Eight Bells: Swede Johnson

Published on January 19th, 2015

Swede Johnson, Hall of Fame member of Balboa Yacht Club, peacefully crossed the bar January 14 in Costa Mesa, CA. Swede was 95.

Quiet by nature, but with a twinkle in his eye, Swede was a man of great kindness and generosity. As a long time sailmaker with Baxter and Cicero, Swede’s sail designs won Star Class World Championships, Transpacs, and countless dinghy races. More than a few Southern California sailmakers, including Dave Ullman and Scott Allan, began their careers with Swede’s encouragement.

Swede was a tinkerer by nature, and designed and built the first small boat tillerpilot in his garage. He also invented a clock that divided time into tenths to ease the job of race committees dealing with handicaps. Most folks would just muse on ideas like that, but Swede actually made the clocks, in finished boxes, and many are still in use today.

Swede loved music, handcrafted his own instruments, and played guitar with his beloved Channel Island Guppies. Swede was considered by many to be the cutting edge of radio controlled model boats and during his long life, Swede built countless ship’s models. He especially favored schooners. When Humphrey Bogart exited the world, Lauren Baucall asked Swede to build a model of Bogie’s’ favorite SANTANA. Swede did so, and the beautiful model was displayed on the pulpit at Bogart’s funeral. .

Swede was the best of shipmates, a man of many skills, and calm demeanor. Swede always listened with his eyes as well as his ears, giving careful thought to what you had to say before he spoke. The answer was always worth the wait.

Swede loved kids, and could often be found aboard his Cal 20, TACO II, anchored at White’s Cove on Catalina, strumming his guitar while a bunch of kids had fun turning TACO’s cockpit into an aquarium. We’ll miss you, Swede. – Skip Allan

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