Fair Winds, Good Doctor—Sailing World remembers author Dr. Stuart H. Walker

The wisdom and teachings of sailboat racing’s most prolific author were always based on real experiences on the racecourse.

Walker
Dr. Stuart H. WalkerSailing World

As a green 21-year-old junior editor at Sailing World in 1995, my boss put me in charge of editing Dr. Stuart H. Walker's monthly column. It arrived by facsimile, always single-spaced, Courier font and the title underlined in the upper left corner. These were days before email and internet, so I'd have to retype it, line by line, careful not to omit a single word. I was warned: The doctor is precise, and he doesn't like to be edited. But those who know Walker's writings through his dozen books, hundreds of columns and lectures will understand when I admit that after transposing each month's column, my brain would hurt. I'd reread long, wordy passages multiple times before making sense of it.

To simplify the experience for myself, I would deconstruct sentences and whole paragraphs, attempting to break them into comprehendible nuggets. I’d send the manuscript back, and we’d battle professionally over my heavy-handed editing. But, alas, we’d settle somewhere in the middle, and he would always return his final copy with a kind handwritten note at the top.

As laborious as editing his columns was at times, this immersive experience into Walker’s writings taught me all I could ever retain about tactics, current, lake winds and the deep, cerebral part of the game. I did eventually learn two things over more than a decade of editing his masterpieces. There is a clear and powerful lesson in every column. And Dr. Walker is always right.

He was a rare and amazing individual on the water and off, a man who lived a racing ­sailor’s life until stomach cancer took him at age 95, steering his Soling in Annapolis, Maryland, right up until the end. Francis, his wife of 67 years and mother of their two daughters, passed away in 2012, and he remarried, at age 90, to Patricia Empey. The two of them traveled far and wide, honored guests of old sailing mates everywhere in Europe, where he raced Solings extensively. His final book, published in 2015, Travels with Thermopylae, chronicles the excellent adventures towing his beloved keelboat throughout Europe in the mid-1980s.

A World War II Army veteran, doctor and professor of pediatrics, champion sailor and Hall of Famer, wisdom and character are what define Walker, whisperer of the Chesapeake. He was immensely successful in life, career and his sport, and I believe he revealed the secret to such success in the author's note of his essential reading, The Tactics of Small Boat Racing (1966), in which he writes, "To my wife Francis — who loves sailing in order to love me and accepts my racing all day and my writing all night."

I imagine Dr. Walker is now riding “the sailor’s wind” into the afterlife, looking for the next shift and devising his own “grand strategy.”

Dr. Stuart H. Walker’s Bibliography:

  • The Techniques of Small Boat Racing
  • The Tactics of Small Boat Racing
  • Performance Advantages in Small Boat Racing
  • Wind and Strategy
  • Advanced Racing Tactics
  • Winning: The Psychology of Competition
  • A Manual of Sail Trim
  • Positioning: The Logic of Sailboat Racing
  • The Sailor's Wind
  • The Code of Competition
  • Travels with Thermopylae