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Lowell North, who created world’s biggest sailmaker, dies at 89

Lowell North, pictured in 1977. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

Lowell North, a sailmaker who won an Olympic gold medal and four world championships in the venerable Star Class and whose company North Sails became the world’s biggest sailmaker, died June 2 at his home in San Diego. He was 89.

The cause was a stroke, said his son, Danny North.

Lowell Orton North was born in Springfield, Mo., on Dec. 2, 1929. Nicknamed “The Pope” by his peers, he began his sailmaking career at 14 when his father purchased a Star with cotton sails.

The father and son team came in last in every race, motivating the younger Mr. North to recut the mainsail. After winning the 1945 Star World Championship as part of Malin Burnham’s crew, Mr. North quipped: “It wasn’t me Malin wanted. It was my mainsail.”

He opened his first North Sails loft in 1957. With an engineering degree, he figured he could build better sails through rigorous testing and incremental improvement. His methodical and scientific approach to sailmaking changed the industry.

He hired other champion sailors — calling them “tigers”— to demonstrate and sell his products. North Sails was the world’s biggest sailmaker when he sold it in 1984 and retired.

Mr. North won the bronze medal in the Dragon Class in the 1964 Olympics and the gold medal in the Star Class in the 1968 Games. He won four Star world championships as a skipper and finished second five times.

He was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame in 2011, along with Ted Turner, Dennis Conner and other America’s Cup greats.

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Conner was the first to use North Sails in the America’s Cup when he won it in 1980. In 2007, the 50th anniversary of North Sails, 11 of the 12 syndicates entered in the America’s Cup used sails by North.

Information on survivors was not available.

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