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Maritime Men

Two U of T alumni are putting their nautical know-how to work international waters

Chris Cook, Racer
Chris Cook may be one of North America’s top-ranked competitive sailors, but don’t ask him to go for a leisurely cruise on a Sunday afternoon. “To be honest, I hate pleasure sailing. I cannot go out in a sailboat and just bob around. It’s so boring,” he says with a laugh. “But when you put 80 or 90 other boats out there, all of sudden I think, ‘Oh my God, I could beat all these guys.’ That’s when it’s exciting for me.”

Cook, a native of Whitby Ont., has been a Canadian Sailing Team member since 1998, and this September will compete to qualify for the 2004 Olympic Games. The 28-year-old has been competing seriously since he was 21, and he travels seven to eight months of the year for training and competitions. The travelling required Cook – who attends Woodsworth – to shift his studies in environmental resource management to part time.

Some of Cook’s recent achievements include a sixth-place finish in his class at the 2001 World Championship and a first at the 2001 North American Championship. Cook says this will be his second and last attempt to make the Olympic team, but he’ll never stop racing for pleasure. “It’s a lifetime sport, because it’s something that you never really master.”

Herb Hilgenberg, foul-weather friend
When Herb Hilgenberg (BASc 1962, MBA 1965) survived six days of severe storms during a Caribbean sailing adventure with his family in 1982, he had no idea that he would later help countless sailors avoid such harrowing experiences. He just knew he had to find a more reliable source of weather information, so he started to read extensively about marine forecasting and glean bits of wisdom from the navy officers he met on his travels.

In the 1980s, Hilgenberg moved to Bermuda to work as chief financial officer at a consulting firm, and his hobby grew into a full-fledged passion. Equipped with an amateur radio licence, Hilgenberg spent his evenings advising boaters on Caribbean weather conditions and became a trusted source for yachters, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. navy. In 1994 he retired to Burlington, Ont., but within a week he started to receive calls from devoted followers seeking his one-of-a-kind weather wisdom. “I went back on the air, and bang – it just took off,” he says of his seven-days-a-week, year-round volunteer work. Working out of his basement office on a marine radio, he relays individualized forecasts to up to 80 boats daily in the North Atlantic.

North American search-and-rescue crews have called on Hilgenberg countless times to find missing boats, and media outlets ranging from ABC News to the Weather Network have featured “Herb from Canada,” as he’s known in the sailing community. He’s been a consultant for major ocean races and even lectured at the U.S. Naval Academy. Yet he says the best tributes come from the sailors who tune him in during their journeys. “People will say, ‘It’s so amazing when you’re making your way through that black ocean at night and suddenly you realize you’re not alone, that there’s somebody out there you can talk to.’”

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