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John Channon passes away

by Crispin Read Wilson 6 Feb 2018 02:55 PST
John Channon © Archive

John Channon, sailmaker and yachtsman, formerly MD of Hood Sails UK, passed away on 12th January aged 66. Generations of yachties will remember him as an unfailingly cheerful and helpful man with a winning smile and a huge reservoir of knowledge about sail technology.

I remember John as one of the nicest guys I ever sailed with. We first met on Peter Whipp's Panda in 1983, on which he was the principal genoa and spinnaker trimmer. Also on Panda was John's great friend Mike Stone (aka "Stumpy"), and the two of them bought for a song a J24 which had sunk off Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour. For two years we campaigned Jitterbug with considerable success, winning the Round the Island race in 1984 (a nose in front of a young Jim Macgregor), coming 3rd in the UK Nationals and 15th in the Worlds in Poole Bay in 1985. It was one of the happiest crews I have ever been a member of, and much of the credit for this must go to John.

John started as an apprentice sailmaker at Hood Sails in Lymington in 1967, and learnt his trade the traditional way, working his way up to become Sales Manager in 1983 and then Managing Director of the Hood Lymington loft in 1990. On this journey John was involved in building all types of different sails from dinghies to super yachts, from cruising to racing sails.

John's sailing CV includes a roll-call of famous yachts through three decades: aged 19, he was on Ted Heath's Morning Cloud, coming second in the Round the Island race. Later, John was involved in numerous Admiral's Cup and World Championship campaigns. Highlights included 2nd in the 1974 One Ton Cup on George Stead's High Tension, and winning the Gold Roman Bowl helming Stephen James' Oyster 41 Jacobite in 1989.

Other yachts and super yachts that John was involved with included Matchmaker, Tony Smith's Smiffy, Mike Jackson's Boadicea, George Stead's Contension and Super Tension, Mike Richardson's Nenno, and Tony Bullimore's Apricot as well as a host of others: Poppy, More Opposition, Golden Apple, Golden Leigh, Golden Delicious, Borsalino, Sanjola II, Assiduous, the Royal Huisman Diamond for Ever, the 1990 Camper & Nicholson built super yacht Georgiana, and many others.

John was involved with building sails for Sir Chay Blyth's 1992/3 British Steel Challenge, and the BT Global Challenges 1996/7 and 2000/1. This was a contract John devoted many hours of his time to and about which he was extremely passionate.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, in 2001 John, his wife Jill and Colin Appleyard started Bamar UK – a Sailing Hardware Company which supplied furlers to the 75m sailing sloop Mirabella. After John left Hoods in 2003 he and Jill started Channon Sails, providing the marine industry with a product that offered affordability without compromising quality by building sails using Far East construction.

In 2009 John suffered a catastrophic stroke leaving him paralysed down his right side and unable to talk, which meant he was unable to be involved in his two businesses. But to his huge credit John never lost his sense of humour. Despite it all, he still enjoyed getting outdoors and making trips to the cliff tops in his electric wheel chair with Jill, making the most of his days.

He leaves his wife Jill, who was also his endlessly loving and patient carer after his stroke, and his two daughters Jeneen and Joanne.

Tony Bertram writes: How generous of spirit John could be in the work place. He had a knowledge, a talent and a drive few people possess.

I first met John in 1974 when I got the chance to sail on Matchmaker, a Swan 44 from Poole. I flew up from Jersey to do a Channel race. John already had sailed on this yacht, as he had done with almost every yacht of that era.

Around 1975, George Stead was having High Tension delivered back from a regatta by two young Cornish men. As the breeze freshened when they entered Poole Bay the crew found themselves stuck with the spinnaker up; luckily George and John had gone out to meet them in a launch and John leapt aboard to take down the spinnaker.

In 1979 I was working for the Swiss sailor Norbert Beger and the subject of boats and sails topped the list. At the time McWilliam sails was a thorn in the sides of Hood and North; both Norbert and I liked their approach, but they were lacking a special ingredient - John Channon. So keen was I to have John aboard I talked Norbert around to choosing Hood sails. That season ended with the notoriously stormy Fastnet. It was cold, dark, and very windy when we went forward to go to the storm jib; it was comforting to have John with me on the foredeck that memorable night.

We were always on the same wavelength where the sea and sailing was concerned. John was always a positive force for sailing and when I moved to the UK John immediately supported me. After the 79 Fastnet, when a job at Hoods came up, he pushed my name relentlessly until I got the job.

After I left Hood we never lost touch and when our respective companies tendered for work with Sir Chay Blyth's Challenges John and I worked together without ever a cross word, just a desire to do the best we could.

And on and on where his knowledge and honesty directed him. His work with companies like Oyster Marine and the Challenge business over so many years showed the depths of his ability. Everything he did reflected his great love of the sea and his desire to give the best.

During the early years at Hood there was still a desire to have Hood sails from Marblehead but, due largely to people like Peter Dove and John Channon, the Lymington loft grew to be the jewel in the crown of Hood Sailmakers Inc (much to the US's annoyance).

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