Mary Etchells, 1951 World Champion Crew
By Ann Franklin Beach
Feb 16, 2003
Mary Etchells is the only woman who has crewed in Stars and won the World Championship, the Western Hemisphere Championship and the North American Championship. In 1944 she and hre husband, Skip Etchells, began winning races in the Star Class, culminating in the World Championship at Gibson Island in 1951.
Their partnership started when Skip asked Mary as a college girl to crew for him in his homemade dinghy at the Larchmont Yacht Club. After they were married, they moved to California where Skip, a naval architect, built their first Star, Shillalah.
Equally as competitive as her husband, Mary and Skip made a formidable team. He once boasted, "Mary can hike out as far to windward as any crew in the class. She can hook one foot on the cockpit coaming and virtually disappear over the side." Those were the days before hiking straps and crews were mobile ballast. Mary especially remembers racing in the strong easterlies on their home waters of Long Island Sound.
The Etchells never went anywhere sightseeing unless there was a boat involved. They sailed up and down the East Coast and in Nassau, but Cuba was Mary's favorite venue. The Cup of Cuba was awarded to them as winner of the 1950 Havana Midwinter Championship. The conditions were so windy they couldn't hold the series at the yacht club but raced around a large boat anchored in the middle of the course opposite Morro Castle.
After one race a maid at the yacht club thought Mary had been brutally beaten by somebody, but Mary explained that those black and blue marks were the result of crewing for her husband in the Havana regatta.
The Etchells settled in Old Greenwich, Conn. where Skip formed his own company and became the star builder of Stars. The Etchells’ amazing performance includes winning five Noroton Race Weeks, three 1st District Atlantic Coast titles, the 1950 Bacardi Cup in Cuba and the 1951 World’s Championship.
Mary wants to encourage more women to crew in Stars. At one time she planned to donate a prize for women, but Commodore Paul Smart talked her into donating the prize which goes to the winning crew of the World's Championship, a trophy which to this day has never been won by another woman.
After she and Skip raised two children, Mary and Barbara Reynes started a company which designed clothes for women. As president of Meadowbank, Inc. Mary sold reversible wrap skirts to shops such as Lord and Taylor and once saw pictures of Gloria Vanderbilt modeling one of her creations in Vogue.
At that time Skip was perhaps best known for designing and building the Etchells 22, a three man keelboat, which is an international class, active in America, Europe, and Australia. In 2003 the Etchells North American championship will be held in Annapolis and the world’s on Long Island Sound.
After Skip retired, the Etchells moved to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Skip died in 1998, but Mary still lives there in Easton with her dog, Mizzen.