Soon Walker discovered Chesapeake Bay, started doctoring as a civilian and bought his first International Fourteen dinghy, Sea Duty, thereby beginning a long and passionate affair with that class of boat. In its small way the Fourteen is as sophisticated in hull and complicated in gear as an America's Cup 12-meter. Considerable latitude is given to designers. Some Fourteens are fat, some are thin. Some centerboards move back and forth and from side to side as well as up and down. Sails can change shape like magic at the tug of a cord. Yet different as one Fourteen may be from another, as a class they are unmistakable. "Without question," says Walker, "the Fourteen is the greatest centerboard boat in the world."
Walker's first crew in Sea Duty was his wife, Frances. "She was a great crew," he says, "but she was too incisive. She'd say, 'There's a wind shift over there,' but the wind shift never seemed to materialize. I got her out of the boat quick." Today Frances crews the Walker household.
The America's Cup of dinghy racing is Britain's Prince of Wales Trophy, but with national roles reversed. Until Walker won it in 1964 the host's grip on the trophy had been as tight as ours on that old mug in the New York Yacht Club.
Preliminary races during Prince of Wales week did not go well for Walker. In the last of these he fouled out almost before the race had begun. "Any other sailor," says Bruce Lee, an editor friend of Walker's, "would have gone ashore to belt a few." What Walker did was climb a cliff overlooking the racecourse at Lowestoft to study every yard of water. Then he visited the docks and pubs and grilled fisherfolk for local lore. Finally, he put all his findings on a chart.
This remarkable document provided for every contingency except the sanity of Walker's crew, George (Stovy) Brown, who not only had to cope with the usual array of gadgets but also was expected to play them like a concert pianist. Stripped to its essentials, Walker's master plan told him to hug the shore rather than follow the local practice, which was to look for the strongest winds farther out. Needless to say, the fleet headed out, Walker headed in and Walker won the race.
When he gets philosophical about racing, Walker writes things like, "There are many who, in sailing, are reminded of symbolic conflicts with 'father' or 'brother' and who, in an impasse between stimulated desire to defeat him and a guilty concern that they might, alternate between pressing on to victory and deliberate self-destruction."
Walker himself seems to have very little fear of winning, although one cannot be absolutely sure. There was this race for Fourteens in blustery winds on the Chesapeake in which Walker was so conspicuously the leader that he could have sculled the last downwind leg to the finish line. On rounding the buoy, however, Walker chose the opposite of a safety-first approach and hoisted his spinnaker. This was like driving a car with bald tires on glare ice. As Walker flew toward the line it occurred to him that he might have some difficulty getting the blasted kite down without capsizing. Over the line he went under full sail and on toward Baltimore until the wind subsided enough to tame the kite.
There is a stubborn streak in Walker, which he makes no attempt to conceal. "It is almost impossible to get him to give up, even when his boat is half gone," says St. John Martin, a Marylander who crewed for Walker before becoming a skipper himself. "In one race I sailed against him with the wind gusting to 40 knots. My boat capsized in a particularly vicious puff that simultaneously dismasted Walker." Dismasting is normally a pretty good excuse for quitting a race, but Walker had a bit of a stump left, on which he managed to hang a rag of sail. He limped around the course and finished the race. As a result he placed second in that series rather than third. "Of course," says Martin, "it was worth it to Walker."
Under Walker's guidance the Severn Sailing Association at Annapolis, once an outfit of no particular influence, has become the foremost small-boat sailing club in the U.S. "They asked me to save the association," Walker says with characteristic modesty, "so I saved it." Walker raised money, scouted a new site and goaded club members through weeks of do-it-yourself building to provide a clubhouse and other facilities.
Dr. and Mrs. Walker and their two daughters live not far away in a comfortable place overlooking Luce Creek. One room contains Walker's trophies, including an especially graceful one called the Severn Trophy. Walker executed it himself in stainless steel as a hobbyist and won it as a sailor.