Richard (Dick) Stearns >> Scuttlebutt Sailing News

Richard (Dick) Stearns

Richard (Dick) Stearns, champion sailor and maritime industry innovator, passed away peacefully with family members by his side on January 25, 2022 at his home in Delavan, WI. He was 94 years old.

Dick Stearns was one of the finest sailors to ever come out of the Midwest. Dick grew up in south Chicago and moved north after his father died when he was 16. When he was 14, his father gave him a Star boat to keep him from doing mischief. Without formal training or instruction, he rose from bottom in the fleet and, along with Gary Comer, won his first Great Lakes Championship at age 17.

Dick attended South Shore High School and Drake University. He bought the sail making company Murphy & Nye from Harry Nye in 1952. The company had made parachutes during the war but did not make sails at the time.

Soon Dick would be making veils for customers all over the world, including kings and princes. In 1954, Carlos de Cardenas (of Cuba) won the Star World Championship with one of the first Orlon sails, which solidified Dick’s business as an industry leader.

Dick patented the machine sewn headline. Prior to this, the rope that attached the sail to the mast was hand-sewn onto the sail. Murphy & Nye were also the pioneers of cross-section sailing when Orlon and Dacron came out. Before Orlon, sails were made of cotton and miter cut.

Dick’s business would become the dominant force in one-design sails for the next 25 years. Even Lowell North used Murphy & Nye sails before launching North Sails. An incredible group of famous sailors have worked at Murphy & Nye. At one time Murphy & Nye sails dominated most one-design classes and all Olympic sailing classes.

He won eight Western Hemisphere Star Championships, two North American Star Championships, and the 1962 Star World Championship in Portugal with longtime crew Lindsey Williams. The following year, Dick won a gold medal at the Pan American Games with the Buck Halperin crew, and in 1964 he won a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics with the Lindsey Williams crew.

Dick’s Olympic contribution didn’t stop with a silver medal. He was assistant Olympic coach in 1968, then Olympic sailing coach in 1972 and 1976. He was president of the United States Olympic Committee for eight years and coach of the American Pan American team in 1971 and 1975. He was vice-president of the United States Yacht Racing Union (now US Sailing)

Dick sailed the first Etchells during the trial against the Soling to determine which boat would be the new Olympic class. The Etchells won hands down but politics got in the way, so the Soling became the new Olympic 3-man keelboat. Dick won the first Etchells Great Lake Championship in 1976. He also finished second to the Soling North Americans.

In the mid-1970s, Dick moved on to sailing larger boats. He was one of the co-founders of the Chicago T-10 fleet. In 1978, he won the first of his two North American T-10 Championships. He went on to win several Mackinac races with his T-10 Dora and Glider.

In 2000, Dick sailed his 35-year-old Cal 40 to the front row in the Millennium 600 Port Huron race in Chicago, beating boats like the new Magnitude maxi boat, an Andrews 70. Dick competed in 53 Mackinac races, sailing on famous boats Dyna, Dora, Inferno, Bay Bea, as well as his own Cal 40 and T-10. His last Mac races were on J/Boats with his son Rich and daughter-in-law Lori.

Sailing wasn’t Dick’s only love. He flew planes before he could drive. From a T-6 and a Navion to several Bonanzas and Cessna 310s, he flew into his 80s. Then he resumed piloting model aircraft, which he continued until his death. He was an honorary member of his remote-controlled flying club in Richmond, Illinois.

Dick wasn’t very good at relaxing, but when he was on his farm in southwestern Wisconsin, he approached it by mowing trails, playing with his dogs and enjoying his family.

Dick co-founded Lands’ End with Gary Comer and Robert “Buck” Halperin. In the 1950s he was part of the Lord Calvert Canadian Whiskey “Man of Distinction” advertising campaign. In the 1960s, he lent his name to an upstart lifejacket company.

He was on the pheasant hunting team in Illinois, where they gave him the most shells because Dick didn’t miss the dead eye. He was a lifelong skeet shooter starting in his teens when there were shooting clubs on Lake Michigan. Normal scores of 23 to 25 (perfect score) were common for Dick.

He was a long-time Sea Scouts board member and a member of the Chicago Yacht Club since 1942.

Dick is survived by his partner and special friend Bernice DeWeerd, his sons Richard (Lori), Chris, his daughters Susie (Bill) Allen and Barbie (Dave) Alampi and his eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Dick was a kind and gentle soul and was loved and admired by all. He will be buried in the Stearns family plot at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. A memorial service will be held at the Belmont Yacht Club in the spring.

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