Deceased , Modern

Harry

Nye

19081987

Pictured above: Harry Nye (right) and Leeds Mitchell (left), Cuba, 1938 (Credit: Mystic Seaport Museum Collection)

Harry Gale Nye, Jr., was born in Chicago in 1908. As a boy in the early 1920s, Harry’s first sailing experience was on Powers Lake, Wisconsin in a rowboat using a bedsheet as a mainsail. He and his younger brother, Bunty, soon talked their way onto a C Scow, and Harry found a man on Delavan Lake who offered to teach him to sail if he varnished his old C boat. By 1928, Harry placed 2nd overall in the Inland Lake Yachting Association (ILYA) C Championship, which he then went on to win in 1929 and 1930, and again in 1933, the year he started Murphy &Nye Sailmakers with Jim Murphy who had learned how to hand-sew sails for the commercial square rig and fore-and-aft rig schooners frequenting the port of Chicago.

 

Back on Delavan Lake, with his younger brother as his loyal crew, Harry had success in a tired old A Scow he acquired from Harry Melges, and by the early 1930s he had moved into E Scows, where he won two class championships and became known for testing the limits of the rigging with an innovative parachute spinnaker made in his Chicago loft.

 

Murphy& Nye was one of the first firms to use synthetic materials for sails, and Nye held multiple patents on sailmaking, including originating the technique of pre-roping the sail (ie, a pre-made luff and foot rope inside of a tape). The prominence of M&N sails soon expanded from scows and iceboats to larger yachts when Lynn A. Williams won the Mackinac Cup in 1934 using M&N sails on the 51-foot schooner Elizabeth.

 

By the late 1930s, Harry had left Delavan Lake to race on the international stage, with his one design sailing centered on the Star Class, participating in his first Worlds in 1936, and using his own sails of course, winning his first Silver Star in 1938, followed by another in 1941. By 1942, Nye and his crew Dr. Stan Fahlstrom, had perfected one of the first boomvangs used on a Star (which they called a “go fast”), and Nye won his first Gold Star that year. By the time Nye won the Star World’s again in 1949, the other boats had caught on and were now using vangs as well. Perhaps prophetically that year at the Worlds was also the debut of the 19-year- old Lowell North as a skipper, who although placing only 5th, captured a lot of attention. Murphy & Nye would remain the sailmaker of choice for the Stars through the late 1950s, at which point North Sails ascended.

 

The following is an excerpt from an article from the Northwestern Ice Yacht Association in which Jane Pegel shared some memories:

“Harry Nye was an outstanding soft water sailor. His family spent summers on Delavan Lake where he successfully raced scows. When the family business struggled during the Depression, Harry started a sail loft under the label Murphy & Nye. Harry Nye left scow sailing to race on Lake Michigan. He named his boats Gale and won Mackinac races and International Star Class World Championships. In the 1950s and’60s, Harry’s daughter, Judy, crewed for the Chicago YC team helmed by Jane Pegel that won the Adams Cup, awarded to the North American Women’s Champion.”

Nye’s commitment to the Star Class continued beyond his own active sailing career. He served as Commodore of the International Star Class Yacht Racing Association from 1955-1963. Following his death, the Harry Nye Trophy was established and is awarded to individuals whose extraordinary efforts contributed significantly to the success of the Star Class. The winner of the fourth race in the Star World Championship is also awarded the Harry G. Nye Trophy, in honor of Nye’s dedication and service to the Star Class.

Bill Parks, President of the Star Class from 1974 to 1978, remembered Nye:

“The Star Class has always prided itself on the caliber and level of sportsmanship involved in its racing activities. In the early 1950s I saw Harry Nye sail off the course in the last race of the eliminations for the World Championship when he had an insurmountable lead and was surely the one to represent our fleet in the World’s that year. The incident, as I recall, was a minor infraction; yet Harry never hesitated in withdrawing from the course and losing his chance to represent. This incident had a profound effect on me and perhaps is responsible for the fact that I still sail a Star rather than a boat of some other class.”

Following his retirement from competitive sailing, Nye was ahead of his time in recognizing the potential of foiling. Though the use of hydrofoils had previously been restricted to the Navy, in 1962 Nye launched the 40- foot Enterprise, the first hydrofoil to be Coast Guard-approved for
commercial service, which operated as a commuter ferry between Atlantic Highlands, NJ and Manhattan.

Pictured above: Harry Nye (bottom right) and crew after winning the Port Huron to Mackinac Boat Race in 1948

Accomplishments and Honors

  • 1937, 1938 1st, E Skeeters NW Ice Yacht Association Regatta
  • 1938, 1940, 1941 1st, Bacardi Cup
  • 1942, 1949 Gold, Star World Championship
  • 1938, 1941 Silver, Star World Championship
  • 1950, 1951, 1st, Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac
  • 1946, Nye served with New York Yacht Club Commodores Harold Stirling Vanderbilt and W.A.W. Stewart on a subcommittee of the North American Yacht Racing Union (now known as US Sailing) to write the revised International Yacht Racing Rules, originally codified by Vanderbilt in 1934
  • 1956, won the Star Class Olympic Trials, but was unable to compete due to a health condition
  • 1955-1963, Served as Commodore of the International Star Class Yacht Racing Association
  • Following his passing, the Harry Nye Trophy was established and is awarded to individuals whose extraordinary efforts contributed significantly to the success of the Star Class.
  • The winner of the fourth race in the Star World Championship is also awarded the Harry G. Nye Trophy, in honor of Nye’s dedication to the Star Class.

 

 

Excerpts from the Obituary for Harry Gale Nye, Jr, Chicago Tribune, September 22, 1987

By Kenan Heise

HARRY G. NYE, CHAMPION YACHTSMAN

Harry Gale Nye Jr., 79, one of the nation`s most respected yachtsmen and former owner of Murphy & Nye Sailmakers and Nye Tool Co., twice won the Chicago-to-Mackinac race and was two-time world champion in yachting`s International Star class.

Mr. Nye, a Chicago native, was attending Yale in 1932 when his father died. The family tool and die business was suffering during the Depression, and the young man was without work. He loved sailing and began mending sails as a hobby and then as a business. By the outbreak of World War II, when canvas and other sail making equipment was no longer available, he had hired 15 workers to cut and sew sails. He sold the company in the late 1950s.

The Nye Tool Co., the tool and die firm founded by his father in 1904, was sold in 1964 to an Indiana company.

His sails had gone around the world, and Mr. Nye used them himself in 1942 to win the International Star world championship. He repeated the feat in 1949 against a field no longer reduced by a world war.

Mr. Nye captured the ”Mac” in 1950 and 1951. He also won the Detroit-to-Mackinac Race. In 1965, he was named Chicago-area Yachtsman of the Year. He won the Olympic trials in 1956, but did not go on to compete because of his health.

Over the years, he owned more than 50 ships, all called ”Gale,” a family name.

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