George Dyer O’Day
“Stay on the wave as long as possible.”
May 19, 1923 – July 26, 1987
Birthplace: Brookline, Massachusetts
Boats for the People
When it comes to sailboats, the name O’Day is iconic. The boat company started by world class racing sailor George O’Day in 1958 produced more than 30,000 of nearly 60 different models before it closed in 1989. These were mainly small, family boats like Javelin, Widgeon, and Osprey – all inexpensive, easy to trailer and sail. Chief among them was the 16’ 9” O’Day Daysailer, designed by Uffa Fox in the UK, of which 12,000 were sold. For many years, O’Day was the largest producer of sailboats in the U.S.
The O’Day Corporation was launched on George O’Day’s reknown as a sailor. His record, from Harvard where he skippered a McMillan Cup win in 40-foot yawls, through half a dozen national championships in as many classes – culminating in an Olympic Gold Medal (1960, Rome, 5.5s) – is admirable. Taking a cue from Uffa Fox, the father of the planing dinghy, O’Day made sailing downwind into an art form. The company became successful under O’Day’s aggressive, charismatic leadership.
Mike Horn was a Harvard dinghy sailor in the early 1960s when O’Day’s company built the school a fleet of Interclubs. “He was held up as an example of what a college sailor could accomplish,” Horn says, pointing out that O’Day also served a term as president of the Intercollegiate Yacht Racing Association, and helped write the team racing rules with Bill Cox and Harry Anderson.
O’Day sailed on both Weatherly (1962) and Intrepid (1967) as assistant helmsman and tactician for Bus Mosbacher in successful defenses of the America’s Cup. “He had a real presence on board,” says George Hinman, who raced on Intrepid . “His delivery was strong. When he spoke, people took notice. It was Bus’ show, but he had respect for George’s opinions.”
Sally Smith, widow of David Smith who crewed for O’Day in Rome, says the magnetic O’Day was a man who loved what he did, and who willingly shared his talent. “In all the years David sailed with and against him,” Sally says, “I never once heard George say a cross word. He had a strong personality, but he was very kind, very patient, and loved to talk with any sailor no matter how good he was. And he was able to realize his vision of building boats that made it easy for the average person to get on the water.”
- Roger Vaughan