Bermuda sailing family pay tribute to late Olympic sailor Lee

The local sailing community is mourning the death of pioneer sailor Howard Lee, Colin Thompson reports in this article for The Royal Gazette.

Lee, 77, passed away earlier this week after a long bout with illness.

During a distinguished career Lee set the benchmark for black sailors to strive for after representing Bermuda in the Finn dinghy at the 1976 Montreal Games.

“Representing your country is one of the greatest things a man can ever get involved in because first of all you have to fight to get there,” Lee told The Royal Gazette during an interview in 2006. “When I got to the Olympics and walked into that big arena it was a hell of an experience for me.

“Travelling overseas to compete in the Finn class enabled me to broaden my horizons and experience many wonderful things.”

At age 13 Lee started sailing competitively in Comets out of West End Sailboat Club as crew for Gates Smith and Sparky Lightbourne before he eventually owned his own dinghy.

In 1956 and 1957 Lee won the Long Distance Comet Race in his boat, High Yella, to become only the fourth skipper to win back-to-back titles behind his idol Ellsworth Lovell.

He also sailed in the Sunfish and Laser classes.

Outside of sailing Lee had a passion for both football and music.

He was a member of the Devonshire Lions team that lost 3-1 to Dock Hill Rangers in the 1959 FA Cup final and as a singer/musician entertained tourists at White Horse Tavern and Swizzle Inn the East End.

The late sailor is the grandfather of Laser and Fitted Dinghy sailor Rockal Evans.

Lee’s success inspired other black sailors such as Glenn Astwood to take to the sport.

“Howard was a huge inspiration for me because I used to watch him from a kid,” Astwood recalled. “I used to always go down and follow High Yella in the Long Distance Race before I even started sailing.

“My father used to take us down to follow the race every year and it was always High Yella, High Yella.”

Astwood later went on to represent Bermuda at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea in the Tornado catamaran.

“I am so sorry to hear that Howard has passed because we always used to chat whenever I saw him whether it be at the yacht club or in the street,” he added. “Howard was a very good sailor.”

Alan Burland, who also represented Bermuda at the Olympics in the Tornado, described Lee as a good sailor and wonderful ambassador for Bermuda.

“I had an awful amount of respect for Howard Lee who was a tremendous man,” he said. “He was a hard worker in an era when things were not easy for blacks in the sailing world.

“He had a wonderful, outgoing spirit and was always so friendly and kind and a hugely competent sailor. His grandson Rockal is obviously a chip off the old block and is a great sailor.

“Howard was a wonderful good sailor and ambassador for Bermuda and supporter of the Bermuda Sloop Foundation. He wanted to help the youth and Bermuda be the best it could be.

“We will sorely miss him and our condolences go out to all of his family and friends to which there is an immense number.”


For the original report go to

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