During the spring of 1971, there was talk up and down the West Coast of forming an America’s Cup challenge for participation in the 1974 selection series. Why not Seattle? Two of our leading sailors, Sunny Vynne and Gary Horder, active local sailors with international credentials, took this question seriously. They involved area yacht clubs, particularly the Seattle YC and Corinthian YC in the discussion. Talk turned into action. Led by Sunny Vynne, the Seattle challenge was born.
Sunny's organizational and promotional skills, combined with the financial leadership of others, provided a strong foundation for the effort and the group didn't have to look far for sailing acumen. Bill Buchan, all-around Puget Sound sailor, boat builder , national Star champion, and Olympic medalist, was available to mount a campaign. Following San Diego's lead, Sunny and a dedicated group of supporters started a non-profit organization to provide funding for the effort. Thus, The Sailing Foundation was born.
The Sailing Foundation, chartered for educational purposes as well as to support national and international sporting efforts, became fact. The leadership was in place. Because of a compressed time frame, the group elected to buy a proven boat, the 12 meter yacht Intrepid, the America’s Cup winner in 1967 and 1970. With a boat secured, the next step was to recruit and develop an expert crew for the 1974 campaign. Intrepid made it to the finals but was not selected, due to a failed halyard fitting in the final race.
Following the Cup Challenge, the Foundation chose to sell the Intrepid and commit the resulting income to funding its primary educational mission in the Northwest.
The Sailing Foundation’s first effort in this regard was to establish a regatta venue, centrally located for Northwest sailors, both in the US and Canada. Port Townsend, with its good winds, protected harbor, and State Park was selected. The Foundation invested in an eight boat fleet of eighteen foot, race-ready Thistles. Races were staged at Fort Worden under the direction of local Foundation members. Thistle racing at Fort Worden continued into the early 80s.
Later in the 80s, the competitive environment changed – racing became more international, individuals became less associated with particular fleets and competitors traveled all over the US and internationally. There was more competition between the various regattas and new lighter, stronger materials made boats much faster and competition much stiffer. Costs also rose correspondingly, both for the increased travel and the higher gear expenses. These changes heralded the end of the more intimate, relaxed regattas of prior years.
The Sailing Foundation adapted to these changes by establishing grants-in-aid to support aspiring young area racers, particularly to help them with travel expenses; initiating and promoting sailing centers throughout the area; and initiating research and training projects for ‘Safety at Sea’. As sailing instruction began to flourish in local areas, the Foundation developed a close association with these groups to assist in promoting youth sailing. The Thistle fleet in Port Townsend was sold to provide funds for these activities.
The Foundation has enjoyed success in each of our areas of focus—youth sailing and safety at sea. Its support for youth sailing has generated a number of national, international and Olympic medalists and the Northwest continues to produce a flow of new sailors who turn into successful competitors and far ranging cruising sailors.
Working with Parks authorities, the Foundation has assisted in establishing community based sailing centers throughout the area. More recently, The Sailing Foundation’s efforts have shifted to interscholastic sailing. In addition to the major yacht club programs, fixed venues and fleets are now available throughout the area for the general use of school groups.
In the 80s, the Foundation’s Safety at Sea Committee noted the absence of appropriate rescue devices on racing keelboats. Through a period of several years of trials, this committee developed the "Life Sling”, the Coast Guard certified MOB recovery system widely used to this day aboard racing and cruising sailboats worldwide. Royalties from the production of the Life Sling continue to provide funding for the Foundation’s work. The Safety at Sea Committee is involved in on-going research and development of tools to enhance boating safety for all types of sailors and periodically hosts Safety at Sea Seminars for ocean cruisers and racers.
Today, The Sailing Foundation remains the premier sailing promoter for Northwest youth sailing and safety at sea. Working through community-based sailing organizations, local schools and universities, and various yacht clubs, The Sailing Foundation’s youth sailing mission is to enhance the health of our sport and to help continue the flow of new sailors as well as developing expertise among them as they advance competitively. Our Safety at Sea Committee, through product development and education, works to equip racers, cruisers, and even powerboaters with the necessary skills to explore further.
As a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, we welcome your support and promise to direct it to the key areas of our mission—youth sailing and safety at sea.