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Connell: Avid Sailor, America’s Cup Racer

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Robert A. Connell, America's Cup Sailor

Robert (Bob) A. Connell, an avid sailor who participated in five America's Cup trials during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, including two successful defenses, died on April 17 in Miami, Florida.  He was 72 and lived in Wakefield, Rhode Island and Jupiter, Florida.

His death was the result of sudden cardiac arrest, which occurred on April 12. 

Connell was part of a colorful and competitive sailing scene, where his highly sought-after skills earned him a spot on five America's Cup 12-meter crews: Weatherly in 1958, Columbia in 1962, Constellation in 1964, Intrepid in 1967, Independence in 1977. Both Constellation and Intrepid won the America's Cup.

In 1964, Connell enlisted in the U.S. Navy, but he was temporarily released of his duties that summer to join the Constellation crew as they trained for the race.  It was a welcome respite from Officer Candidate School, as the team sailed in Narragansett Bay by day and attended glamorous parties at Newport's historic mansions almost every evening. 

After successfully defending the America's Cup, Mr. Connell returned to the U.S. Navy as a lieutenant, and was deployed to Vietnam in 1965, where he put his expert navigational skills to use as the patrol boat leader of a platoon of South Vietnamese. He returned in 1967.

In 1974, Mr. Connell, along with Robert “Doc” Magoon and Gene Lanham, shattered the Miami-New York powerboat race, completing the 1,257 mile run in 22 hours, 41 minutes – 8 hours and 46 minutes faster than the previously held record. 

Connell told Sports Illustrated at the time, “For 20 hours, you do not sleep or eat or go to the bathroom. All you do is bang, bang, bang, up and down.  You could make money at this game if you were paid by the bounce.” 

The record stood for 11 years.

Connell also competed in countless globally-recognized sailing races, including his favorite, the Bermuda Race.

“Bobby,” as his sailing buddies called him, was known for his quiet self-confidence, selfless nature, and in his own words, his ability to “make boats go fast.” 

Sports Illustrated described him as “built like a brick lighthouse,” and his sturdy frame and massive forearms made him an excellent grinder on the boats he crewed. 

“Anyone who ever sailed with Bob would want to be with him the next time around,” said Daniel “Putter” Brown, who sailed on Constellation with Connell. “He was remarkably aware of his surroundings. Before others saw that a sail was about to luff, Bob was trimming it, and when an accident was about to happen, he moved quickly to cure the problem.”

Connell was born on April 7, 1940 in Manhasset, New York, where he grew up sailing at the Port Washington Yacht Club with his older brother, Andy.  The two Connell boys won many races along the East Coast in their Lightning sloop. 

His father, Arthur Connell was the owner of Superior Steel and his mother, Loretta Jarman Connell, was a homemaker, with a soft spot for young Bob.  He attended Chaminade High School and graduated from Villanova University. 

In the late 1970s and 1980s, he co-owned Newport Offshore, a shipyard and builder of yachts, including four America's Cup 12-meter boats, Clipper, Defender, Spirit of America and Liberty.  For the past two decades, he worked as a marine surveyor for Patton Marine in Miami. Until recently, he was a longtime resident of Key Biscayne, Florida.

Connell was the devoted husband of Pamela Swan Connell; wonderful father of children, Brooke Connell (of Narragansett and New York), Tacy Connell, and stepsons David Dunn and the late Bradford Dunn; and “Pips” to four grandchildren, Lily, Kingsley, Skye and David. 

He also leaves behind brother Andy Connell and his wife, Ellen; sister, Susan Murphy; mother-in-law, Selina Hobart; daughters-in-law, Kristen Connell and Sullivan Dunn; and brothers-in-law, Kingsley Swan (of Wakefield) and Peter Swan. 

A memorial service will be held in Rhode Island this summer. In lieu of flowers, donations in Bob's memory can be made to US SAILING, either online at https://www1.ussailing.org/Membership/EnterDonation.aspx and sending an email to dancooney@ussailing.org, by phone to Bobbi Warren at (401) 683-0800 ext. 660, or by mail to US SAILING, 15 Maritime Drive, Portsmouth, RI, 02871. Please note “in memory of Bob Connell.”

We run all obits free of charge. Have one you want on the site? Send an e-mail to Narragansett@patch.com.

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