Sailing’s Gentleman Champion

Commodore Steve Harris – October, 2011

In our Club’s history, only three other gentlemen, Commodores Kyle Armstrong, “Whitey” Limes, and Frank Foster, III, have filled the position of Club Historian and I am humbled to be counted among them.  I would like to express, on behalf of the entire BLYC membership, great thanks and appreciation to Commodore Foster for his years of service in this role.  Over the years, Frank has amassed a great library and archives of BLYC historical data and memorabilia.  He has entertained and enlightened us with great stories of our past and brought to all of us a better understanding of just who and what we, as a Club, are and what we can become.  I would particularly like to thank Frank for making many of our historical documents available in digital format.  Thanks to his efforts, many old issues of the Log along with several historical books are now available on the website for all members to enjoy.  Frank, thank you for your service, and… don’t wander too far.  I’m sure to need your help.

When Commodore Zeiher asked me to take this position, he asked that I have an article ready for this first issue of the Log.  In considering what to write about, I reflected back on the sailing events I was involved with this summer and my thoughts went to one of the greatest influences on my involvement both at BLYC and in the sport of sailing… Commodore George Fisher.  His contributions over the history of our Club, both to the Club and to the sport of sailing, bear sharing here.

SGH 9/2011

Sailing’s Gentleman Champion

It doesn’t matter where one goes in the sport of sailing, all around the nation and in multiple one-design classes, sailors know the name George Fisher.  A 13-time Interlake National Champion, 4-time Lightning North American Masters Champion, and many more trophies to his name, George was certainly known as a great competitor.  But, unique to the sport of sailing and particularly unique to George, he was just as well known for his exemplary sportsmanship and his willingness to help others enjoy the sport.  Of all the things I’ve ever seen written about George, the one phrase that describes him best in my opinion is “Sailing’s Gentleman Champion.”

George & Marty Fisher – 2006

George’s first sail wasn’t until he was in his early twenties.  After serving in the Navy during World War II, George returned to central Ohio and began racing with his brother in the Lightning fleet here at BLYC.  That was the rather humble beginning of what became a lifelong passion – not only for sailing, but also for BLYC.  George’s passion for the sport ran so deep that he and Marty spent their honeymoon at the Lightning Class Championships in St. Petersburg in 1953!  They sailed together until the kids came along and then George had a new audience with whom to share his passion.  George & Marty had three children, Greg, Matt, & Gayle.  George had the kids sailing at a very young age – around 6 or 7!  The boys particularly took to the sport and share George’s passion for it.  Like their father, both Matt & Greg have established themselves as champions in the sport.  But, don’t leave Gayle out.  According to a 2006 interview with George for the Lightning Class,  Gayle “was as talented as anybody but she got into horses when she was nine and she was as goofy about riding as the boys were sailing.”  Gayle has continued her father’s legacy, perhaps not on the race course, but in service to BLYC.  She currently serves as our Vice Commodore.

George, Matt, & Greg Fisher

George sailed Lightnings competitively here at BLYC and beyond from the 1940’s up into the 21st century.  Many of the trophies in our case bear witness to his prowess on the race course. He was very active in our Club, not only as a sailor, but also active on the Board and participating in Club workdays and other projects.  George served as our Commodore in 1958.  Although his sailing often took him away from BLYC, he was always available to help and encourage our BLYC sailors.  Over the years, he added other classes to his sailing repertoire, including Interlakes and MC Scows, which he continued to sail into his 80’s. In those years, he amassed, literally, hundreds of trophies.  When asked what his most memorable regatta of all time was, however, he didn’t name one which he, personally won as the skipper. Instead he replied “Buffalo Canoe Club – 1977!” – a regatta in which he was crew.  Why?  Well, 1977 was right in the middle of the heyday of Lightning sailing at our Club.  During that time, BLYC was home to many of the best sailors and up-and-coming sailors in the class – Jim Dressel, Willy Petersilge, Mike Hein, and, of course, three guys named Fisher.  That year, George crewed for Matt in the North American Championships.  When it was all done, Matt won the Championship, with Greg  finishing second!  George was just as proud to be crew and father of the top two finishers, than winning himself.

As the years went on, he continued to be very competitive in the sport, but became known as much for what he did off the water, as on.  He was well known for his rules & tactics seminars both here at BLYC and at Hoover Sailing Club in Columbus.  He assisted with the Junior Sailing programs at both clubs, giving freely of his time and talents to help insure the future of the sport.  His knowledge of the sport was nearly unparalleled and his opinion highly respected.  Very often, rules disputes arising during a race were settled, not though a long drawn-out protest hearing, but by both competitors saying, “Let’s see what George thinks.”  His calm demeanor, humility, and character surely set him apart.  I remember several years back I saw George at the Club shortly after the Lightning Midwinters in Miami.  I asked him how he sailed.  George didn’t say much about his regatta, but instead gave a recap of Matt’s performance at the event.  As it turns out, George won the Masters (again) that year!  Never boastful, always an ambassador for the sport, in 2002 he was awarded one of the highest honors in sailing in the United States – US SAILING’s J. Van Alan Clark Sportsmanship Trophy.

Commodore George Fisher – 1958

I would imagine that everyone in this life wonders just how much of an impact they’ve had on others.  George should have had no doubt.  In 2006, in conjunction with celebrating BLYC’s 100th anniversary, that year’s Snowball Regatta also celebrated George’s 80th birthday.  It was, by far, one of the largest Snowballs in years – nearly 30 Lightnings, 10 Interlakes, several Flying Scots, and a full compliment of PHRF Cruising boats from BLYC.  Sailors came from all over the nation to sail at “George’s Regatta” that year.  Some came just to be here and didn’t sail.  It was a truly amazing event, recognizing a pretty amazing man.  He really was a great ambassador for the sport and for our Club!

George passed in 2008, following a battle with cancer.  His torch has been passed to the rest of us, not only to promote the sport of sailing, but our Club as well.  I’m certain that he would be happy to see the increased interest and activity in sailing taking place currently at BLYC.   And, in his own, typical, quiet way, I think he’s encouraging us to keep going and keep improving.

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