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Conn Findlay, 90, passed over the Bar on April 8.  He was the best of shipmates.

Conn, who rowed for USC as an undergrad and received his MBA from Cal Berkeley in 1956, was a four-time Olympic medalist, and one of the special few to medal in two distinct sports, winning Gold in rowing at the 1956 and the 1964 Summer Olympics, and Bronze in the 1960 Games.

In the 1976 Olympics, Conn Findlay was on the trapeze for Dennis Conner to win a Bronze medal in the Tempest two-man keel boat . Unfortunately, with a Gold medal in reach, Conner picked the wrong side on the last weather leg and dropped them to 3rd, depriving Conn of 3 Golds and earning him and Dennis Bronze instead.

Conn, at 6'5", had amazing strength, coordination, and reach. His sailing skills were much in demand, and he could grind a winch and hoist a spinnaker faster than anyone. Conn was mast man aboard the 12 Meter COURAGEOUS, successfully defending the America's Cup in 1977 with loquacious Ted Turner as skipper.

Conn, a man of few words, was on the foredeck of COURAGEOUS during the 1977 America's Cup trials when Turner left the helm to Jobson and walked forward. Said Turner to Conn: ""I think we have a problem. Do you know what you did wrong?"

Conn's succinct answer was, "'Yes." End of conversation.  For one of the few times in his life, Turner was left speechless, and walked aft, shaking his head.

I sailed many miles with Conn Findlay, and remember him as the best of shipmates. His boat design and building skills, and as coach to countless rowers at California colleges and up and down the Pacific Coast, meant Conn could do pretty much anything on the water. We sailed together on AMERICAN EAGLE with Turner, WINDWARD PASSAGE, and MERLIN.

I will always remember on MERLIN, 3rd day of the Transpac, when the propane regulator broke and we had no stove for the rest of the race. Early the next morning I smelled bacon cooking as we went on dawn watch. There was Conn, bent double in the port tunnel, frying bacon and eggs on the hot engine as it charged batteries....

Conn Findlay will never have a bronze statue on Waikiki Beach like Duke Kahanamoku. Nor did he make millions from endorsements like Mark Spitz. But as a sailor and shipmate I revered, Conn was the best.

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Very sad news.

Sailed w/ Conn quite a few miles back in the late 60s and into the 70s. As a tall thin high schooler of 17 I was put opposite him on the grinder aboard Baruna. Amazing experience - he taught me a great deal about turning the handles. Also ground me and others into a quivering, sweating, incoherent masses of protoplasm time and again. He was also hugely helpful and patient w/ a dumb kid who was anxious to do everything and thought he knew it all. The world has lost a special person w/ his passing - we could use a whole lot more Conn Findlay's in this world.

Respect and a few tears - sail on big guy.

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Didn't he also sail on Mariner in '74.  When his name came up in this thread it rung a bell from having read Roger Vaughan's excellent book on Mariner and the '74 AC -  The Grand Gesture.  That was many years ago though.

Actually, just Google his name and Mariner and came up with this NY Times article on Turner's crew selection: https://www.nytimes.com/1974/03/31/archives/turner-chooses-crew-for-cup-trials.html

It also mentions another name I recalled from the book:  Legare Van Ness, who I  believe also passed away not too long ago.


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In the mid-1970’s, Blackaller called to ask me to sail with him on the next St. Pete – Lauderdale race on a new S&S 60, followed by the letters “ULDB”, which he spoke quietly, almost as an afterthought.  I had an idea what that meant, but Tom had frequently let me stay in his apartment during the Big Boat Series, so I owed him and was contemplating saying yes, but he kept making his pitch by naming the crew.  When he said Conn Findlay, I stopped him and said, “I’m in”.

The morning of the race there was frost on the lawn as we walked from the hotel to the boat, but it was a sunny day and the race started with a run all the way down to Rebecca Shoals, so we hardly noticed the cold.  At Rebecca it was blowing in the low to mid 20’s as we rounded and settled in for a long wet beat.  However, about the fifth wave after the boat got up to speed, we heard a pop.  Conn was the closest to the companion way.  He leaped down below and stuck his head up about 30 seconds later saying that the floor boards were awash and that he was going to man the pump.  The owner and Blackaller headed below, coming back up some minutes later saying that they could not find the leak, but that Conn had it under control with the pump.  It got colder, and as the crew cycled below to put on everything we owned, I was making my way past a large hanging locker when this hand comes out from behind the door and a voice says “COOKIE”.  Opening the door, I found Conn half standing half laying on the leeward side of the locker, rowing a 5 foot long handle that was attached to the largest whale pump I have ever seen.  In typical Conn fashion, he had seen what needed to be done and quietly went about doing it, asking only for a few cookies to satisfy his sweet tooth.  He stayed in that locker pumping all night and we ran out of cookies.  At first I felt sorry for him, but could not talk him into letting me provide some relief.  However, after midnight it became clear that Conn was the smartest person on the boat, pumping all night in a hanging locker, as the crew on deck all agreed that it was the coldest we had ever been on a race.

The boat was hauled right after the finish and as the travel lift hoisted her clear of the water, a 2 foot long gusher could be seen coming out of one side of the keel.  Apparently, the boat was more tender than expected when launched so they added an 18 inch spacer to the bottom of the bilge and the keel bolts were lengthened.  When we went hard on the wind and bounced over a few seas, the assembly accordioned and 2 feet of weld cracked.  From then on, every time I saw Conn at a regatta, our traditional greeting was “COOKIE”.

When they came up with the definition of the “strong silent type”, Conn Findlay set the standard.  You could always count on him and he will be missed.

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He was absolutely one of a kind. And, as stated previously, in my opinion, the kind we need more of.

Helped him deliver a trailer-full of 8 person shells he'd repaired to some of the colleges here in California on a road trip from S.F. to sail in Long Beach. Was amazing to experience the reverence that coaches and rowers had for him. Definitely one of their idols.

Scared me shitless on that trip (again, I was just out of high school) when he tossed me the keys to his car after we'd fueled up and said "I need some sleep" then somehow managed to snake his big frame into the backseat of his '58 Ford to catch some rest. I'd never towed anything behind a vehicle at that point let alone a trailer loaded with 4 or 5 delicate boats that were over 60 ft. long and worth a lot of money. Not sure how he managed to sleep but he did.

Had a trick for newbs on the grinder that required careful timing and was pretty funny when it worked. Had to do with getting an energy boost from a hard boiled egg just before beginning a tacking duel or a long beat up a breakwater or shore. When it worked right there'd be egg on the deck and down the newb's chin and shirt... and Conn's big grin (and those of other crew-members) taking it all in. He, of course, was at risk of getting a facefull if he didn't watch carefully. Don't think he ever came away with egg on his face.

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