Deceased , Modern





Louise Kevin Burke was a nationally known sailor, well-regarded and respected by the U.S. sailing community and beyond.  She was a pioneer in the acceptance of women into the professional sailing ranks, just as she was instrumental in promoting safety issues and storm survival at sea.  In her over 35 years of professional sailing experience, Louise exemplified the highest ideals of responsibility, safety and preparation in all the crews and sailors whose lives she touched.

Her first employment was in computer sciences before she was blown into her career on the oceans, teaching and mentoring sailors of all types, from kids to retirees, competitive ocean racers to novice sailors. Her love of the sea and unique ability to get people to just ‘do, do, do’ (in her words) gave her a natural charisma to which people gravitated and sought advice. An extensive traveler, when Louise was not sailing the world, she was otherwise travelling the world, including trips to Antarctica and the South Pole.

In her memoir notes she writes, “I have led my life by the words of Robert Frost in ‘The Road not Taken’:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

And-sorry I could not take them both…

… I took the one less traveled by

And that has made all the difference.


Upon her induction as a member of the Storm Trysail Club, Commodore Butch Ullmer said, “This woman is long overdue in becoming a member of this “man’s” club because she has wrung more salt water out of her socks than most of you have sailed over!”


Accomplishments and Honors

  • 1966 – Louise began crewing and skippering professionally on sailboats in New England and Caribbean
  • 1972 – After her husband’s untimely death, she began skippering large sailing vessels on ocean voyages covering the North Atlantic from Newfoundland to England to Trinidad
  • 1973- Obtained her 100-ton Coast Guard license in a time when it was almost unheard of for women to achieve such milestones
  • Has accomplished 4 trans-Atlantic crossings
  • 1972 -1977 – Skippered and crewed aboard all types of sailing vessels, logging as much as 15,000 miles/year of open ocean
  • 1976 – First woman sailing coach at the U.S Naval Academy (USNA), then the largest sailing program in the world, hired by CAPT Alexander Bell Grosvenor. This was also the first-year women were admitted to the Academy.
  • 1977 – First woman to be designated ‘officer-in-charge’ to take a Navy sailing vessel offshore. In 1977 she logged over 9500 miles aboard the 82’ Herreshoff schooner ‘MISTRAL.’  In that trip, she led the 12-person crew representing the U.S. Navy Queen Elizabeth II’s 25th Silver Jubilee Naval Review.
  • 1977-1980 – For four years Louise led midshipmen on ‘MISTRAL’, averaging 8000 miles per trip.
  • Using her 100-ton license, she made numerous deliveries around the world, including all over the East Coast, Bermuda, Nova Scotia, Croatia, Sardinia and Amalfi Coast (Italy), and the ABC islands in the Carribbean, amongst many locations.
  • An avid scuba diver, she preferred diving from sailing vessels – Great Barrier Reef, Fiji, South America, Sipadan and the Maldives, Alaska, New Zealand, Tasmania, Hawaii, and the ABC Islands in the Caribbean
  • Tireless racer and cruiser all over the Chesapeake Bay and the East Coast
  • 1986 – Accepted as member of Explorers Club
  • 1997 – Second woman inducted into the Storm Trysail Club; verified by Butch Ullmer, STC’s Membership Committee Chairman
  • Coach, teacher, and member, Singles on Sailboats (SoS)
  • Long-term member, Annapolis to Bermuda Race Committee; Chaired the Safety Committee
  • Charter member, Eastport Yacht Club, Annapolis, Md
  • 1997, joined Explorers’ Club
  • 2011 – 2020, Board Member, Explorers’ Club
  • Publications in which articles were written about Louise Burke include
    • People Magazine, May 23, 1977
    • Yachts and Yachting, July 8, 1977
    • Soundings, June, 1977
    • Daily News, Oct 5, 1977
    • Sailing, Oct, 1977
    • The Washington Post, June 23, 1978
    • Nautical Quarterly, Issue #6, Spring 1979)
    • Sail Magazine, April 1984
    • Sunday Capital, 1987
    • Sunday Capital, 1992
    • Capital Gazette, 2002


