"Stu" Walker, M.D.
“There are many who, in sailing, are reminded of symbolic conflicts with 'father,' or 'brother' and who, in an impasse between stimulated desire to defeat him and a guilty concern that they might, alternate between pressing on to victory and deliberate self-destruction.”
— From Winning: The Psychology of Competition
April 19, 1923 —
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York
Writing in Sports Illustrated in 1970, Hugh Whall called Stuart Walker “the dilly-down-daffiest small-boat skipper in the world.” This was after watching Walker sailing a Soling for fun off Annapolis, Maryland, in February in a brisk, 40-degree nor’wester. As a sailor, Walker has described himself as Charlie Brown pitching a baseball game in the rain after all but Lucy has gone home. His crews see him as a more stringent taskmaster. During the last race of an International 14 series in Annapolis, he had already won on points, Walker set the spinnaker in 30 knots and sailed halfway to Baltimore before finding a lull in which it was possible to douse the sail without dire consequences. The man simply loves to race.
A pediatrician, Walker gave up private practice in Annapolis to have more time for sailing. He was Chief of Pediatrics at Mercy Hospital in Baltimore, and began teaching at University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1961. Three years later, he became the first American to win Britain’s Prince of Wales Trophy, the America’s Cup of dinghy racing. It was held in International 14s, Walker’s true love. He tanked in preliminary races. He won after spending several days thoroughly researching the venue from a high hill overlooking the race course, acquiring local knowledge from watermen, and charting the results. He was on every American team for international matches between 1961 and 1971. His other love is the Soling, in which he won eight national championships in six different countries. He was president of the Soling class from 1991-1994.
Walker has written ten books and hundreds of articles on racing, all of which have a strong, technical bent. A piece on calm conditions he wrote for Sailing World in 1996 begins, “Calm is rarely the absence of wind; it is usually the consequence of the displacement of an existing wind from the water’s surface to a level above an inversion or into a vertical trajectory.” Walker knows of what he writes. One sailor recalls an International 14 race in very light air in which Walker rounded the jibe mark and sailed 100 degrees off course. While the other skippers were scratching their heads, Walker got into the breeze he had diagnosed, and won by a mile.
Walker’s late wife, Frances, was his first crew. She was fired (“too incisive”). He says after a race she’d ask if he won, or if it was a learning experience. “If I said it was a learning experience, she’d say, `You’d think that by the age of 87 you’d have learned it all.’”
Stuart Walker turned 90 in 2013.
- Roger Vaughan