A world champion sailboat racer who created his own one-design class before retiring to Easton, Maryland, has been posthumously inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame.
Elwood Widmer “Skip” Etchells is known for winning the International Star Class World Championship in 1951 off Gibson Island with his wife, Mary O’Toole Etchells. But his work as a boatbuilder leaves a lasting legacy.
Raised in New Jersey, Etchells studied naval architecture in college and helped build destroyers and icebreakers for the U.S. Navy during World War II. He continued as a boatbuilder after the war, building hundreds of Stars, along with many Blue Jays, Moths, and Lightnings.
When, in 1965, the International Yacht Racing Union called for a new keelboat design for the Olympics, Etchells came upw with a new boat for a three-person crew he called the Etchells 22. It was a 30.5-foot yacht with a 22-foot waterline. While a less expensive design was chosen, the Etchells 22 had notable success and Etchells began building it. He built Etchells 22s until 1984, when he and Mary retired to Easton.
Etchells passed away in 1998 at the age of 87, but his impact on sailing lives on through his popular Etchells 22 racing class.
In his National Sailing Hall of Fame profile, Gary Jobson writes, “The Etchells 22 Class has thrived over the decades with nearly 2000 boats built. The Etchells World Championship is one of the most important one- design victories a sailor can achieve.”
Etchells was inducted to the hall of fame Nov. 3 in Newport Beach, California. His son accepted on his behalf.
“Thanks so much to the Hall of Fame for honoring Skip Etchells today,” said Tim Etchells. “I’m sorry Mom and Dad are no longer with us. Both would be delighted with today’s gathering and this honor. Dad would be humbled to be included in the Class of 2023. What an incredibly accomplished group of sailors, designers, boat builders and sailmakers! My mom, Mary Etchells, would simply be over the moon.”
-Meg Walburn Viviano