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National Sailing Hall of Fame inducts six new members

Dec 31, 2018
The inductees or their representatives assembled at the award ceremony at the Lauderdale Yacht Club. From left: Scott Biddle, Keith Michel, Vince Brun, John Coumantaros, Sophie Biddle, Ding Schoonmaker and Bill Koch.

The inductees or their representatives assembled at the award ceremony at the Lauderdale Yacht Club. From left: Scott Biddle, Keith Michel, Vince Brun, John Coumantaros, Sophie Biddle, Ding Schoonmaker and Bill Koch.

Courtesy NSHOF

John Biddle was a strong sailor in his own right, but these days he’s best known for his groundbreaking films capturing the America’s Cup and other prominent sailing events — often while on board the vessels themselves. For nearly 40 years, Biddle showed these films through an annual lecture circuit.

Biddle, who died in 2008 at age 83, is one of six people inducted to the National Sailing Hall of Fame (NSHOF) during its 2018 induction weekend in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Vince Brun, Ding Schoonmaker, Bill Koch and posthumous inductees William Webb and George Coumantaros rounded out the class of 2018.

 “The common thread this year is the blending of art and science in sailing, putting the two together to achieve excellence on the racecourse,” Gary Jobson, president of the Annapolis-based NSHOF, said in his preface to introducing the 2018 inductees on Nov. 11 at the Lauderdale Yacht Club.

The organization has inducted a new hall of fame class every year since 2011. Its roster of 71 honorees includes men and women from diverse backgrounds with notable accomplishments or contributions to the sport. Hall of Famers include prominent naval architects, boatbuilders and windsurfers, as well as accomplished racers and Olympic and America’s Cup champions.​

Brun, 71, retired after 30 years as president of North Sails One Design. He made his mark on the water as skipper and crew in numerous winning campaigns, including Soling World Championships in 1978, 1981 and 1983, and J/24 Worlds in 1996 and 1997, among others. He served as crew for Dennis Connor in the 1992 and 2003 America’s Cup.​

Coumantaros, who died in 2016 at age 94, ran a shipping company in New York. He competed in the Bermuda Race 26 times in 52 years, according to the NSHOF, and won overall honors in 1996. Winning the Lighthouse Trophy, his son John said during the induction ceremony, was his father’s biggest sailing achievement.

Businessman Bill Koch came to sailing later in life, but he teamed up with Buddy Melges for the successful 1992 America’s Cup campaign aboard America3. Koch chose the crew based on how well they could work together. Koch has donated generously to sailing causes over the years and has used his chemical engineering background to improve vessel design.​

Schoonmaker, the 1971 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, crewed on the winning Bacardi Cup team in 1951. He won the event’s Star Class seven more times as skipper between 1953 and 1977. He also won the 1975 Star World Championship in Chicago, which he considers the highlight of his career, and served as reserve helmsman during two Olympic Games.

A renowned shipbuilder who died in 1899, Webb made an impact on naval architecture and shipbuilding that continues to this day. Sensing the need for formal training in naval architecture, he started an academy that provided education to students and housing to retirees. Today, all students at the Webb Institute in Glen Cove, N.Y., receive scholarships covering tuition.

Biddle’s first serious sailing film covered the 1956 Newport Bermuda Race. That film spawned an annual lecture series lasting 40 years that captured live sailing events from the previous summer.

Biddle filmed 11 Newport Bermuda Races and filmed the America’s Cup 10 times. All told, he made 140 sailing films that captured technical and human elements of the sport.

For more on these inductees, as well as other honorees in the National Sailing Hall of Fame, visit www.nshof.org.

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