Deceased , Modern

Thomas Gilchrist

Allen III

1931 - 2012

Tom Allen was a champion Lightning, Flying Dutchman, and Albacore sailor as well as the founder of the Allen Boat Company.

Tom Allen III of Buffalo, New York had a fascination with sailing from an early age. Ironically, his start in the sport was a bit tentative. As a boy, he watched people sailing at the Buffalo Canoe Club and hoped that someone would ask him along, but when he finally received the invitation that he hoped for, he declined because as he put it, “I was too bashful.” Finally, a friend talked him into it and he was absolutely hooked.
He bought his first boat in 1951, a Lightning, and remained active in the class for nearly 60 years. He won his first North American Championship in 1954, his eighth in 1970, and was crowned World Champion four times. In the early 1960s, Tom wanted to make some adjustments to his boat, but couldn’t find anyone to do the work he envisioned, so he founded the Allen Boat Company and started building winning boats. Often he’d take a new boat to compete at a regatta, and his results were so impressive that fellow competitors would offer to purchase his boat on the spot and Tom would return home to build another before the next event! To date, the Allen Boat Company, now headed-up by his son, Tom Allen Jr., has built hundreds of winning boats, helping the Lightning Class become one of the largest fleets in the country.

Sailing Lightnings became a long-standing family tradition for the Allen clan and Tom was always quick to point out his family’s accomplishments with pride. One of the highlights was winning the World Championship in 1977 with his children (Tom Jr. and Brenda, then 16 and 19) onboard as crew. He often raced with his wife, Anne, a very accomplished sailor, a past President of the Lighting Class Association, and the first female commodore of the Buffalo Canoe Club. “All of my children, and now all of my grandchildren sail,” he once said. “The Lightning Class has been good for us as a family, because there are so many variables; it changes and keeps everyone interested.”

Although Tom has raced and won in countless national and international championships, he always enjoyed sailing “right at home” at the Buffalo Canoe Club best. His favorite aspect of sailing was the camaraderie among sailors. According to Tom, “a day of racing in pleasant conditions with a cook-out afterwards, that’s a pretty good day.”

The following is excerpted from an article that appeared on the US Sailing website when Tom was awarded US Sailing’s Sailor of the Week in 2009:

From Bill Shore, Lightning World Champion and Olympic Coach:

“I worked very closely with Tom for many years, and I was always impressed by his analytical mind. He was so savvy, so smart, always thinking. He had such a profound effect on the Lightning class, he was incredibly innovative and always dreaming up new ways to make the boats stronger, faster, better. At one point, there was a known weakness in Lightnings – there was a lot of torque around the centerboard, and where the trunk fastens to the hull there was a weak point. Tom created one large piece; where the centerboard and mast step fastens to the hull – he connected those two with this large piece and his boats never leaked there again. He really based so much of his life around Lightnings – the class was part of his family, as far as he was concerned.”

Accomplishments and Awards

• 1996 Inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame

• 1985 Commodore, Buffalo Canoe Club

• 1972 1st Canadian Albacore Championships

• 1971 1st U.S. Albacore National Championships

• 1971 2nd (Silver Medal) Pan American Games

• 1968 1971 1st Flying Dutchman North American Championships

• 1963 1st (Gold Medal) Pan American Games

• 1961 Started Allen Boat Company

• 1961, 1963, 1965, 1977 1st Lightning World Championships (in 1977 he had four bullets in six races)

• 1954, 1955, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1968, 1969, 1970 1st Lightning North American Championship

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