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Hall of Fame 2012, David W. Howell



A young lady walked into the Chicago Yacht Club Belmont Station one day in the early 1980s, recently after the man had suffered a massive stroke.  She was astounded at how people were reacting and the concern about the recovery of this man she had heard so much about.  The respect and love that was exhibited by his competitors was overwhelming.  She was taken aback by the esteem that his peers held him in—this man embraced his sport and was well respected by all his peers.  It was only after learning of his amazing accomplishments and contributions to the sport of sailing that she finally understood why. 


The man was David W. Howell, former Chairman, President and CEO of the Willett Motor Coach Company of Chicago, Illinois, compiled an outstanding record in community service and yacht racing on Lake Michigan and in the Midwest.  Howell was a member of Chicago Yacht Club.  Howell was also a heavy donor to the Sea Explorers division of the Boy Scouts of America, a past president of the Easter Seals Society of Chicago and was active with the Glenwood School for Boys in St. Charles, Ill.  He served as a Director of Chicago Yacht Club for many years.

Howell started sailing in the late 1940’s and was noted for giving young people a chance to learn sailing through the Sea Explorers program and by inviting many younger sailors to join him on the water for a race. 

A 1974 Chicago Tribune article on one of his wins, started, “Dave Howell, … manages to pick up trophies almost every race …”  Howell greatly enjoyed the many hours of preparation, hard work and the long nights on deck of the distance races.  It is of no surprise that among those trophies is a long string of Chicago to Mackinac Race successes:  The Past Commodore’s Trophy in 1968 and 1969 for first in section; the Chicago Mackinac Trophy for first overall in fleet in 1968; the James O. Hayworth Trophy in 1970 and 1971 for first in Section; the Chicago Mackinac Trophy for first overall in fleet in 1970—the much heralded blow of 1970 (Dave loved heavy weather racing)—and again first overall in 1971; the James R. Offield Perpetual Trophy for first in section in 1982 and 1983, and many other flag winning races in both the Chicago and Port Huron to Mackinac Races.  Howell’s name appears on a vast majority of highly regarded Chicago Yacht Club Trophies including:  the Verve Cup, the Commodore’s Cup, the Harold L. Ashton Perpetual Trophy, and the Sheldon Clark Trophy. 

Howell was a member of the Island Goats Sailing Society of Chicago.  He was the Fastest Goat to the Island in 1985 and received the Island Goats Sailing Society’s Freshwater Award in 1989.  In 1996, Howell was named Yachtsman of the Year by the Chicago area Sea Explorers program of the Boy Scouts of America. 

Howell is considered by many to be the Father of the Offshore One-Design concept.  In 1976, a group which included Tom K. Fisher of Bayview Yacht Club, Detroit, Mich., Harry Kostoff of Port Huron Yacht Club, Port Huron, Mich., Frank Shumway of Rochester Yacht Club, Rochester, N.Y., Gordon Fisher of Bayview Yacht Club, Detroit, Mich., and Fred Soames of Bayview Yacht Club, Detroit, Mich., created the North American 40 One Design Class.  Richard “Dick” Carter, naval architect of Nahant, Mass., was chosen to design the yacht.  The “NA 40” proved that larger one-design classes could succeed as witnessed by the fact that 45 NA 40’s were built and many are still racing today.  A North American 40 was the overall winner in the 2008 and 2011 Chicago to Mackinac Races.  Many offshore classes have been developed following the strategy created by Howell and his partners. 

Over the course of his more than 40 years of offshore racing with about a dozen different boats named Decision, Howell was able to mobilize his crews to a higher level of performance and always emphasized fun and  sportsmanship.  Occasionally, his language at the helm was colorful which helped keep his crew sharp.     

Howell was intimately involved with the administrative aspects of our sport through his many years serving on committees, boards and as an innovator—assisting in the development of many rating rules (or eliminating them), and general race management.

Shortly after Howell’s passing, a Deed of Gift was made to the Chicago Yacht Club to recognize and continue his effort of establishing offshore one-design sailing.  The David W. Howell Memorial Trophy, given in 1998 by his widow, Betty Howell, was given as a Race to Mackinac One-Design (when possible) Section Trophy and remains the only crystal trophy in the Mackinac Race collection. 

While Dave and Betty Howell never had children of their own, they have many “offspring” racing competitively around the world today.  He was proud to see the young sailors grow, learn and be involved.  Often he observed second or third generation “new” crew members skillfully steer his 50-foot boat, from the club he loved so much and where he dined often, back to its slip across the harbor.  He loved to have family and friends around the boat and always welcomed them aboard, no matter their experience level.  Howell was a true gentleman and a great sportsman, both on and off the water. 


Respectfully submitted by Chicago Yacht Club in December 2011 for the consideration of David W. Howell’s election into the Lake Michigan Sailing Hall of Fame for his many years of dedication to the sport of sailing on Lake Michigan.

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