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Sir Durward Knowles

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Everyone who knew Sir Durward Knowles has a different version.  But I think we'd all agree Durward never had a bad day on the water. His smile and wry sense of humor was infectious.

Bahamian Durward Knowles was already a sailing legend when we first met in Newport Beach in 1959. Knowles had been taught sailing at a young age by his father, worked as a Nassau Bar Pilot, won the Star World's Championship in 1947 and the Bronze Medal in the 1956 Olympics. His red Starboats, all named GEM, were invariably found at the head of the fleet. Durward was in the very top echelon of Star sailors, the best in the world.

Durward and crew had arrived early in Newport that August. I was honored to be asked to practice as their tune-up boat. Unlike San Pedro, 20 miles west, where Durward had won the '47 Worlds, the course off Newport has predominantly light airs, 8-14 knots, with a fair amount of Pacific ground swell, leftover waves from better winds to the west, and powerboat slop.

Local sailors become proficient at handling these conditions, "the washing machine," which are somewhat mystifying at first to the outsider. As a 14 year old I had gotten good at it, which turned out to be a bit deflating to the ever jovial Mr. Knowles. As he wrote of his experience, "I didn't mind so much that Skip kept passing us." "But every time he wiped us off the kid would luff up and say, 'Had enough? I have to go home.'" Durward interpreted this to mean, "Now do you give up?" whereas actually it was too late for me to be out on the ocean according to family rules and I didn't want to get into trouble.

Durward kept his grin all that week and the next, laughing at practical jokes, one of which was an unidentified competitor, possibly named Blackaller, repainting the name of Knowles Star from GEM to "GERM."

Durward Knowles reached the pinnacle of a lifetime of sailing in 1964 when he and Cecil Cooke won the Olympic Gold Medal in the Star Class in Tokyo. They came home to the Bahamas as national heroes, and he was knighted Sir Durward in 1996.

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Durward continued racing until 70 years of age, and competed in eight Olympics, the last in Seoul, South Korea in 1988 where he was the proud bearer of the flag of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.

Durward Knowles was a great humanitarian and supported sailing and his island country all his long life. He was especially fond of helping juniors. His Star sits in position of honor at the entrance to the Nassau Yacht Club.

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We salute Sir Durward, the oldest living Olympic Champion, who died Saturday at age 100.

Below a photo of Sir Durward Knowles with fellow Star World's champion (1988) Paul Cayard.

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Nice write up, Skip.

I never had the privilege of sailing with Sir Durward, but had the pleasure of dining with him during the old SORC days. A class act with many tales. Fair winds, Sir!

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100 years is a damn good run. 

Must be something in Star boats,  my old college coach sailed them too and was still sailing in his mid-90s.


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This esteemed gentleman did amazing things. As a ship pilot, he took what money he had to compete in sailing at the highest levels. Not being able to afford to ship his Star boat from Nassau to compete, he would sail the 23-footer from the Bahamas to either Miami or Havana with just a compass, and then sail back home.

He was an unofficial ambassador for the Bahamas inviting many classes to hold championships in Nassau. This improved tourism which is the mainstay of the Bahamian economy.

When he won his first medal in the Olympics, a Bronze (later a Gold), he was the first Bahamian ever to win a medal in the Olympics. The country celebrated and he became a household name of national pride.

All of this lead to the Queen of England "Knighting" Durwood who became my friend, Sir Durwood Knowles.

Before Nassau dredged to allow ships to come to docks, ships anchored on the shelf. Durwood would go out on a Pilot Boat to the ship as it was coming in, climb the Jacob's Ladder to the bridge and tell the ship how far to pull up not to run aground and to be over the shelf to drop their anchor.  One time, the QE2 with the Queen aboard arrived, he told them to pull up and stop and drop the anchor here.  They pull the pin, the anchor goes down with the chain clattering, and clattering, and clattering.  He missed the shelf and the anchor and chain was gone for good.  "Pull up some more."  This was before any knighting, I guess the Queen forgot about this one!

Last year I asked Sir Ben Ainslie if he were familiar with Sir Durwood Knowles.  He said he wasn't and that they should meet, I agreed and told him to "hurry up" that Durwood wasn't any spring chicken!  I hope they met.

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