IDA Vice President Poul-Richard Høj-Jensen recalls the ‘Great Dane’ who died on 7 December 2017 aged 88
I worked for Paul Elvstrøm for 11 years from 1965. To this day, I still regard this to have been a great privilege; being part of his team shaped the rest of my life. He was such an inspiration and it would be hard to find someone as dedicated to sailing as he was. When I joined, I was engaged as the “nipper” by Hans Fogh, who together with Erik “Strit” Johansson were Paul’s crews and right hands; there were ten of us in the Company at the time. (Strit left to set up Elvstrøm France and Hans some years later went to Canada to start a loft in Toronto.) The sail loft was small, we could just about lay-out a Dragon Main on the floor. But this did not stop us building many Dragon Sails. Paul designed the sails for Aege Birk (he won 7 Dragon Gold Cups) and Ole Berntsson (Olympic Gold winner) and trained both HM King Constantine ( who also won Olympic Gold) and his sister HM Queen Sofia. At that time, all the Danish Dragon sailors were using Elvstrøm Sails; his only competitor was Eckhardt Wagner from Germany. Paul also helped Borresens with the layout and development of his Dragons.
I learned many things; for Paul there was no difference between training outside his house in Hellerup in the Finn, or sailing in a World Championships. He always gave his all in everything and very much expected the same from those around him. Hans Fogh and myself would not even think not to turn up at weekends in the Winter months; snow, ice, no matter, we had to train against him in the Finn. (No wet or dry suits in those days!) Our reward, providing we did not get too close to him, was a sauna at his home to defrost our very cold limbs and a hot chocolate served by his wife Anne.
Over the years, we started to build boats as well as sails; Finn, Soling, Hboats, Trapeze dinghy and Half Tonners. By the time I left Elvstrøm, he had 250 people working for him. Innovation, never give up and always trying for that extra bit of speed, is what I learned from him. As you can imagine, there are many stories to tell; Strit, Hans and I spent lots of time reminiscing whenever we got together; here is a story you may not have heard about:
There is no doubt that Paul was fanatical and alcohol was never allowed. However, for a Half Tonne World Champions in Marstrand, Strit smuggled a bottle of champagne on board. We won this World tittle and the champagne was duly opened and consumed; but Paul totally disapproved and did not speak to us for several hours afterward!
As has been widely reported, Paul suffered a bad mental breakdown after the 1972 Olympics; we did not see him in the Company for over a year. But it is a measure of his strength of character, that he was able to overcome his problems; he recovered and carried on racing/innovating for many years. Speaking for myself, I could not have wished for a better teacher.
Compass Point, Browns Bay, Antigua, WI
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