cruising Club of America, the Sailing Club of the Chesapeake and the Storm Trysail Club.

In an interview in The Evening Sun in 1969, he summed up his feelings for the ocean: "The vastness of the sea gets you. The experience of it is fantastic. The power of it is tremendous. It's inspiring."

Services were set for 3 p.m. today at St. Anne's Episcopal Church, on Church Circle in Annapolis, with a private burial.

Surviving are his wife, the former Julia Wilson of Annapolis, whom he married in 1966; three daughters, Karen G. Joslin of Philadelphia, Lyn Grady of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and Nan Gray of Annapolis; and two grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be made to Anne Arundel Medical Center, Franklin and Cathedral streets, Annapolis 21401.

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