The passing of Lou Varney is yet another taken from the sailing community way too soon. Hearing the news, a sadness descended, for Lou was a one of a kind – generous, cool as ice, a font of knowledge and wisdom, a gentleman and one of the finest sailors that came through that 1980’s and 1990’s scene with a first-class reputation of excellence around grand prix yachting. He was a friend to me and I’ll miss those casual chats on Cowes High Street where we’d stop, shoot the breeze and simply talk sailing. He always had a hint. He always had an insight and he was always generous with his knowledge.
Occasionally, and on one memorable occasion in particular, I had a rivet gun and sika-flex in my hand, a bundle of Harken bits and half ideas about a new hot-headed system that I was deigning to fit – Lou recognised a rank amateur in full flight but gave a calming view, a reasoned view and then took the time to stroll, panther-like down to my boat with his laconic gait. Solutions were found. They still work beautifully today.
Back in the day our paths crossed professionally at Harken with his business, Diverse, being the go-to place for everyone and anyone serious about competing. His reputation was peerless in the pro ranks and the service culture he instilled ensured excellence, innovation and professionalism. I’ll always remember those boat shows in London and Southampton in the early noughties when Lou would be on the stand and legends would sidle up for a chat and a gossip. He was THE man.
On the water Lou was a genius. I sailed with him a couple of times out of Lymington and it was an absolute pleasure. Things happened when Lou was onboard that didn’t happen at other times. Spinnaker drops were smoother than silk. Sheets ran. Mains came in, outhauls got tweaked, cunningham’s were eased and he had an eye for the bigger picture on the racecourse that was impressive. Commands were to the point but always measured. I learned a lot about how to do it properly on those sails and it all made so much sense. We’ll miss Lou.
Beautiful words have been written by the Diverse Team, those closest to Lou, and you’ll forgive me for posting them in full. I think they’ve said it all, probably better than any can:
It is with great sadness that we share the news of Lou Varney’s passing yesterday. To all those that knew him he was truly a legend of our sport and will be greatly missed by his many friends with whom he sailed and worked with through the years.
A passionate and talented sailor, Lou’s career transcended generations. On the water he was equally at home steering the IOR Maxi Matador 2, complete with his famous moustache, as he was (in more recent years) trimming the main on Mini Maxis and TP52’s. Lou was competitive, fun and forever generous with both his time and energy. At his happiest helping people on and off the water. Fondly known by so many around the world as ‘Uncle Lou’ his long and successful sailing career showed many the way to be a professional sailor whilst making sure you had a good time doing it too!
In business Lou co-founded Diverse back in 1983 and stood at the helm for nearly 30 years. Over this time his creativity, enthusiasm and passion led to Diverse being truly that. His work spanned everything from building rigs, to developing marine load cells, to continually pushing forward the development of race boat hardware. Where something didn’t exist to do the job onboard he was more than happy to invent it! He is probably deserving of much more credit than his modesty would have ever allowed having helped to develop many of the things that we now take for granted on the race boats we sail today.
Over the years many, many people passed through the doors of Diverse. Lou was always happy to give young people a go. For more than a few of us working with Lou at Diverse was a vital stepping stone towards a career as a professional sailor. To those he worked with he was both a friend and a mentor. Hard work was always followed by lots of laughter. His feedback could sometimes be blunt but it was never without humour. His humility and work ethic served as an example for us all.
So many of the Diverse family, both past and present, have enjoyed success as part of the team he spent so much of his time helping to create. The fact that many of us now swell the ranks of Americas Cup, Ocean Race and Grand Prix race teams all over the world is a fitting legacy to great man. He will be sadly missed by all that knew him, however we are lucky he leaves us with so many great memories and more than a good story, or two!
Sail on Lou.