Hall of Fame

Gordon Burnes

Graduation Year


Induction Year


Hall of Fame

Harvard Athletic Achievements

3-time ICSA All-America (1986, 1987, 1989)...ICSA All-America honorable mention (1986)...4-year letterwinner

Hall of Fame

Remembering Harvard Athletics

It is an honor to be recognized by the Harvard Varsity Club, and I want to thank all those who played a role in and contributed to this achievement, my coach Mike Horn, my teammates and friends that supported me throughout my Harvard sailing career. Sailing is unique in that there are two people in the boat at all times, a skipper and a crew, and it is the crew that actually crosses the line first, so a special thanks is owed to my teammates who sailed with me, without whom there would be no recognition. During the first week of practice freshman year, one day was a windy Northwesterly, which on the Charles River means that big puffs emerge out of nowhere and land on either side of the course, destabilizing the boats trying to sail the race. You have to be nimble to stay upright and by the end of the day, the shifts were getting the better of us. One puff dropped in from Kendall Square, and we swamped, filling the boat up with water. The nterclub Dinghies we were sailing are not self-bailing, so we went to work, bailing out the murky Charles River water from our boat. We got most of the water out of the boat, and, since this was the last race of the day and we were in last place, we started to head in to the dock. Our coach Mike Horn, who somehow always managed to know what everyone was doing on the water, sped over to the side of the course where we were floundering, and yelled, “The race isn’t over. You can’t stop now!”

The Charles River delivered many opportunities to employ this mantra. Because of the buildings surrounding the basin, the wind is very shifty and what might look like a sure victory can turn into a mid-fleet finish with one random puff. So, on the Charles you really can go from last to first with a little guile and some boat speed. Sometime during that first week, Mike brought out one of his favorite books on racing tactics. Despite the fact that the book was published in 1932, a fact that left most of us incredulous, it turns out that the author Manfred Curry had figured out something important, namely that “great sailors make their own luck.” It was Mike’s way of pointing out that complaining about the shifts on the Charles wasn’t going to help you win races. He taught us to practice hard, control the things we can, and to create opportunities to take advantage of shifts in the wind. By junior year, our team was practically unbeaten on the Charles River.

Sailing is different than other sports in that two people are paired in a boat, so the teamwork between the two is critical to winning. If you’re not in sync with your crew, you can’t do well. I was lucky to have great people sail with me throughout my career. Petra Schumann ’88 was with me that first week when we swamped, and we sailed together for the next three years, improving every year as our tacks became second nature, perfectly synchronized as we moved back and forth across the boat; we were a great team. My senior year I was lucky to sail with Deb Dubin ’89, and when the breeze came on, Scott Nathan ’89 took over as my heavy air crew, and we had lots of fun blasting around the race course together. These three deserve special recognition as part of this award. Two great sailors, John Pernick ’88 and Peter Wagner ’88, are also very much part of this award as they upped our game continuously during practice and helped crack the code during regattas at different venues.

The most important part of sailing at Harvard are the friendships that I made as part of the team. Some of which are just as strong as they were 30 years ago. These friendships were forged in the late night van rides, early morning report times, intense competition and late November practices on the River when most teams were inside. We spent a lot of weekends together off campus, bonding as a team, and developing relationship with sailors from other schools. One particularly memorable trip was to the Timme Ansten Regatta in Chicago over the Thanksgiving break. After an overnight drive to Chicago, the Nathan family generously hosted the team for Thanksgiving Dinner. By the weekend, the temperature had plunged, and when we got to the venue we had to use an ice pick to dislodge the ice from the back of the boats. The wind in Belmont Harbor was a lot like the Charles, and we ended up third overall, competing against some of the best teams in the country. We took off for Cambridge at the end of the regatta on Sunday, and arrived back at our Houses early in the morning, bleary-eyed for the start of the academic week. Those experiences brought us closer together, and we still talk about how cold it was that weekend.

The Harvard sailing team is a family of sorts, and many of us have continued to race and sail together through the years. Shortly after graduation, Jim Bowers ’91 and I formed a team with Brian Keane ’83 to compete in the National Team Racing Championship, which we won together in 1989-- Mike’s training paid off well! I’ve been on many sailing adventures with Harvard sailors, and last year, team member and classmate George Eberstadt ’88 and I organized a cruise in British Columbia to celebrate our 50th birthdays together. I am forever grateful to Harvard sailing for bringing all these people into my life. This year my twin sons, Henry and Eli, now freshmen at Harvard, are sailing on the team. I wish them and their fellow sailors continued success on the water and, more importantly, I wish for them the long-standing friendships that are formed so deeply on the shifty Charles River.