Class of 2017: Cornelius “Corny” Shields
Published on September 12th, 2017
The U.S. National Sailing Hall of Fame selected eight people in 2017 to join the 57 previously-recognized individuals who have been enshrined since the first class in 2011.
Among this group to be officially inducted on September 24 is Corny Shields (New Rochelle, N.Y.), who is one of two Inductees being recognized with the NSHOF Lifetime Achievement Award. This tribute is provided by 2011 inductee Gary Jobson:
Very few sailors have been featured on the cover of Time Magazine, but Corny Shields was given that honor in the July 27, 1953 edition. Over his shoulder is an illustration of a fleet of International One Designs (IODs) racing on a reach leg with spinnakers up. Mr. Shields displays a slight smile of satisfaction. At the age of 58, he had achieved a lot in business and sailing.
Professionally he had a knack for acquiring companies. He and his brother, Paul, founded an investment firm, Shields & Co., in 1923. Among his acquisitions was the boatbuilding giant Chris Craft. The company built affordable offshore yachts in the 36- to 42-foot range. During his ownership, he contracted legendary yacht designer Olin Stephens to come up with a 30-foot one-design keelboat.
The keelboat was named the Shields. To build up the class, Shields donated fleets of these speedy boats to military academies. New York Maritime College and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy each had a fleet of eleven Shields, with five going to the US Naval Academy. Many aspiring young sailors gained great experience racing these one-designs. The class endures to this day. In fact, about 30 still race off Newport, Rhode Island.
In 1936 Shield created the IODs. They attracted the best sailors of the era including America’s Cup helmsmen Bus Mosbacher, Bill Luders, Bob Bavier and Arthur Knapp Jr. In the winter months, Shields raced small Inter-Club dinghies on Long Island Sound.
He crewed on Yankee in the America’s Cup trials in 1930 and was the starting helmsman on Columbia when she defended the Cup in 1958. Shields was recovering from a heart attack he had suffered a few years earlier and had to be careful of stress, but the racing actually relaxed him.
He started out as an advisor watching Columbia from a powerboat. In his best-selling book, Racing with Cornelius Shields and the Masters, he talked about how much easier it was for him to give advice from onboard. Between 1909 and 1956, Shields estimated he had raced in 8,500 races.
Cornelius Shields provided a lasting legacy to sailing with his popular, affordable boats, willingness to help young sailors improve, as an example of how good sportsmanship on the water made him a hero, and as a champion in a wide variety of classes.
His championships included the Atlantic Class, IODs, Frostbiting, 6 Meters, New York 30s, and first winner of the Mallory Cup (North American Men’s Sailing Championship) in 1952. As one of the thousands of junior sailors he helped, let me say, “Thank you.”