Co-founder of sailing equipment maker Harken Inc., Olaf Harken, died on Oct. 21, 2019. He was 80 years old.
Harken was born in Sumatra, Indonesia, to Dutch and Swedish parents. He fled the country with his mother and brother, Peter, when Japan attacked at the beginning of WWII. After getting an engineering degree at Georgia Tech, Harken took an engineering job in New York City. He ended up leaving that job, however, relocating to Wisconsin to assist Peter, who was building small sailboats for college racing teams.
Olaf and Peter’s sailboat building business morphed into the hugely successful Harken Inc., with the brothers taking on tasks at the company that ran counter to their education: Olaf, the engineer, took over running the business side of the company while Peter, trained in economics, took over design and manufacturing. Olaf Harken was inducted into the Sailing Hall of Fame in 2014.
Ron Allatt, co-founder of yacht fitting manufacturer Ronstan, died on July 19, 2019, at age 89.
In 1946, Allatt teamed up with his friend Stan LeNepveu to race sailing dinghies, a partnership that later grew into a business venture to build boats and stainless-steel fittings. To name their company, they combined their first two names and launched Ronstan in 1953. In 1977, Allatt and LeNepveu sold the company, with Allatt staying on as general manager until 1981.
Marine electronics guru Dick McCurdy died on July 5, 2019, at age 78. An MIT graduate, McCurdy originally worked for Kenyon Marine before he and Art Ellis founded Ockam Instruments. McCurdy developed his knowledge of marine electronics and racing navigation by building computers for America’s Cup 12-meters in the 1970s and ‘80s. He honed his techniques for bringing together sailing variables (wind speed, wind direction, course over ground, etc.) into an integrated system for velocity made good and other tactical racing data, which became embodied in Ockam Instruments’ product line. McCurdy was, in many ways, the inventor of the integrated nav system.
Marion Bermuda Race official and first female Commodore of the Beverly Yacht Club in Marion, Mass., Faith Paulsen passed away on Dec. 1, 2019.
Paulsen was a descendant of the famous naval architect John Alden. Fittingly, she grew up in boats and was a lifelong sailor, starting with a Cape Cod Knockabout and later a Herreshoff 12. She was also a longtime participant in the Bullseye class. Paulsen had been involved with the Marion Bermuda Race since 1979. In 2005, the race’s organizing committee inaugurated the Commodore Faith Paulsen Trophy for the first all-women-crewed boat to finish the race.
Robert W.B. Kits van Heyningen
An inventor of one of the world’s first digital compasses and co-founder of marine electronics and communications company KVH Industries, Robert W.B. Kits van Heyningen died on Dec. 14, 2019, at age 62.
Born in Montreal in 1957, Kits van Heyningen grew up in Newport, R.I., before attending McGill University, where he garnered degrees in physics and computer science. In 1982, Kits van Heyningen co-founded Sailcomp Industries with his father, Arent, and his brother, Martin. Sailcomp was one of the first manufacturers of digital fluxgate compasses. Later, in 1986, the company’s name was changed to KVH Industries. Kits van Heyningen was a KVH board member and senior vice president of research and development until 2016.
Kits Van Heyningen, a passionate sailor, participated in the Newport Bermuda Race a dozen times. He also worked on the electronics for several America’s Cup campaigns, starting with the France III challenge in 1980.
Lowell North, renowned sailmaker, Olympic gold medalist and four-time Star-class world champion, died June 2 in San Diego, Calif., at age 89.
North was born far from the sea in Springfield, Mo. Later, while living in San Diego, North started his sailmaking efforts at an early age, reportedly cutting his first mainsail at 14. In 1957, he founded North Sails, which became the world’s largest sailmaking company. He used his sail construction prowess to win races in the Star and Dragon classes, and skippered the 12-meter Enterprise in the 1977 America’s Cup. North sold the company and retired in 1984 at age 55. In 2011, he was inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame.