Thomas Closs, 87, yachtsman, car dealer

February 22, 1999|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Thomas H. Closs, an accomplished Annapolis yachtsman who raced sailboats on the Chesapeake Bay and along the East Coast for more than 70 years, died Wednesday of lung failure at Spa Creek Eldercare in Annapolis. He was 87.

A longtime Annapolis resident, Mr. Closs also owned Closs Volkswagen, a successful car dealership on Belair Road in the Putty Hill section of Baltimore County that he operated from 1970 until he retired in 1977.

Since 1937, Mr. Closs owned a string of offshore cruising and racing yachts -- all named FUN after the boat his father built for him in 1922 -- that he sailed from Canada to the Caribbean Islands and in the Great Lakes.

"The story behind the name is very simple: His father said, `What do you want to name your boat?' and Dad said, `That looks like fun,' and that's what they named the boat," said his son, Thomas H. Closs Jr. of Annapolis.

He lived and raced out of New York until he moved to Maryland in 1951, when he raced from the Annapolis Yacht Club. He often included his family on his racing and cruising expeditions.

"He was the man to beat," his son said. "He was technically capable and very thorough in his planning. He had a very focused approach to yacht racing."

Perhaps the highlight of his racing career was taking first place of 300 competitors in the Fleet at Block Island Race Week in 1977 in Block Island, R.I.

A native of Rose, N.Y., Mr. Closs attended Hobart College and the University of Alabama. Later, he went to the University of Cincinnati on a basketball scholarship and graduated in 1934 with a bachelor's degree in physics.

He worked as a design engineer with Weston Electrical Instrument Co. in Rochester, N.Y., from 1934 to 1941. During World War II, the War Production Board assigned him as an optical engineer to the Bausch & Lomb offices in Rochester, N.Y., where he worked on the Norden bomb site project.

He returned to Weston Electrical in 1943 before moving to Maryland.

Mr. Closs was one of the four founding yachtsmen of the Wednesday Night Races from the Annapolis Yacht Club in 1953. The races have become popular over the years and attract about 150 racers weekly.

He was past president of the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association, past commodore of the Sailing Club of the Chesapeake, founding member and past president of Maryland Boat Act Advisory Committee and past Rear Commodore of the Cruising Club of America.

He was a classic car buff and enjoyed studying his family genealogy and playing music and bridge.

For 13 years, Mr. Closs belonged to Calvary United Methodist Church, 301 Rowe Blvd. in Annapolis, where services are scheduled for 2 p.m. tomorrow.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife, the former Elizabeth Wright, whom he married in 1941; two sisters, Margaret Hall of Ithaca, N.Y., and Frances Button of Albany, N.Y.; and a grandson.

Pub Date: 2/22/99

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