Early 1980s US Sailing Team Poster: Perry and Ullman included

It has been quite some time since I have posted, but fortunately that time has been filled with travel and assignments that I hope we all will be reading throughout this fall and winter. From researching green home design for an article to interviewing filmmakers and boatbuilders, my writing has taken me through some diverse concepts this year. It was the National Sailing Hall of Fame‘s induction ceremony last week, however, that captured my imagination and passions.

Now in its sixth year, the Hall finally had it’s inaugural induction putting it, and the sport, on the map along with the mainstream sports that have their own meccas for worshiping fans. I have been writing about the Hall since it’s inception and am in regular contact with Lee Tawney, one of the masterminds behind the facility in Annapolis. Watching clips of the ceremony held at San Diego Yacht Club brought back memories of flipping through Yacht Racing and Cruising magazine, seeing Buddy Melges in a Star, Dennis Conner driving a blue-hulled (and blue-decked) Williwaw with a blooper flying, Ted Hood in a sail ad and of course Ted Turner in his train engineers hat.

The striking take away from all these legends of our sport who are now officially recognized is their entrepreneurial spirit. Whether it is the traits they have developed as a sailor that have allowed each and every one of them to knock-it-out of the park in their businesses or their business saavy that has helped them become successful in sailing, or both, who knows?

Think about it, most of the major brands in sailing are the last names of famous yachtsmen. Just take sailmaking alone: North, Ullman, Hood are all enormous companies internationally. In boats, one stands out, too: Hobie Cat. Hobie Alter was also inducted last week.

I gained some insight into this phenomenon while sailing in the US Match Racing Championships in Newport Beach two weeks ago. I had the pleasure of racing with Dave Perry, our country’s most notable rules expert and one of the most recognized sailors in our sport, and stayed with Dave and Linda Ullman. What a treat that was. Ullman, among other accolades, is a three-time 470 world champion. He sailed in the late 1970s and early ’80s with fellow Californian Tom Linskey whom I worked with when I was an intern at Sail magazine.

I asked Ullman why there are so many top sailors who also have started and run successful businesses. He delivered his answer with a chuckle and then a hint of anxiety: “I had a kid on the way, so I had to do something!” Like many top sailors of that time, before sponsorship was truly in play, Ullman had to create his own career that also supported his goals of winning championships and going to the Olympic Games. “For me it was not as emotional, it was a job,” he said one morning at breakfast, in between trading stories of crazy sailors and regattas of the past. “My family understood that I was at work. Sailing and winning was part of my business.”

Dave Perry (l) and Dave Ullman, Newport Beach, CA

More than three decades later, Ullman Sails is an international brand, well known and respected. Ullman was in the process of opening another European loft while I was in Newport Beach. I look forward to learning more about the path of legends like Ullman and Lowell North that took them through sailing and business success. They basically hung up a shingle outside a garage with their name on it and that’s how it began.

I believe there is a lot we can all learn from them and we can certainly all relate as sailors. For the young sailors today who just want to sail and see school or work as a burden, the stories of Ullman and the crop of Hall of Fame inductees this year could be the spark needed make those critical connections all successful people make where everything starts to make sense, and you can earn a living off of your passion.