Next weekend's induction ceremony, to be held at the San Diego Yacht Club in California, comes six years after the National Sailing Center and Hall of Fame was formed to promote sailing and recognize men and women who have made "outstanding contributions" to the sport.
Each member will eventually get a permanent place of honor in the National Sailing Center and Hall of Fame, a $30 million attraction and educational facility slated for construction at 67-69 Prince George St. in Annapolis.
Earlier this month, sailing center leaders announced that actor and avid sailor Morgan Freeman has become the chairman of the organization's Honorary Advisory Board. Freeman, 74, fills the position left vacant by former CBS-TV news anchor Walter Cronkite, who died in 2009. The Oct. 23 induction ceremony will be dedicated to Cronkite.
"I am honored to be part of the National Sailing Center and Hall of Fame as we create a home for American sailing," Freeman said in a statement. "I know how important it was to Walter."
The honorees were selected from a list of 131 people who were suggested over a two-month nomination period last summer. The 10-member selection panel included representatives from the sailing center's board, the sailing media, the sailing industry, community sailing, a maritime museum and individual yacht clubs.
"After years of planning, we are so pleased that the heroes of our sport are getting their long-overdue recognition," said organization President Dick Franyo. "The National Sailing Center and Hall of Fame will be a place to honor these heroes and provide inspiration for sailors young and old."
Under the Hall of Fame admission guidelines, candidates must be U.S. citizens 45 years of age or older who have had a "significant impact" on the growth and development of sailing in the United States. Posthumous nominations also were considered.
For its first class, the Hall of Fame selection committee named nine living honorees and six who have died. All but one are male. The youngest is 51. At least one, Joshua Slocum, is thought to have died at sea.
Lee Tawney, executive director of the sailing center, said the induction ceremony is a sign that the Annapolis project is moving forward.
"It says to the sailing community that this is happening," he said. "The fact that we're inducting our first members in the Hall of Fame, the fact that Morgan Freeman is coming on … and that the event is being dedicated to Walter Cronkite, helps the community understand that this project is moving forward. It says sailing finally has a home."
Tawney said choosing the first Hall of Fame class was largely a matter of "catching up with 200 years of U.S. sailing history," going back to the early 19th century.
He said there are other organizations that honor sailors who race, including collegiate sailors, but none that recognize sailors for other contributions to the sport. He said the National Sailing Center wanted its Hall of Fame to include a broader range of people who contributed to sailing in many different ways, from those who design sailing vessels to people who coach, teach and write about sailing.
Jobson, 61, grew up in New Jersey and was a two-time College Sailor of the Year who became Ted Turner's tactician on Courageous, which won the America's Cup race in 1977. In 1978, he started Jobson Sailing to promote the sport.
Since then, Jobson has become known as the voice of sailing in the United States and a global ambassador for the sport. In 1987, he launched a broadcasting career as an analyst for ESPN, covering Dennis Conner's America's Cup victory in Australia, He has produced 17 books and numerous DVDs about sailing, written an autobiography and delivered more than 2,400 lectures. He is national chairman of the Leukemia Cup Regattas, events that he conceived and that have raised more than $40 million to fight the disease. He also serves as president of U.S. Sailing, an organization that works closely with the National Sailing Center and Hall of Fame.
"My reaction was a little bit of surprise, a little bit of humbleness and a lot of elation," Jobson said of his inclusion in the Hall of Fame. "I was thrilled to be in the first class."
Among the other inductees are Elizabeth "Betsy" Alison of Newport, R. I., a coach to disabled sailors and five-time Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year; surfboard and catamaran builder Hobart "Hobie" Alter; and Slocum, the first person to sail solo around the world. Slocum is being inducted posthumously.
Tawney said San Diego was selected for the first induction ceremony to emphasize the national scope of the sailing center. He noted that eight honorees are from the eastern part of the United States, three are from the West, two are from the Midwest and two are naturalized citizens.
The Hall of Fame plans to add up to 15 people per year in 2012 and 2013 and then no more than five people each year starting in 2014. As a further sign of the project's national scope, Tawney said, the 2012 induction ceremony will be held in New Orleans and the 2013 ceremony will be in New Jersey.
The National Sailing Center and Hall of Fame is planned for a state-owned parcel at the foot of Prince George Street on Annapolis City Dock. Plans by Annapolis architect and sailor Joseph Boggs, of Boggs & Partners, call for a three-story, 20,000-square-foot interactive museum designed to highlight the "heroes and heritage" of American sailing, while preserving its artifacts and legacy.
Combining new construction with the preservation of a historic building on the site, the Captain William H. Burtis House, the center is intended to draw 150,000 visitors a year and solidify Annapolis' reputation as a sailing capital. Besides the Hall of Fame, features will include exhibits by designer Edwin Schlossberg, a library, theater, map room and sailing vessels.
Boggs' plans have been approved by the city of Annapolis and the Maryland Historical Trust, since the construction site is in a historic district. The state has negotiated a long-term lease for the property, with the understanding that the group will use private construction funds. Tawney said the group has raised more than $1 million and that an exact construction timetable will depend on its ability to secure the rest.
Tawney said he is hopeful that the ceremony will help draw attention to the project and the fundraising efforts. He said all of the living honorees have said they will attend and all of the posthumous honorees will be represented by relatives or descendants. The sailing center plans to use the occasion to videotape oral histories with the Hall of Famers and their family members, to be shown in the building when it opens.
"It's a national institution, and we wanted to communicate that," Tawney said of the selection committee and its work. "I think they came up with a very representative group."
Inaugural inductees to the National Sailing Hall of Fame:
Elizabeth "Betsy" Alison of Newport, R. I., coach to disabled sailors and five time Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year.
Hobart "Hobie" Alter, Laguna Beach, Calif., creator of foam-core surfboards, sleek catamarans and other products sold under the Hobie brand.
Paul Cayard, Kentfield, Calif., 1998 Whitbread Round the World Race winning skipper and two-time Olympic sailor.
Dennis Conner, San Diego, four-time America's Cup-winning skipper.
Frederick "Ted" Hood, Portsmouth, R. I., naval architect and America's Cup-winning skipper.
• Gary Alan Jobson, Annapolis, America's Cup-winning sailor, author and award-winning commentator, global ambassador for the sport.
Harry "Buddy" Melges Jr. of Zenda, Wis., Olympic medalist.
Lowell North of San Diego, Olympic gold medalist, engineer and sailmaker who founded North Sails.
Ted Turner, Atlanta, America's Cup-winning helmsman and four-time Rolex Yachtsman of the Year.
Posthumous inductees include: Charles Barr of Marblehead, Mass., an early record-setter for trans-Atlantic sailing; Nathanael G. Herreshoff of Bristol, R.I., naval architect; Emil "Bus" Mosbacher Jr. of Greenwich, Conn., two-time America's Cup winner; Joshua Slocum of San Francisco, the first person to sail around the world by himself; Olin Stephens of Hanover, N.H., yacht designer; and Harold S. Vanderbilt of New York, three-time America's Cup-winning skipper.