15 to enter sailing hall of fame

SAN DIEGO -- Dennis Conner, Ted Turner and the late Harold Vanderbilt are among a boatload of America's Cup stalwarts in the inaugural class of the National Sailing Hall of Fame, which also includes the first man to sail alone around the world and the Southern California surfer-turned-sailor who designed the quintessential Hobie Cat.

The 14 men and one woman will be inducted Sunday at the San Diego Yacht Club. Of the 15, 11 had a hand in 17 straight America's Cup victories from 1893-1980, and three more from 1987-1992.

Others in the group who won the America's Cup as a skipper, crewman or naval architect are the late Capt. Charlie Barr, the late Capt. Nathanael G. Herreshoff, Ted Hood, Gary Jobson, Buddy Melges, the late Emil "Bus" Mosbacher Jr. and the late Olin Stephens. Lowell North, founder of North Sails, made sails for several Cup boats over the decades.

Another inductee, Paul Cayard, has extensive America's Cup experience, won the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1998 and sailed in the 2004 Olympics.

The rest of the class includes Betsy Alison of Newport, R.I., the US Sailing Team paralympic coach and five-time Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year; Hobie Alter, whose Hobie Cat catamaran popularized sailing among the masses; and the late Joshua Slocum, who sailed alone around the world in the late 1890s. Slocum disappeared at sea in 1908.

Every living inductee is scheduled to attend. The posthumous inductees will be represented by descendants.

Jobson, who was Turner's tactician in 1977, has an interesting perspective on the first hall of fame that spans all genres of sailing.

"What if you took a boat and you had 15 crew and the crew was everybody on that list; what would it be like aboard that boat?" said Jobson, who's also a broadcaster, author and president of US Sailing. "I think what you'd find is a lot of mutual respect for each other's accomplishments."

Conner agreed, noting that while this class is loaded with America's Cup stars, it also recognizes sailors from across the spectrum.

"We've had a lot of great sailors and it's very nice to be recognized as one of them," said Conner, who won the America's Cup four times and lost it twice. He also won a bronze medal at the 1976 Olympics as well as numerous world championships.

"Certainly the America's Cup is the big light, the shining light in this, but people are being recognized for other achievements," Conner said, mentioning Cayard, Alter and Melges.

Melges was co-skipper of 1992 America's Cup winner America3, along with Bill Koch. Melges, of Zenda, Wisc., also has two Olympic medals, including a gold, and has won several world championships.

Alter is a popular choice for the hall.

"He was an ultimate beach guy who figured something out and got a lot of people on the water," Jobson said. "It was a very unique thing. He's done something no one else has done."

Wanting a boat that could be easily launched from the beach, Alter designed the Hobie Cat in the late 1960s.

"There are a lot of them around," Alter said. "It was just the kind of thing I wanted, really, living on the beach. After I got it made, my friends liked it and wanted it. It kind of kept growing."

The 2013 America's Cup will be sailed in 72-foot catamarans on San Francisco Bay. As a buildup, the America's Cup World Series is being sailed this year and next in 45-foot cats.

In 1988, Conner sailed a catamaran to a two-race sweep of New Zealand to defend the America's Cup.

Turner set the staid yachting establishment on its stern while successfully defending the America's Cup in 1977. He was nicknamed "Captain Outrageous" and "The Mouth of the South."

Turner, who founded CNN and owns the Atlanta Braves, was the last amateur skipper to win the America's Cup.

"It was the sport that I participated in myself," Turner said. "It was great winning the World Series in baseball, but I was sitting there in the stands. In sailing, I was out there competing myself. It's a totally different experience and I'm very, very proud and happy to be included."

Turner said the America's Cup "was the premier yachting event for over 100 years." He's not quite as sold on it now. "I'm a traditionalist. It's a little too high-tech for me."

Barr won three straight America's Cup matches from 1899-1903, when the New York Yacht Club turned back the first three of five straight challenges by tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton. Barr's record of winning nine straight races was matched in 2000 by Russell Coutts of Team New Zealand. In 2003, Coutts ran his mark to a record 14-0.

In 1905, Barr set a transatlantic record that stood for 100 years.