Elwood Widmer "Skip" Etchells

July 5, 1911 - December 20, 1998

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

E.W. “Skip” Etchells left an enduring legacy with his popular and very competitive International Etchells Class one design.  He and his wife, Mary O’Toole Etchells, won the International Star Class World Championship in 1951 off Gibson Island on the Chesapeake Bay.   Coincidentally, Mary is the only woman to win a Star Worlds.

Skip grew up in Trenton, New Jersey. He was a superb athlete. While he was a student in the naval architecture and engineering program at the University of Michigan he was a standout on the track and field team winning three Big Ten titles in the discus throw.  During World War II he helped build destroyers and icebreakers for the U.S. Navy.  After the war he joined the Sparkman & Stephens yacht design firm in New York City.  After two years learning the trade from Olin and Rod Stephens, Skip Etchells made a bold move and founded his own boat building company, the Old Greenwich Boat Company. He was a noted builder of hundreds of Stars, along with many Blue Jays, Moths, and Lightnings. His philosophy was to offer high quality workmanship, and the company tagline was “Built Like A Yacht.”  Many sailors won championships racing one of Skip Etchells’ speedy boats.

In 1965 the International Yacht Racing Union (IYRU) started an initiative to create a new keelboat for the Olympic Games.  The International 5.5 Meter Class was a development design and expensive.   Skip Etchells came up 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.  He recruited Dick Stearns to sail the boat in a set of observation trials in Germany organized by the IYRU in the summer of 1966.  The Etchells 22 handily won eight out of eleven races against six other contenders.  Unfortunately, the European countries favored a smaller design, the Soling, that was developed by Jan Herman Ling.  A second round of trials was held in Germany in 1967.  This time the Etchells won ten out of thirteen races.  The Soling was selected because the cost was only $3,000 compared with an Etchells that cost $6,000 at the time The Soling would be raced in eight Olympics between 1972 and 2000.  Etchells decided to start building his new design after receiving considerable praise from the sailors who tested the boat.  Skip Etchells won the first Etchells National Championship and continued to build the boats until 1984 when he and Mary retired to Easton, Maryland. 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.

Gary Jobson


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