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Stuart Walker of Annapolis keeps on sailing through life

Dr. Stuart Walker is having a pretty good year.

The retired Annapolis pediatrician got married in March, turned 90 in April, won a sailing regatta last weekend and on Tuesday was selected for induction into the National Sailing Hall of Fame.

"People often look at me and say, 'Are you still sailing?' I say, 'I'm still winning,' " said Walker, who has no plans to stop sailing — or winning — any time soon.

A fierce competitor who's fascinated by the nuances of the sport, Walker has been a force in the sailing world for decades.

He competed internationally, including at the 1968 Olympics, helped found the Severn Sailing Association in Annapolis and has written 10 books and numerous magazine articles. And he did all of that while working as a pediatrician and medical professor in Annapolis and Baltimore.

"I never sit still. I'm always doing something," Walker said during an interview in his Annapolis home surrounded by sailing memorabilia, including a table and ceiling covered by nautical charts.

"I do like sailing, but I must admit, just sailing gets boring," he said. "I like to race."

Walker is among half a dozen living sailors and four posthumous inductees to the National Sailing Hall of Fame. He will be inducted during a ceremony at Annapolis City Dock in October.

Walker grew up sailing on Long Island Sound and continued to sail during World War II, where he served in Japan as a medical officer. When his tour brought him back to the United States, he requested an assignment at Fort Meade, so he could sail in Annapolis.

He left the Army after a few years and went into private practice in pediatrics. His career later took him to Baltimore hospitals and a job as a medical professor. He retired in 1984.

Along the way, he has competed in regattas around the world. First, he specialized in a class of boats called the International 14, and competed in the 1968 Olympics. After the Olympics, he switched to the Soling, a three-man keelboat that was just gaining in popularity.

"I wanted to race against the best sailors in the world," Walker said of his switch from the International 14 to the Soling. Soling remained the most competitive class in the sport of sailing until it was discontinued in the Olympics after the 2000 Games, he said.

Despite the boat's declining popularity, Walker continues to race in a Soling. "I don't want to branch out and learn something new at the age of 90."

He races a couple of times a month in warm weather and weekly in the winter in "frostbite" races.

Water and ink

Walker turned his competitive spirit and love of research into a side career as a sailing author. His 10 books include titles on tactics, techniques and psychology. He has also written articles for 40 years for a magazine now known as Sailing World.

Gary Jobson, an America's Cup winner and TV commentator, is among the fans of Walker's writing. Jobson said Walker is one of his sailing heroes.

"I think Stuart's special contribution is his writing," said Jobson, who is president of the hall of fame's board of directors. "He's a very analytical thinker about why sailboats work and the physics behind them. And in more recent years, the psychology of why you win and lose."

Jobson first met Walker in the 1960s, when he was a teenager and the two raced against one another.

"After the race, he'd talk about what happened," Jobson said. "I remember being 17 years old and, he'd take 15 minutes to explain something to you."

Todd Johnson, a sailor from Davidsonville, said he first came across Walker's books in the late 1960s, when he was teaching sailing in Maine. He used Walkers books on tactics and techniques as textbooks in his lessons.

The two later met when Johnson was making a push to qualify for the Olympics, and became friends when Johnson eventually moved to Maryland and joined the Severn Sailing Association.

Walker is "unique in terms of looking at sailing not only as a physical sport, which it is, but it's also a huge intellectual enterprise," Johnson said. "He's very adept at explaining that in an articulate way through his books and articles."

'Life includes sailing'

Despite all of his books and trophies, Walker said he hopes his lasting legacy is his work with the Severn Sailing Association, which he helped launch in the 1950s. He was the club's commodore from 1957 through 1961, and again in 1963.

While other sailing clubs have morphed into yacht clubs with tennis courts, pools and social clubs, the SSA remains focused on racing.

"Fifty-six years later, it's still a small boat racing club," he said.

David Koepper, the club's current commodore, said Walker's influence has been instrumental in maintaining the club's "tone and culture" over the years.

At a 90th birthday party at the club, Walker treated guests to beers served in his mugs that were trophies from regattas and races over the years. Koepper's mug was from 1964.

"He's amazing," Koepper said. "Last Sunday, when he had his party, he was out racing that day and he won. He's a very active sailor."

Walker said he's fascinated by sailing, the infinite variables of winds, tides, sails and tactics. He learns from his wins — and especially his losses — and shares that knowledge through his writing. He relishes a good fight to the finish.

"If I go out and beat everybody, it's no fun. You don't learn anything when you win. You learn when you lose," he said.

Walker has no plans to stop racing aboard his boat, Old Glory, any time soon. He also keeps a sailboat and a car in Europe, where his favorite racing spot is Lake Garda in northern Italy.

"I'm still planning on another 20 years," Walker said. "Life includes sailing. I wouldn't stop any time before I'm dead."

pwood@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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