Contributor to Sailing Community

  • 1976 – First woman Sailing Coach, US Naval Academy
  • 1985-1991 – Director, US Naval Academy Varsity Offshore Sailing Program. First, and only woman to date, to fill that position.  It was at the time the largest program of its kind in the world, with over 190 team members year after year.
  • Directly coached, mentored, and developed leadership skills in over 1,100 Naval Academy midshipmen who were members of the Naval Academy Varsity sailing team.
  • Influenced thousands more midshipmen in the programs she developed and ran for midshipmen outside the sailing team; enrolled in ‘professional development through sailing’ programs. Responsible for teaching all areas of safety, seamanship, celestial navigation, and leadership.
  • Key proponent of a then-novel new program to establish ‘sailing cruise credit’ program where midshipman would spend weeks/months aboard a sailing vessel in lieu of traditional indoctrination cruises aboard Navy commissioned vessels.
  • Principal architect in developing this deep, rich sailing professional development program expansion; ultimately allowing thousands of midshipmen to participate during her tenure as coach and Director. The program was envisioned by CAPT Alexander Grosvenor and placed in her hands she molded that vision into a reality.
  • Her passion was teaching other women to be successful sailors. As an example, she would help charter a boat in the Caribbean, fill it with women students from all over the country, and sail and teach for weeks on end the virtues of sailing.
  • Following the Fastnet Race storm of 1979, she was a founding organizer of what ultimately became US Sailing’s Safety at Sea program – started in 1979, Louise lectured on boating safety, storm survival at sea, man overboard recoveries, firefighting, collisions, and flooding. She participated in the program most years through at least 2000.
  • Key architect in development of first man-overboard recovery system
  • Charter member of Eastport Yacht Club in Annapolis, MD
  • After her retirement from Navy Sailing in 1991, she threw her talents into teaching Celestial Navigation and piloting courses at Anne Arundel Community College.
  • Annapolis to Bermuda Race – Safety Inspector for past 2 decades
  • In mid 80’s, instructor for ‘Womanship’, a sailing school for women started by Suzanne Pogell, credited with teaching over 90,000 women to sail.
  • 1979 – Founding partner of ‘Ladies Under Sail Together’ (L.U.S.T.) with Judy Billage and Judly Lawson, another female Annapolis sailing legend, to teach women how to take charge and run a sailing vessel.
  • Louise developed and ran the Storm Trysail Club Safety at Sea program for junior sailors in the Annapolis area for over 5 years. The program, for young 12 to 17 year old dinghy sailors, taught skills on 40 to 45 foot boats with big heavy gear.  Louise enlisted help from throughout the sailing community, demonstrating recoveries, reefing, tacks and jibes before letting them do a fun race.
  • Louise instructed Sea Scouts out of Mystic Conn. She led one of two boats sailing for a week around Block Island, Buzzards Bay, the Elizabeth Islands through thick fog and Buzzards famous confused seas. They sailed to Martha’s Vineyard in thick fog and heavy seas which gave the kids a great picture of what sailing is all about. At the end of the trip they sailed into Newport Harbor at night and spotted the lights of a Tall Ship event in the harbor. The next morning Louise headed for the largest training ship in the harbor which was the British Brig “Prince William”. She found the Captan and arranged a private tour of the entire ship. Which was a real treat for the kids. In conversation she discovered that the captain was aboard the Winston Churchill at the Queen Elizabeth 25 Jubilee and reminisced that Mistral (with Louise aboard) was alongside at the starting line of the parade.
  • Louise also was active with US Navy Sailing Association’s ” Vets on the Bay “  which provided vets returning from the wars in the Middle East, along with family members, a chance to experience a fun day of sailing on the Chesapeake followed by a food, swimming and socializing at a local marina.
  • Louise was a prolific lecturer in numerable venues, presenting topics including:
    • Preparation for offshore sailing
    • Handling heavy weather offshore
    • Boat overhaul for the winter
    • Yacht maintenance for systems
    • Man overboard instruction
    • Boat electronics
    • Damage control – fire, flooding, collision, taking to the life raft, hypothermia and rescue
    • Stormsail handling
    • Heaving too
    • Reefing drills for speed
    • Radio procedures in emergency
    • Piloting, celestial, dead reckoning
    • Mental preparation for offshore voyages


Following is Louise Burke’s Obituary, printed in The Capital Gazette, June 24, 2020

ANNAPOLIS, MD — Louise Kevin Burke 85, of Annapolis MD, passed away on June 16, 2020 in Danvers, MA.  Born in Swampscott. Louise was the daughter of the late Edward and Marguerite Kevin. Louise attended Swampscott schools and graduated from Swampscott High School in 1952.  She worked as a computer programmer at General Electric in Lynn. In 1962 she married Les Burke.  Shortly after, they bought a sailboat and enjoyed sailing and scuba diving together. In 1970 they decided to take the big leap and sold everything to move aboard the 52 foot custom sloop “Avatar” as professional skippers.

They sailed south to the Caribbean where they chartered the yacht for George Baker its New York owner. But tragedy struck in April of 1972 when Les suffered a heart attack aboard Avatar and died a month later.  Widowed at 37, that fall she decided that the beach was no place for her and she returned  to Avatar and the Bakers and sailed away the hurt logging 15,000 miles astern.

In 1976, Louise was introduced to Alexander Graham Bell Grosvenor, descendent of the telephone inventor, who helped establish the US Naval Academy’s sailing program by soliciting donations of large racing sailboats for the fleet.  Grosvenor invited Louise to join the Naval Academy as its first female sailing instructor.  At the time of her hiring, the Academy received the donation of the 82 foot Herreshoff Schooner Mistral which was built by the Britt Brothers in the Saugus River in 1938.  Mistral was slated to be the US Navy’s representative in the Humble River Review celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. In mid-May, Louise, along with 12 midshipmen, a retired army general and two  ensigns set out for England and arrived, after a succession of wet cold gales, 48 hours before the review.  Mistral then set out for a circumnavigation of the Atlantic Ocean logging 9,300 nautical miles in 66 days. Louise averaged 8,000 miles a year of mostly heavy duty offshore sailing aboard Mistral while teaching safety at sea, piloting, celestial navigation and even weather broadcasting for NOAA.

Louise eventually rose to the position of Director of the Naval Academy’s offshore racing program which grew to a fleet of 12 donation boats from 40 to 68 feet, 12 J-24’s and 190 midshipmen which at the time was the largest sailing team in the world. After 14 years with the Naval Academy she retired but stayed involved as a Trustee of US Navy Sailing and helped with the Vets on the Bay program.  Louise traveled extensively both sailing and scuba diving around most of the world from Siberia to Antarctica, through the Atlantic and Europe and many islands of the Pacific down to Tasmania. She lived an incredible life which she chronicles in her biography titled “Aye, Aye, Sir, Ma’am to be published posthumously.

As a trailblazer for woman in professional yachting she was recently nominated for induction into the US Sailing Hall of Fame in Annapolis.

Louise was one of the founding members of the Eastport Yacht Club in Annapolis, was a member and served on the board of the Explorers Club in Washington DC and was one of the originators of US Sailing’s Safety at Sea program.

She was also the first woman to be invited to join the prestigious Storm Trysail Club.

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