Notable mariners who passed away in 2023

Buddy Melges
Well-known Long Beach yachtsman and offshore racing sailor Doug Baker died of cancer at the age of 85.
Well-known Long Beach yachtsman and offshore racing sailor Doug Baker died of cancer at the age of 85.

Doug Baker
Celebrated Long Beach yachtsman and offshore racing sailor Doug Baker died of cancer at his Naples home Nov. 22, 2023, at the age of 85. 

Born Nov. 11, 1938, in Long Beach, Douglas Warren Baker graduated from Poly High and went to work for the family business, Banker Tanks Rentals.

Baker launched his competitive sailing career with a Hobie 15 and gradually progressed through the ranks to his most recent boat, the Kernan 68, built in 2005 and named Peligroso, Spanish for “dangerous.”

Well before taking ownership of Peligroso, Baker had raced in 21 Transpac races and several Transpac races aboard a 1939 Sparkman & Stephens yawl. Among his many racing triumphs, he still holds the record for the Transpacific Yacht Club-sponsored L.A.-Tahiti Race, completing the course in 11 days, 10 hours, 13 minutes and 18 seconds.

Baker also competed in regattas in Mexico, Hawaii, Tahiti, the Great Lakes and the Caribbean over the long course of his ocean racing career. Despite Baker’s passion for ocean racing, his wife Jeannie crewed with him in only one offshore race, a friendly competition among a few boats sailing from Long Beach to Puerto Vallarta. 

Baker and Jeannie had met at a bar on Second Street in Naples, a neighborhood in Long Beach. They dated for two years before marrying and establishing their home in Seal Beach. The couple were married for 54 years and raised two daughters before moving back to Long Beach.

Mike Van Dyke, a fellow sailor, once asked Baker how long he planned to continue racing. Baker responded, “This is what I do; I will do it until I can’t or I am gone.”

John Stobart
John Stobart, whose oil paintings of 19th-century wooden ships graced the homes of such celebrities as the late newscaster Walter Cronkite and mustard manufacturer Charles Gulden, passed away March 2, 2023, at the age of 93. He is survived by his wife, Anne Fletcher.

Having studied at Britain’s Royal Academy of Art, his paintings typically reflect classical depictions of great sailing ships at sea, under full canvas in rough weather, defying the odds in service of their country.

Stobart committed a great deal of time to researching his subjects, studying old, faded, black-and-white photographs and taking careful note of such details as sails, rigging, gun placements or the glow of a cabin lamp to heighten the feeling of realism in his works.

As a classical painter, Stobart decried modern art trends, particularly op art, minimalism and abstract expressionism, which had begun to take root among artists in the early twentieth century and continue to flourish today. “I’ve never bought it and the general public has never bought it either,” he complained of abstract art in a 1986 interview with The Boston Globe. “That’s a lot of baloney, that stuff.”

Though he did poorly in school and his father warned him he would never make a living as a painter, Stobart’s paintings sold for ever-higher prices as his skill and fame grew. As recently as 2022, his original paintings were selling from $15,000 to $400,000, totaling up to $2.5 million year.

In addition to his wife, Stobart is survived by his daughters, Elizabeth Stobart and Diana Wild; his son, Bill, from his first wife, Kay Arscott; and his three grandchildren.  

Buddy Melges
Buddy Melges

Buddy Melges
Buddy Melges, the first individual to win both an Olympic Gold Medal in sailing and the America’s Cup, died at his home in Fontana, Wis., of multiple conditions, including heart disease and the long-term effects of Lyme disease, at the age of 93.

Melges (pronounced with a hard “g”) learned to sail on inland lakes at an early age from his father. Having gained confidence as a competitive sailor in local races, he went on to win a Gold Medal in the 1972 Olympics on a three-person Soling keelboat, beating Paul Elvstrom, who had won four Olympic Gold Medals. 

In 1992, at the age of 62, more than 20 years older than the average America’s Cup captain, Melges won the race by defeating former America’s Cup winner Dennis Conner in the defender trials, establishing himself as one of the world’s top competitive sailors. 

At the pinnacle of his career, Melges designed the Melges 24 sport sloop, which could sail at twice the speed of other boats of its class, spawning a whole new class of racing vessel still popular in the racing circuit today.  

Melges shares stories from his many years of competition in his 1983 book, Sailing Smart. Written in a straightforward style, the book is full of advice still applicable today for aspiring racing sailors.

Melges is survived by his wife, Gloria; three children, Laura, Hans and Harry Melges III; and seven grandchildren.

Charles Morgan
Charles Morgan, one of the greatest designers of modern, offshore cruising boats, passed away at the age of 93 on Jan. 6, 2023, two days after the death of his wife, Maurine. 

Born in Chicago in 1929, he attended the University of Tampa in Florida and later found a job with Johnson Sails.

After founding Morgan Racing Sails in Tampa, in 1962 he founded Morgan Yacht Corporation, builder of the Tiger Cub and the fiberglass sloop Morgan 34, which is still a popular cruising vessel today. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Morgan expanded his line to include the Marauder with hull designs from 22 feet to 54 feet in length.

Morgan sold his yacht-building operation in 1968 and then designed and skippered his 12-meter Heritage, which was launched in 1970 for the America’s Cup. After success with his designs for both racing and cruising, he designed the spacious Morgan Out Island 41, which continues to be one of the most popular cruising boats ever built. 

After leaving Morgan Yachts in 1972, he founded the Heritage Yacht Corporation in 1975, producing trawlers in addition to sailing yachts. Morgan later joined Chris-Craft, where he performed design work on their trawler line. Toward the end of his career in the 1990s, he continued his design work for other yacht builders and private clients. The Com-Pac 35, built by Hutchins yachts, was one of his more recent designs.

One of the greatest of the modern yacht designers, Morgan died only two days after the passing of his wife, Maureen. ν