Eight Bells: Skip Sheldon

Published on January 7th, 2018

Dr. Huntington ‘Skip’ Sheldon passed away on Friday, December 29th, at his home in Shelburne, VT, surrounded by his loving family. He was 87 years old.

Skip’s medical career spanned four decades and was distinguished for his work in research and teaching. Most of his work in medical academia was based out of Canada’s McGill University, where he was awarded a Doctor of Laws in 1996 and was honored as “perhaps the most exciting teacher of his generation”.

Skip also lived a long and diverse sailing life, accomplishing much in both racing and cruising. He got his start in sailing at the Devon Yacht Club in Eastern Long Island. Skip’s experiences sailing as a medical student on the schooner Baleen and racing-cruising Maine and Scandinavian waters would provide the foundation for his pursuit of lofty ocean-sailing goals.

He refit the Frers 73 Isbjorn and cruised far and wide with his family in the 1990s. They sailed the Baltic, Mediterranean and Caribbean Seas before heading for high latitudes, where they eventually reached Spitsbergen in the Arctic.

Skip’s competitive nature kept him heavily involved in the performance side of the sport, racing in many of the world’s great offshore races on his commissioned boats, Aurora and Zaraffa, and ultimately winning the prestigious St. David’s Lighthouse Trophy in the 2002 Newport Bermuda Race.

His offshore race boats were American-designed and -built. He commissioned Aurora in 1992 and, as with all of his boats, was directly involved in the design and build of the boat. Aurora raced on both sides of the Atlantic, competed in the 1993 Fastnet Race and won the Northern Ocean Racing Trophy in the same year.

In 1999 Skip commissioned Reichel-Pugh to design his 66-foot cruiser-racer Zaraffa, which was built at New England Boatworks. He and his mostly amateur crews sailed the world’s best races — Newport Bermuda, Sydney Hobart, Transatlantic, Miami to Montego Bay, Gotland Round and the Middle Sea Race. Zaraffa’s Lighthouse Trophy win was on the crew’s second attempt (the boat would race to Bermuda four times).

The 2003 Transatlantic campaign was an epic high-latitude adventure — 3.600 miles from Newport to Cuxhaven, Germany. Zaraffa jumped to an early lead in the Gulfstream and never looked back, claiming first-to-finish and overall honors. Days later the Sheldon family boarded Zaraffa for an extended cruise in Scandinavian cruising grounds.

Even while leading his team’s offshore racing campaigns, Skip managed time for coastal sailing. Maine’s famed Eggemoggin Reach Regatta was a favorite of the Sheldon family, which they regularly entered with their Aage Nielsen 44 Patience.

Skip was a highly skilled navigator and legendary skipper to his loyal crew. He was a great cook, too, and often saved one of his signature salmon and rice meals for the right moment at sea. His sailing stories drew inspiration from his extensive sailing background and always left room for the coastal sailing close to his heart — racing in Sweden on the 30 square meter Spirit and cruising the Maine coast on board Patience.

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