Lowell North, a two-time Olympic medalist who also founded one of the world’s premier sailmakers, died June 2 at home in San Diego. He was 89.
His death came a day after suffering a stroke, according to published reports.
North began sailing competitively as a teenager, around the same time he began experimenting with sail designs. He proved adept at both, drawing the attention of Malin Burnham, who in 1945 invited North to crew during the Star World Championship that the pair went on to win.
North won bronze for the U.S. in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, and four years later he was a gold medalist in the Star class in the Mexico City games.
North took gold four times in the Star World Championships, and earned silver five times in addition to two bronze medals. He also competed in the 1977 America’s Cup Defender Series as skipper of the 12-meter yacht Enterprise.
In 1957, North left a career as an aerospace engineer and founded North Sails in San Diego. It quickly became a pioneer in sail design and sailcloth, and an outfitter to some of the world’s best sailors. He sold the company three decades later. North Sails, now based in Connecticut, remains a world leader in advanced sail design.
“I learned to win in the Star by taking a sail apart and putting it back together until it was a little faster,” North recalled, according to North Sails. “Sails then were so poorly designed that practically anything you did made them better. As we won more races, I convinced myself I knew what a fast sail should look like.”
“The shapes that tested faster often were not the ones we thought would be fast,” he added. “We learned quickly we had to leave all preconceptions behind.”
In retirement, North sailed around the world in a cruising yacht. Years later, in 2011, he was inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame in Newport.