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San Diego Sailing Legend Carl Eichenlaub Dies at 83

posted: 12/11/2013
SAN DIEGO -- Carl Eichenlaub, well known for his skills at making boats go fast, and for making quick repairs when needed during Olympic sailing competitions around the world, died Nov. 29. He was 83.            

Eichenlaub was born in 1930, the son of Carl M. Eichenlaub Sr. His father, who had served as chief draftsman and later became superintendent of San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railroad, was a local sailor and a past commodore of Mission Bay Yacht Club.
             
Early on, young Carl Eichenlaub displayed two impressive skills: music and sailing. He got his start in music in the San Diego High School Band -- and went on to become one of the area’s best-known bassoonists, performing with several area orchestras throughout his lifetime. And he got his start racing in the junior sailing program at Mission Bay YC.            

As a collegiate sailor at San Diego State University (where he graduated in 1953), he represented the Southwest in the inaugural Mallory Cup Regatta. He went on to win Lightning Class Worlds in 1960 and would continue participating in offshore races for most of his life.            

While still in college, Eichenlaub started Eichenlaub Boatyard on Shelter Island. His yard quickly made a name for itself, producing many race-winning Snipes, Lightnings and Star class boats.            

In 1965, Eichenlaub was profiled in Sports Illustrated, in an article written by Hugh Whall -- who credited the then-34-year-old Eichenlaub with building the best Star boats in the world. His description of the witty, quirky boatbuilder and racer became legendary:            

“Carl Eichenlaub’s friends sometimes refer to him as Eichenslob -- and not without reason. He wears a T-shirt that Marlon Brando would hesitate to spit on, and his torn and stained blue jeans hang at least 3 degrees below the equator of his waistline. For years, nobody has known the precise color of his close-cropped hair, because it is invariably camouflaged by several coats of marine paint and is generously coated with sawdust... (and) the boatyard where Eichenlaub practices his art is not much tidier than its owner.”            

However, the article went on to state, Eichenlaub’s boats were fast and flawless -- and North Sails founder and world champion Star sailor Lowell North called him a genius. “Although some sailors on the East Coast may not agree, we on the West Coast know that he is the best.”            

Eichenlaub’s best-known boats include the Doug Peterson-designed 35-foot One-Ton Nationals winner Ganabre, the Admiral’s Cup-winning Champagne, the Fastnet competitor Marlou and West Coast offshore racers High Roler and Swiftsure. He also built three offshore racers for himself -- all named Cadenza, a musical term meaning an expressive passage by one instrument.             Over the years, Eichenlaub competed in a variety of offshore races, including the Big Boat Series in San Francisco, the Los Angeles-to-Honolulu Transpac Race, Kenwood Cup racing and many Mexico races.            

Throughout seven Olympic Games, Eichenlaub served as the shipwright to the U.S. Olympic Sailing Team, bringing his own tools and expertise to venues throughout the world. He gained a reputation as something of a “miracle worker” for making fast repairs and adjustments on boats that had been damaged in shipment or were not yet optimized to race. And he was happy to make rapid repairs for other nations’ teams, should an emergency arise that threatened to knock them out of the competition.            

In 2000, Eichenlaub was awarded US Sailing’s highest honor -- the Nathanael Herreshoff Award -- for his many contributions to the sport. He was also named to the Intercollegiate Sailing Hall of Fame.            

National Sailing Hall of Famer and two-time Olympic Gold medalist Mark Reynolds has created a website called “Carl’s Cadenza,” in celebration of the memory of Carl Eichenlaub: sites.google.com/site/carlscadenza/. There, he has gathered memories and comments from Eichenlaub’s many notable friends in the sailing world, along with vintage photos.            

America’s Cup-winning skipper Dennis Conner remembered his friend this way:  

“Carl Eichenlaub was truly a genius. He could sail a bathtub down the San Diego River with a sheet as a sail. He built championship boat after champion boat for the Snipe, Lightning and Star class. He could play in the orchestra, build a railroad, invent a cedar-core spruce Star mast, go to the Olympics and not only repair the damaged U.S. boats, but help the entire fleet. He could build, paint and launch an ocean racing boat capable of winning the SORC -- Stinger -- in 30 days from start to finish. All this, as well as being a great sailor, winning championships from Sabot to Snipes to Lightnings. He inspired some of our very best sailors -- Lowell North, Pete Bennett, Malin Burnham and Earl Elms -- in San Diego. He will be remembered as being one of our greatest sailing talents, along with Lowell, Buddy and Bill Buchan. There will never be another Carl: He was simply the best!”

Eichenlaub is survived by his wife, Jean; his son, Brian; and his daughter, Betty Sue Sherman.            

A memorial celebrating the life of Carl Eichenlaub is planned at 7 a.m. Dec. 12 at Red Sails Inn in San Diego. Those planning to attend are asked to RSVP to remembercarl13@gmail.com.

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