Tom Whidden was the most successful America’s Cup tactician of the 1980’s, helping to win three of the contests (1980, 1987, and 1988). He has been active with the Cup ever since. “When I was 16 my dream was to become a sailmaker and race in the America’s Cup,” said Whidden of his years as a junior sailor on Long Island Sound. He fulfilled both wishes: as a sailmaker he became President of North Sails, and, after he earned Dennis Conner’s respect by besting him in ocean races, Whidden was asked by Conner to help out with the ultimately successful Freedom campaign as trial-horse helmsman and sail trimmer.
As Conner’s tactician aboard Liberty in 1983, Whidden played a key role in the historic match in which the slower defender pushed the faster Australia II to the limit. In the decisive seventh race, after leading most of the way around the course, Liberty was caught on the second-to-last leg. “Our best Cup race ever may have been the one we lost,” said Whidden. In 1987 he helped Stars & Stripes regain the Cup in Perth, Australia, and a year later won his third Cup match in four tries — aboard Stars & Stripes, the catamaran. Whidden again saw Cup action as a tactician in 1995, but lost to the dominant Kiwis. In two subsequent campaigns at Auckland, Stars & Stripes, with new helmsmen advised by Whidden, came up short in the challenger eliminations.
Of extreme significance is Whidden’s leadership in the design and manufacture of superb, modern sails at North Sails. Since Whidden became president, the art and science of sail making has been advanced so completely that every America’s Cup contender of 2003 used North Sails.
In America’s Cup history, very few sailors have been involved with as many campaigns (eight) or won as many (three) as Whidden. For his brilliance as a tactical advisor, his soundness as a crew organizer, and his mastery of winning in difficult boats under the most demanding conditions, Tom Whidden is elected to the America’s Cup Hall of Fame.