Valley man recalls sailing with the Kennedys

Louis P. Foster III had one thing in common with the Kennedy brothers, a love of sailing — a connection that led to short voyages with Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy and his brother, Bobby.

Now 87, Foster recalls sailing with Ted and Bobby in the early 1960s and late ’70s. Ted Kennedy died Tuesday at the age of 77.

Foster, who goes by “Papa Lou,” said his sailing ability made him many connections over the years. Reclining at his Eagle Point home, surrounded by plaques of appreciation, old photos and clippings, he reflected on the times he met the Kennedys.

Ted Kennedy, along with five other passengers, boarded Foster’s sailboat, “Contessa,” near Pearl Harbor sometime in 1979, said Foster.

Foster is a U.S. Air Force retiree, so he would occasionally get a call when the Air Force gave free boat rides to dignitaries and celebrities passing through the islands, said Foster’s daughter, Connie Foster Guthrie.

Foster recalled that during the 1979 outing, Ted Kennedy practiced a speech he was giving later that night.

“‘Hey, Skipper,’” Foster said Ted told him, “ ‘you’re listening to me practice my speech; that’s $500 a plate tonight.’ ”

“And do you know what I told him?” Foster said. “... I said my boat charters for $500, so we’re even.”

Ted Kennedy may have been on the campaign trail for president at the time, Foster said.

“I would have been very happy for him to get president; I was a Kennedy fan.”
That wasn’t the only meeting between Foster and the Kennedy brothers.

Attorney General Bobby Kennedy vacationed on Oahu in 1961 when Foster took him on the 28-foot “Harukaze,” which means “Spring Wind.” He actually gave Kennedy two rides, the first one after he plucked him from the ocean when Kennedy’s small sailboat flipped.

“Bobby Kennedy was scheduled to sail with the Navy and the Navy gave him a dinghy to sail,” Foster said.

Kennedy and a passengers aboard his small boat flipped about a mile from Foster’s boat. At that time, Foster was in the Air Force.

“(The Navy) called me and said, ‘Hey, Kennedy’s overboard in the dinghy and we don’t have a rescue boat in the water.’ ... I said ‘sure,’ so I went down and got him and brought him back.”

After the rescue, Foster said, he asked Kennedy if he wanted to “go sailin’ tomorrow with the Air Force?” and Kennedy agreed.

“We spent about four hours on the water,” Foster said, recalling Bobby as “a fun guy, he had a good personality, a really, really good guy.”

Foster described Ted Kennedy’s passing as “pretty sad.”

“I knew he was having a tough go but I didn’t know how bad it was,” he said.
Foster served in the Air Force for 20 years, during which he met his wife Anne, with whom he was married for 57 years before her death in 2003. She was a parachute rigger for the Air Force, he said.

“ ‘About our third date,’ she said, ‘The man I would marry I haven’t met yet,’ ” Foster said. “Six weeks later we were married.”

Shortly after leaving the military in 1963, Foster was summoned by film producer John Ford to play a boat skipper in the film, “In Harm’s Way,” starring Kirk Douglas and John Wayne.

In his days in Hawaii, Foster said, he met many celebrities, but he put his sailing adventures with the Kennedys at the top of his list of highlights.

“Most of my life I’ve been at the right place at the right time,” he said.

Holly Dillemuth is a reporting intern. Reach her at

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