For as long as Tabor has had a sailing team, the school has produced Olympic sailors, and this fact will not come as a surprise to any alum involved in the program. Whether you graduated in 1931 or 2021 or any year in between, you have at least one thing in common with every other Seawolf who reads this: Tabor’s sailing team was strong when you attended. In this article, we look at two late alumni who fueled the dawn of Tabor’s Olympic sailing legacy.
Frank Jewett, Jr., ’34
A stiff wind whipped across the Baltic Sea shortly before noon on August 4, 1936. The Olympic regatta was scheduled to start earlier that morning, but heavy seas forced a delay. By 11 a.m., officials decided that the surf had receded enough to launch. A fleet of small sailboats knifed through the harbor of Kiel, a bustling port town in northeast Germany. They were 12-foot dinghies called O-Jolles, the smallest class racing at the Games, and they took a beating.
Whitecaps pounded the hulls as they toiled to the starting line. It was a disappointing race for the American boat. Her skipper, the youngest sailor there, couldn’t tack out of a messy cluster. He finished near the back of the field. Six races remained, but he knew he’d have to handle the conditions better if he hoped to improve his standing by the end of the week. He was confident in his abilities. Despite his youth, he was one of the most competent seamen in the group.
From the moment he set foot on campus, Frank Jewett, Jr., immersed himself in Tabor’s nautical identity. He joined the Sea Scouts in 1932. Affiliated with the Boy Scouts, the group trained on the SSV Tabor Boy and gave students real-world experience to develop their sea legs. In 1933, he was selected for the school’s prestigious Cruising Program. This was one of Headmaster Walter Lillard’s signature initiatives. Students honed their maritime skills working as deckhands on cargo ships and then engaged in cultural exchanges when they reached destinations in Central America or Europe. In 1934, Jewett co-founded the Tabor Yacht Club and was elected as its first commodore. “Done the most for Tabor” was one of three superlatives he received in his senior yearbook.
Arguably, Jewett’s most enduring contribution was kindling Tabor’s legacy as an elite sailing school. His freshman year coincided with the formation of the Interscholastic Yacht Racing Association, a significant milestone that marks the formal beginning of Tabor’s competitive sailing program. At the 1932 championship, Jewett expertly captained a three-man crew through the choppy waters of Buzzards Bay. The following day, the Boston Globe used the headline “Tabor Shows Superiority” to describe the race. Jewett went on to win the Sears Cup, the Junior National Championship, during the summers of 1933 and 1934. In February 1936, he won three out of four races in the monotype class at the Olympic trials in California. The result ensured that Tabor’s first great racer would be its first Olympic sailor.
Back in Marion, the school celebrated its young alumnus. “This culminates many years of practice gained in various types of boats here at Tabor,” The Log wrote in a March 1936 article recounting Jewett’s triumph. “Monotype boats ... are small craft carrying one man. Their simplicity of design puts a premium on the skill of the individual skipper.”
Jewett’s skills faced the ultimate test at the 1936 Olympics. After the challenging August 4 race, he ranked 17th out of 25 competitors. Over the next six days, he demonstrated remarkable composure and talent. Jewett ultimately finished in ninth place. While this result fell short of his goal, it reflected a noble effort against such world-class opponents. In the history of Tabor sailing, Jewett was the trailblazer who opened the Olympic floodgates.
Frank Scully, Jr., ’44
Seven months shy of his graduation, Frank Scully Jr., left Tabor to join the Army Air Corps. The lanky 18-year-old enlisted on October 13, 1943, and served until the spring of 1946. After the war, he attended Harvard before starting a career in real estate. When he wasn’t working, Scully was pursuing his love of sailing at the highest level.
At the 1959 Pan American Games, he won a gold medal in the 5.5 metre class. Five years later, he crewed alongside Joey Batchelder in skipper Don McNamara’s boat at the Olympic trials in Newport, Rhode Island. McNamara was a highly decorated sailor, having won two national championships in the ’50s, but he was also unlucky. At consecutive trials in 1956 and 1960, McNamara saw Olympic berths slip through his fingers at the end of tight races. With half a mile to go in the 1964 race, his crew’s lead was so healthy that they started gabbing about the upcoming Games in Tokyo. And then disaster struck. The jib broke and the sail flapped savagely in the wind. The second place boat bore down on them as they lost speed.
“With the clew pulled out of the sail there was no way of securing a sheet,” McNamara later explained. “So Joey went to leeward and hung on for dear life, trimming as best he could. But more than one man was needed. I’m the biggest so I figured I could help Joey. Frank sailed the boat in and he did a tremendous job. But I can tell you Joey and I tasted every wave we hit until we got over that line.”
They won. Barely. Two months later, they left for Japan. On September 30 they arrived in Enoshima, the small island 50 miles south of Tokyo that would host the racing. Expectations were high. “There is no room for doubt,” Leonard Fowle, the Globe’s yachting editor, wrote on October 10, “this is the best team of sailors ever assembled to represent Uncle Sam.”
Racing in the 5.5 metre class commenced on October 12. Against stiff competition, including Norway’s crown prince (and current king) Harald, the Americans finished the first race 10th out of 15. Frustrated yet resolute, they stormed back by winning the next two. Determined to earn a medal, they abstained from the regatta’s extracurricular festivities. “There’s a party here every night, as you’d expect in a yachting atmosphere,” Scully told the Globe on October 17. “But our crew is here for one thing. To win. We’re lying low and getting to bed early.”
Their commitment paid off. At the end of the week, the Americans finished third. Heroic racing from Bill Northam, Australia’s 60-year-old skipper, secured the gold. Sweden took the silver. When Frank Scully accepted his bronze, he became the first Tabor sailor to win an Olympic medal. He would not be the last.