Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Hans Fogh racing in Toronto in the summer of 2013. (Courtesy of John Kerr)
Hans Fogh racing in Toronto in the summer of 2013. (Courtesy of John Kerr)

Hans Fogh sailor, 76

Danish sail maker was a six-time Olympian Add to ...

The yacht Canada II had a healthy lead on an American boat in the sea off Fremantle, Australia, when the wind ripped a four-metre tear in the mainsail.

The sail needed a fix on the fly. Hans Fogh, the crew’s navigator and tactician, climbed into the bosun’s chair before being hauled up near the end of the boom, where he used needle and thread in a desperate bid to repair the sail.

The sail maker’s dramatic efforts in the midst of a race kept the yacht competitive, though it lost by 66 seconds on the opening day of the America’s Cup yachting series in 1986.

Mr. Fogh was 48 years old that day and he remained a competitive sailor for nearly three more decades before dying in Toronto in March at the age of 76.

The sailor was a six-time Olympian and a two-time medal winner, claiming a silver for his native Denmark in 1960 and a bronze for his adopted land of Canada in 1984. The 24-year stretch between a first and second medal is the longest in Olympic history.

Praised as a cool and practical sailor, Mr. Fogh won four world championships (twice each in the Soling and Flying Dutchman classes), four European championships (three Soling, one Flying Dutchman), and four North American championships (all Soling), the most recent of those coming in 2013 on Lake Champlain near Plattsburgh, N.Y. He also won races aboard Finns, Stars and Etchells.

An ambitious competitor on the water, Mr. Fogh had technical expertise that made him a force on land as well. Soon after arriving in Canada, he created a sail for the prototype of a new dinghy designed by Canadians Bruce Kirby and Ian Bruce. The Laser, as it was eventually named, is a one-person craft whose simplicity and popularity led to its own introduction into Olympic competition.

A compact, diminutive figure at 5-foot-7, Mr. Fogh showed daring at sea.

“He was a risk taker,” said John Kerr, of Midland, Ont., who joined Mr. Fogh and Steve Calder in winning a bronze medal in Soling at the 1984 Olympics. “There was nothing he wouldn’t try on a boat to make it go faster.”

Mr. Fogh displayed an enviable ability to assess three dimensions while sailing, Mr. Kerr said, calculating strategy even as he evaluated the wind in the sails, the waves against the boat, and the force of the current underneath.

“He was a gifted downwind sailor,” Mr. Calder said. “He had a feel for the boat and a nose for the wind like no one else.”

Hans Marius Fogh was born on March 8, 1938, at Rodovre, a Danish town outside Copenhagen. As a boy, he spent summers at a cottage owned by relatives. “I was always playing with my boats in the water and going out on the boat with my aunt and uncle, so even at a young age, I felt that some day I would have a career on the water,” he once told the sports writer Bob Duff. He graduated from a rowboat to a sailboat and at age 17 bought his first dinghy with money earned from working as a gardener in the family’s greenhouse.

When he needed a new sail, his father bought some from Paul Elvstrom, an Olympian who had just launched his own sail-making company. The younger Mr. Fogh joined Elvstrom’s firm in 1960, becoming a protégé of the Danish sporting legend.

Both men competed in the Olympic regatta that year in the Bay of Naples. The owner won a gold medal for a fourth consecutive Olympics. Competing in a different class, Mr. Fogh made his Olympic debut as helmsman of Skum, a Flying Dutchman with Ole Erik Gunnar Petersen as crew. The Danish duo won two of seven races to claim the silver medal behind a Norwegian boat.

Single page

Follow on Twitter: @tomhawthorn

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular