Sailing center in Annapolis to induct first honorees on Oct. 23

Actor Morgan Freeman becomes chair of organization's Honorary Advisory Board

October 13, 2011|By Edward Gunts, The Baltimore Sun

A media mogul, a surfboard industry pioneer, a coach of disabled athletes and the first man to sail solo around the world are among the inaugural inductees to the National Sailing Hall of Fame, a Maryland institution working to build a permanent home on the Annapolis waterfront.

Next weekend's induction ceremony, to be held at the San Diego Yacht Club in California, comes six years after the National Sailing Center and Hall of Fame was formed to promote sailing and recognize men and women who have made "outstanding contributions" to the sport.

Annapolis-based sailor, author and award-winning ESPN commentator Gary Jobson is the lone Marylander in the group, which also includes four-time America's Cup winner Dennis Conner, and television titan and yachtsman Ted Turner.

Each member will eventually get a permanent place of honor in the National Sailing Center and Hall of Fame, a $30 million attraction and educational facility slated for construction at 67-69 Prince George St. in Annapolis.

Earlier this month, sailing center leaders announced that actor and avid sailor Morgan Freeman has become the chairman of the organization's Honorary Advisory Board. Freeman, 74, fills the position left vacant by former CBS-TV news anchor Walter Cronkite, who died in 2009. The Oct. 23 induction ceremony will be dedicated to Cronkite.

"I am honored to be part of the National Sailing Center and Hall of Fame as we create a home for American sailing," Freeman said in a statement. "I know how important it was to Walter."

The honorees were selected from a list of 131 people who were suggested over a two-month nomination period last summer. The 10-member selection panel included representatives from the sailing center's board, the sailing media, the sailing industry, community sailing, a maritime museum and individual yacht clubs.

"After years of planning, we are so pleased that the heroes of our sport are getting their long-overdue recognition," said organization President Dick Franyo. "The National Sailing Center and Hall of Fame will be a place to honor these heroes and provide inspiration for sailors young and old."

Under the Hall of Fame admission guidelines, candidates must be U.S. citizens 45 years of age or older who have had a "significant impact" on the growth and development of sailing in the United States. Posthumous nominations also were considered.

For its first class, the Hall of Fame selection committee named nine living honorees and six who have died. All but one are male. The youngest is 51. At least one, Joshua Slocum, is thought to have died at sea.

Lee Tawney, executive director of the sailing center, said the induction ceremony is a sign that the Annapolis project is moving forward.

"It says to the sailing community that this is happening," he said. "The fact that we're inducting our first members in the Hall of Fame, the fact that Morgan Freeman is coming on … and that the event is being dedicated to Walter Cronkite, helps the community understand that this project is moving forward. It says sailing finally has a home."

Tawney said choosing the first Hall of Fame class was largely a matter of "catching up with 200 years of U.S. sailing history," going back to the early 19th century.

He said there are other organizations that honor sailors who race, including collegiate sailors, but none that recognize sailors for other contributions to the sport. He said the National Sailing Center wanted its Hall of Fame to include a broader range of people who contributed to sailing in many different ways, from those who design sailing vessels to people who coach, teach and write about sailing.

Jobson, 61, grew up in New Jersey and was a two-time College Sailor of the Year who became Ted Turner's tactician on Courageous, which won the America's Cup race in 1977. In 1978, he started Jobson Sailing to promote the sport.

Since then, Jobson has become known as the voice of sailing in the United States and a global ambassador for the sport. In 1987, he launched a broadcasting career as an analyst for ESPN, covering Dennis Conner's America's Cup victory in Australia, He has produced 17 books and numerous DVDs about sailing, written an autobiography and delivered more than 2,400 lectures. He is national chairman of the Leukemia Cup Regattas, events that he conceived and that have raised more than $40 million to fight the disease. He also serves as president of U.S. Sailing, an organization that works closely with the National Sailing Center and Hall of Fame.

"My reaction was a little bit of surprise, a little bit of humbleness and a lot of elation," Jobson said of his inclusion in the Hall of Fame. "I was thrilled to be in the first class."

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