Lynn Williams, born January 6, 1909, had no realization of the impact he would have on the sport of sail racing. Williams graduated from Yale University in Spring 1929, then went to Harvard University and acquired in law degree in 1931. Feeling the want of more understanding of mechanics, he went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, receiving a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1932. While drinking in all this education and knowledge, he spent time cruising in his father's motor yacht in the northern Great Lakes. Williams' father built and owned the Alden schooner Elizabeth in 1928, which began his development in the sport of sailing.
Williams sailed his first Bermuda Race in 1928, during which he met Olin Stephens. They began a lifelong friendship. In 1931 Williams' father became seriously ill just before the Chicago to Mackinac Race, and father made Lynn the skipper for the race. At age 22, he became the youngest skipper to ever win this race. Between 1931 and 1936, the yacht Elizabeth won the Mackinac race three times. In the fall of 1936, Elizabeth burned in the Chicago River at the Grebe Shipyard.
Williams' sailing career spanned 79 years. He won the Chicago to Mackinac Race five times and the Port Huron to Mackinac Race four times (in his boats Elizabeth, Dora, and Dora IV). He participated in 16 Southern Ocean Racing Conference series. His best finish was 3rd on Dora. Woody Pirie regularly had him sail on Hoot Mon as a watch captain. And, Williams raced 6 Trans-Atlantic Races in addition to the many races offered in Southern Lake Michigan.
Early in his sailing career Williams worked with Wells Lippincott in the development of the Cruising Club of America (CCA) handicapping rule. His demonstrated knowledge of water mechanics led him to become the Chairman of the CCA Technical Committee. This position led Williams and some others to develop the Measurement Handicap Rule (MHS) which later evolved into the International Measurement Rule, the IMS. Working with this group, Williams became aware that the H. Irving Platt study was being performed at M.I.T., which was determining, through actual tank testing, the factors which contributed to drag and drive of sailing vessels. Williams and Dick McCurdy contributed a fair amount of money to keep this study going and this work developed what has become known as the Velocity Prediction Program (VPP). Williams became Chairman of the United States Yacht Racing Union Measurement Handicap Committee, which produced and refined the MHS, the forerunner of the Offshore Racing Rule, ORR, the handicapping system utilized today by Chicago Yacht Club in conducting its offshore sail racing.
Williams working with Wells Lippincott and Olin Stephens prompted him to assist Clayton Ewing in the design and development of the first aluminum sail racing yacht, Dyna, a Sparkman and Stephens 58' yacht. What was interesting about this project was that Dyna was largely a takeoff of George Sollitt's Onkahya, a Chicago Yacht Club member's yacht raced out of Belmont Harbor in the 1940's and early 1950's.
Williams was a member of the Cruising Club of America, Chicago Yacht Club and New York Yacht Club. He was a founder, with a couple of others, of the Island Goat Sailing Society, an organization in which membership is available after racing in 25 Chicago to Mackinac Races. He introduced many people to the pleasure of sailing.
Williams understood the desires of all persons connected to sailing offshore type vessels. He worked tirelessly in the efforts to make people happy with their investment in the sport. He was driven by the concept that "cruising type" boats should not be replaced in the scheme of sail racing by designer rules, such as the International Offshore Rule (IOR). He wanted all yachts, with appropriate maintenance, to be competitive on the race course and have a chance at winning the race.
Williams was so rich in schooling he developed the ability to work with anyone and convince them of his position. He sailed schooners, sloops, yawls and one-designs (a Tartan Ten), and knew the rules and stayed out of the protest room. Believing that the triangle race course was not satisfying all sail racing entrants, he funded the establishment of two all-weather, lighted racing marks out in the lake off of Chicago, to the Northeast and Southeast, providing longer courses. Because he was such a good sport and knew how to keep crew aboard, he had no problem getting great sailors to sail with him. His perfectly maintained Dora IV was so widely known that a fellow named Ted Turner bought the vessel without getting a survey.
Williams' work on the CCA, the MHS, the IMS (which later developed into the Offshore Racing Rule (ORR)) rates remembrance by Chicago Yacht Club and all Lake Michigan sailors. Williams passed away on April 21, 1985, however his wonderful work will long be remembered.
Lake Michigan Sail Racing Federation is proud to induct Lynn Williams into the Lake Michigan Sailing Hall of Fame.
October 26, 2013
Chicago Yacht Club, Belmont Station