Sir Durward – worthy of praise!
At 94, Sir Durward Knowles might no longer be active in sailing in this country, but today as The Nassau Guardian celebrates its 167th anniversary, he is still arguably the greatest sporting legend who ever competed for The Bahamas.
Reminiscing on his time as a world-renowned sailing champion for The Bahamas, Sir Durward said that he is grateful for everything that he accomplished, and will continue to show support for the sport that he loves. Just this past weekend, he was out at Montagu Beach watching many young Bahamians compete in the Laser Class.
It was the Star Class where Sir Durward excelled though. As a teenager, he followed his passion into sailing and eventually conquered the world, winning Pan Am, North American, World and Olympic titles over a career that spanned more than half of a century.
“You have to have a real passion for sailing to do it for as long as I did,” said the legendary captain in a recent interview. “You have to be dedicated. Today, it’s much harder to win an Olympic medal but for The Bahamas there is light at the end of the tunnel. Today, you have to have an ambition, and you have to have a desire to fulfill that ambition. That’s what I had and that’s what you need to reach that next level. If you feel that you are the best and that no one could beat you, you’ve already won half the battle.”
Sir Durward took part in eight Olympics – winning the country’s first Olympic medals, bronze in 1956 in Melbourne, Australia, and the gold eight years later in Tokyo, Japan. His eight Olympic appearances stand as a record today for sailors.
Today, ‘The Sea Wolf’, as he is known the world over, is no longer active in the sport having retired a few years ago as Commodore of the Bahamas Sailing Association (BSA). He is content on just being an observer knowing that he gave his life to the waters.
“Today, there is a void in international sailing among Bahamians. Gavin McKinney still sails in Europe, but for the most part, it is not as active among Bahamians like it should be,” said Sir Durward. “For me, it certainly wasn’t easy to win in the Star Class and it isn’t any easier today. Competing in the Star Class is expensive when it comes to buying yachts and equipment, but there are sailing classes that young Bahamians can take part in. From looking at the many youngsters who participated this past weekend, the future looks bright but we still have a long way to go.”
Sir Durward still facilitates the junior program in the country which is headed by Jimmie Lowe and Robert Dunkley. Along with John Lawrence, they have ventured into the public schools and now have a vibrant junior sailing program with hundreds of young Bahamians enrolled.
“At one point it fell off, particularly in the Star Class, but it is so wonderful to see so many youngsters and so many boats out there each weekend. I am not actively involved anymore, but I still support it,” said Sir Durward who was succeeded by Lawrence in the BSA. “I knew that I had reached the point where I couldn’t contribute as much as I should and as much as I wanted to, so I had no problem stepping aside.”
As far as the local regattas are concerned, Sir Durward said that he enjoys watching the races and being a part of them in any way that he can. Just yesterday, it was announced that he will be honored at the 25th Annual St. Valentine’s Massacre next February, organized by ‘The Sailing Barber’, Eleazor Johnson.
“At one point there was a lot of controversy, but in sailing in this country, you need men like Eleazor, ‘King’ Eric and Dr. Phillip McPhee. These are men who have the best interest of sailing at heart and who are doing all that they can to promote sailing in this country. They mean so much to sailing and regattas in The Bahamas,” said Sir Durward.
The country’s first Olympic gold medalist started sailing in the 1930s as a teenager. He took part in his first international regatta overseas in 1946 in Havana, Cuba, finishing third with Basil Kelly aboard ‘Gem II’. The following year Sir Durward and Sloane ‘Bunty’ Farrington beat the best in the world in the Star Class at the World Championships, in Los Angeles, California.
He and Farrington went on to sail in their first Olympics in 1948 in London, England where they finished fourth. Sir Durward never finished less than seventh place in any of the remaining seven Olympics he participated in.
In his third Olympics in Melbourne in 1956, Sir Durward and Farrington won the country’s first Olympic medal – a bronze. Two Olympics later, with regular crew member Farrington not making the trip, Sir Durward and crew member Cecil Cooke sailed to the country’s first and only gold medal until the ‘Golden Girls’ broke through in Sydney, Australia in 2000.
“You could ask that question a thousand times, and probably each time I’ll have a different answer,” said Sir Durward about the feeling he got when he won the country’s first Olympic gold medal. “It’s a situation where you realize now more than then how much it really meant to The Bahamas. What it did was really pave the way for so many great athletes to follow. I was fortunate to be the first, but today, we have really evolved in terms of quality of athletes. Now we are seeing what The Bahamas can really accomplish,” he added.
Sir Durward lost his father, who got him started in the sport, the year before he won Olympic gold in 1964. His final Olympics was the 1988 Games in Seoul, Korea, where he competed at the age of 70. Two years later, at the age of 72, he won the North American Championship in Boston. Sir Durward is the third oldest competitor in the history of the Olympic Games.
Also, he is the oldest and longest serving member of the International Star Class Yacht Racing Association. He served as a commodore in that class for 20 years becoming the first Bahamian to be elected to such a position.
“What sailing needs today more than anything else is a home,” said Sir Durward. “The Nassau Yacht Club allows its premises to be used to support sailing in this country, but I think that, that area out by Arawak Cay would be ideal for sailing. The sport needs that – a place it can call home where all the boats can be stored.
“The government needs to give that permission in order for that to happen. I think that’s a great way of keeping sailing alive in this country. Hopefully we’re on the right track for that,” he added.
In his post-sailing career, Sir Durward has been honored by just about every civic, social and business organization in the country for acts in and out of sailing. He was knighted in 1996 at Buckingham Palace primarily because of his contributions to the community in addition to his achievements on the waters, and his main charity is the Bahamas Association for Physically Disabled. This year, he received a lifetime achievement award from The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce.
As far as sports today are concerned, Sir Durward still follows the progress of Bahamian athletes and their accomplishments. He feels that we have come a long way as a country, but still have quite a way to go.
“There’s no doubt that some mistakes were made, but all-in-all as a Bahamian, you have to have a sense of pride of what was accomplished in sports over the years,” he said. “This is a nation of only 300,000, and we have accomplished much more than nations with millions of people. I think that we have accomplished a lot in sports and the future looks very bright.”
There’s no doubt that Sir Durward will always be remembered for what he did for The Bahamas in sailing, but in giving back to his community and his country, he will be remembered for what he did off the waters as well.