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Carlton Tucker

Hall of Famer - Carlton Tucker


FORT WALTON BEACH, Florida, May 7, 1998 -- James Carlton Tucker, 38, a nine-time national sailing champion, was admitted to the hospital in Fort Walton Beach, Florida on Monday, May fourth at about 5:00 p.m., and was in a coma for almost three days before he lost the battle on Thursday afternoon, May seventh, at approximately 2:45 p.m.

Carlton was one of the world's most successful, talented and versatile multihull sailors. He won nine national championships on seven different boats -- the Hobie 14, the Hobie 18, the Nacra 5.2, the Prindle 19, the Hobie 21, the Hobie 20, and the Stiletto 23 -- and won the Alter Cup Championship three times. He was also proud of a third-place finish at the 1988 Tornado Nationals. At the world level, he finished third in the 1988 Hobie 17 Worlds and second in that event in 1990. He finished fifth in the Hobie 16 Worlds in 1986; and he was three times runner-up at the Hobie 18 Worlds. He also excelled at distance races, racing in the Worrell 1000 four times, with finishes of fifth, second, first and third. He won the Raid Mer de Chine 500-mile Race on the China Sea in the Philippines, and he twice finished third in the Hog's Breath 1000, and finished second in the 1990 Tahiti Cat Challenge. Carlton was one of the first 10 sailors inducted into the Catamaran Sailing Hall of Fame, which was established in 1997.

Carlton worked with his father in the family marine business and boat dealership, The Boat, in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. He was married to Mary Alice with whom he fathered two children, Kaye Marie, 3, and James Hampton Tucker I, all of Mary Esther, Florida.

Mary Wells speaks of Carlton Tucker:

I first saw Carlton Tucker at a Hobie 18 Nationals in Miami back in the early 1980s. He was half our age and already a sailing legend -- but one we had only heard about. We did not even know what he looked like. Rick and I, a couple of relatively new Hobie sailors, were in the hotel bar cooling off when in walked a bunch of guys talking and laughing. At their nucleus was a dark-haired guy with a red and black kamikaze band around his head. He radiated energy and cockiness, and I thought, "This guy looks scary." I whispered to Rick, "I bet that's Carlton Tucker." And, of course, I was right.

At the time I remember thinking, "This guy really thinks he's hot stuff and too good to pay attention to us ordinary sailors." Of course, I was wrong. In later years we got to know Carlton Tucker very, very well when he was guest expert for some of Rick White's Sailing Seminars. He was the most humble, kind, generous, down-to-earth person it has ever been my good fortune to know. He truly cared about other people and was extremely sensitive to their feelings. Although he was serious about his sailboat racing, he did not ever take it too seriously, if that makes any sense. He truly had fun with it. Good sportsmanship and doing the right thing on the water always took priority over the importance of winning. (But he usually won anyway.) He was one of those rare people by whom you did not mind being beaten, because he was as gracious in victory as he was in defeat.

As a racer he was always someone we could identify with because he was a "seat-of-the-pants" sailor. He didn't know or care much about high-tech stuff, and he didn't have any special rigging tricks. If you asked him how to rake your mast, he would say, "What I do is look at what the other good sailors in the area are doing and just set mine up the same way." The "trick" was that if his boat was set up like everyone else's, he still usually had an edge because he could feel the boat as though he was part of it.

But the most wonderful thing about Carlton was his incredible enthusiasm for the sport of sailing. This is something that really blossomed when he was coaching at our seminars. His excitement and energy came through over the bullhorn loud and clear, and every student that Carlton coached was infected with some of his zeal and his love for sailing. His only "flaw" as a coach was that he always tended to "adopt" one sailor in the group who was lagging behind the others skillwise. We sometimes pitied the sailor who had been taken under Carlton's wing, because Carlton was tenacious and determined to make that sailor better (sometimes more determined than the sailor was) -- and he usually succeeded. He put his energy where he thought it was
most needed.

I used to be on the coach boat with Carlton and on the first day of a seminar he would get very frustrated trying to learn who all the students were, because he wanted to be able to call everyone by name -- no easy task when there are 15 or 20 boats with two people on most of them. But by the second day he had all the names down pat, as though they were old friends.

My only contact with Carlton for the past few years has been by telephone, but his warmth and sincerity always shone through the cables that brought his voice. He always found a way to say something to make you feel good about yourself. Ironically, Carlton has died at only one year older than one of his best friends and favorite competitors, the great Australian sailor Ian Bashford, who died of a heart attack in April of 1996 at the age of 37. Ian was like a brother to Carlton and like another son to Jim Tucker, having spent a great deal of time living with the Tucker family when he was in the United States. Carlton said that upon hearing about Ian's death, "I broke down and cried -- and I don't often do that. He was a really good guy. I'm really going to miss him."

Those are now the same words that Carlton's many friends will be saying about
Carlton: "He was a really good guy. I'm really going to miss him."

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