Class of 2014: Peter, Olaf, and L. Francis

Published on September 24th, 2014

The National Sailing Hall of Fame will induct eight people into the National Sailing Hall of Fame this weekend during their 2014 ceremony in Detroit, MI. Meet three of the members of this year’s induction class:


While he was struggling with the math involved with engineering at University of Wisconsin at Madison, Peter Harken had a part part-time job at Gilson Medical Electronics. The rule at Gilson was designers had to build their own prototypes, so as a draftsman, Harken had gotten friendly with the machine shop. One night, some plastic ball bearings he had found to solve a problem in a refrigerated environment rolled off the bench onto the floor. “I was amazed at how high they bounced,” he recalls. “The less mass, the further things accelerate – that’s what pulleys do on a boat, stop and start all the time.” The standard blocks at the time were brass, sometimes with brass ball bearings that were heavy and sluggish. Harken had upgraded to stainless bearings for the blocks he had been making for his E-Scow and ice boat. They were were soon replaced by blocks with lighter, more lively plastic bearings, and that day yachting hardware took a giant leap forward. Harken had learned engineering wasn’t all math: “Sometimes it’s just bloody common sense.” But he switched to economics anyway to play it safe. MORE

Olaf Harken got his engineering degree from Georgia Tech. After being discharged from the Navy, he joined his brother Peter building Tech Dinghies in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. They reformed the company in 1967, called it Vanguard, and built Flying Juniors for the college market. Three boats were in contention for the 1976 Olympics. Olaf and Peter consulted with their good friend, designer Bruce Kirby, and bet on the 470. They were right, and secured the U.S. franchise. They built 500 of the 470s in one year, had dealers all over the world, and added Finns and Flying Dutchmen to their line. They sold the company in 1986. “It stopped being fun,” Olaf explains, “and that’s a big deal for us, having fun.” MORE

Son of 2011 National Sailing Hall of Fame inductee Nathanael Greene Herreshoff (“The Wizard of Bristol”), L. Francis Herreshoff had a tough act to follow. The fourth of five sons, he was slated to manage the family farm (which he did not like). Instead, he yielded with enthusiasm to the lure of the boatyard, where he mastered wood and metal work. In 1926, after apprenticing with noted designer Starling Burgess, he opened his own design office and workshops in Marblehead, Massachusetts, where he built elegant boat fittings and beautiful functional cannons – he could machine about anything. MORE

COMMENT: We will provide an update on all the class members this week. Also, I am looking forward to participating in the induction festivities. If you plan on attending, be sure to look me up and let’s talk sailing. – Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt

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