Class of 2020: John Rousmaniere

Published on September 3rd, 2020

The U.S. National Sailing Hall of Fame selected nine people in 2020 to join the 81 previously-recognized individuals who have been enshrined since the first class in 2011.

Among the Class of 2020 to be inducted on September 12 is John Rousmaniere (1944-), celebrated writer, sailor, historian and authority on seamanship and boating safety, profiled in this tribute by 2011 inductee Gary Jobson:

It is unclear whether it was John Rousmaniere’s (pronounced “room-an-ear”) good fortune or bad luck that he sailed in two of the most horrific storms of the past 50 years.

In 1972, little did John or any of the sailors know that a brutal 70 knot Southeasterly gale would pound the fleet on the way to Bermuda. The ’72 Bermuda Race was a warm-up for the roughest ocean race on record – the 1979 Fastnet Race. Only 87 of the 303 boats that started would reach the finish line. Sadly, 23 boats either sank or were abandoned and 15 souls perished.

Rousmaniere was part of a group that studied the calamity. With a ton of technical information he wrote, “Fastnet: Force 10.” It was a well-researched and written book based on his experience aboard a 48-foot sloop named Toscana owned by Eric Swenson, who was the Executive Editor of W.W. Norton & Company. Swenson knew they had a good book, released just 8 months after the race and has been a must-read for sailors ever since.

After carefully studying the ’79 Fastnet, Safety at Sea Seminars were created to educate sailors on the best practices for offshore racing. Rousmaniere has been at the fore front of writing the seminar’s standards, and as new yachts race at ever increasing speeds, the course’s standards require updating.

He could see the need for a practical manual and wrote “The Annapolis Book of Seamanship.” In 2002 he wrote, “After the Storm: True Stories of Disaster and Recovery at Sea.” The book is another fascinating read about disaster, faith, recovery, causes and consequences of storms. He has written at least 34 books over his career. One of his early volumes included co-writing, “No Excuse to Lose: Winning Yacht Races” with Dennis Conner, and edited, Olin Stephens’s autobiography, “All This and Sailing, Too.”

Rousmaniere lived in Cincinnati until the age of 10 and moved to Oyster Bay, NY. He attended St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH and played on several sports teams with John Kerry and Robert S. Mueller III who both went on to distinguished careers. Rousmaniere told me, “When I was 14, I would sail a Blue Jay and come home and read Harold Vanderbilt’s book, ‘On the Wind’s Highway.’ I memorized almost every word of it.”

He was on his path to studying history and sailing. He went to Columbia University receiving undergraduate and graduate degrees in history. One of his first jobs was teaching history at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

In a long interview with him, I asked how he compared the people who raced for the America’s Cup over the past 160 years and he told me, “They are all the same. They are all daring people. They are people who really love challenges. These are people who are always pushing things.”

Due to COVID-19, the 10th anniversary of the U.S. National Sailing Hall of Fame’s induction process will recognize the Class of 2020 in a virtual celebration on September 12 at 6:00pm EDT. To register for the online event, click here.

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