Ralf Steitz and his wife, Jamie Gross, seen here receiving one of their many awards for sailing.
At the annual meeting of US Sailing on Oct. 24-28 in Phoenix, AZ, Ralf Steitz, a member of Manhasset Bay YC and director of Offshore Sailing at U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, won the Timothea Larr Award, US Sailing's highest training honor. First presented in 2002, the Timothea Larr Award recognizes a person whose vision and guidance have made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of sailor education in the United States. Past recipients of the award include Susie Trotman, Steve and Doris Colgate, John Malatak, Jo Mogle, and Nancy Richardson. The organization recognized Steitz for all the effort he has put into junior sailing and the Safety at Sea Program.
Ralf Steitz' list of accomplishments are indeed impressive. He has been a member of the USMMA staff since 1995 and has a lifetime of sailing experience with top racing programs around the world. He has competed three times for the America's Cup, sailing as bowman with Team Dennis Conner. In 1995, he sailed aboard the defender, Young America in the America's Cup Finals against Team New Zealand's Black Magic. In 2000, he competed aboard AmericaOne, skippered by Paul Cayard. In addition to the America's Cup, he has regularly competed in the Newport Bermuda Race, Key West Race Week, Cowes Week, the St. Francis Big Boat Series, the Kenwood Cup, the Maxi World Cup, the Knickerbocker Cup, and the Admiral's Cup. This past year, Roy Disney, the longtime senior executive of the Walt Disney Company, and an avid sailor with several sailing speed records to his name on Pyewacket, asked Steitz to train a crew of young adults to race in the 2007 Transpac Race from Los Angeles to Hawaii on Morning Light, a TP52. In addition, Steitz has served in leadership positions aboard some of the best and most successful boats in racing, including Infinity, Gaucho, Gem, Il Moro De Venezia, Champosa, and Insatiable. He currently sails aboard John Thomson's Farr 40, Infinity.
If one has a chance to see Ralf in action, for instance, at the Intercollegiate Regatta held at the USMMA (before it was moved to Larchmont YC) one can see a coach who has an instant rapport with his students, a coach who is respected and obviously loves what he does. Speaking of the midshipmen, Ralf says, "it's very rewarding working with these guys. Ninety percent have no prior experience, no baggage. And within three years, they have gone from having no sailing skills to being able to board any boat in the world - that's pretty spectacular." He continues, "I enjoy seeing how sailing really helps them grow as a person, and giving them responsibility at a young age is terrific."
Ralf does not limit his teaching just to the academy. Everywhere he goes, Ralf is giving someone advise, how to tune boats to go faster, how to trim sails to get optimum speed. Some of the time he does "formal" presentations, such as Safety at Sea seminars, doing a chalk talk for junior sailing or at women's sailing clinics; other times it's just helping his fellow sailors get better, right out on the race course, be it during one design racing in the summer months, or frostbiting in the middle of the winter. "If the fleet gets better, that helps everyone." Ralf could be called the chamber of commerce for sailing for he promotes the sport everywhere he goes. And he demonstrates how much fun sailing is by racing weekends on Manhasset Bay in his Sonar, Puff, with his wife, Jamie Gross. Sailing is "just fun. There are so many great moments from sailing - I hope that every person has as much fun as I do. I can't live without sailing, that's for sure. Whether on an IC Dinghy, a maxi boat or a catamaran, there is always something to learn, and being in the environment, the weather, combined with all the people you meet, - that's just great."
Now that summer sailing season is over and the long-awaited frostbite season is upon us, some timely news becomes available from Vince Syracuse, chair of the Ideal 18 program at Manhasset Bay YC: On Oct. 27, at Manhasset Bay Yacht Club's decommissioning ceremonies, Vincent J. Syracuse, announced the creation of the Brakman/Schwarz Ideal 18 Perpetual Trophy. The award honors MBYC Commodores William H. Brakman Jr. and Carl A. Schwarz Jr. for their leadership in the establishment and promotion of Ideal 18 sailing on Manhasset Bay and recognizes their dedication to Ideal 18 sailing. The "Brakman/Schwarz" will be presented annually to the Ideal 18 skipper with the best overall performance in the Ideal 18 Frostbiting Championship Series. As part of the announcement, the new trophy was awarded retroactively to MBYC member Bob Kirtland for his first-place wins in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Ideal 18 frostbiting was Bill Brakman's brainchild and is now in its third year at MBYC. It represents an expansion of MBYC's highly successful Ideal 18 program. MBYC's eight boat fleet is joined by boats from other clubs. So..... all the yacht clubs on the bay are notified - bring out your Ideal 18's and hone your skills this winter. It's a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon; much better than spending time indoors with the eternal threat of that "to do" list that has been neglected all summer. Call MBYC at 767-2150 if interested. Who knows, you may be the second recipient, but Bob Kirtland will be a tough one to beat!
On Sunday evening, Nov. 4, CBS's 60 Minutes will air a piece about Tom Perkin's Maltese Falcon, his $100 million megayacht. The designers claim that Maltese Falcon, which set sail on July 14, is the largest and fastest personal sailboat in the world. She is 87.5 meters with three masts which rotate depending on the wind direction. It took five years in development to create this unique vessel and the masts have a fiber-optic sensor system that gathers data on wind speed and force and helps the sails work more efficiently. The yacht was built by Perini Navi and calls Malta her home port. And just so all of you readers get a little dose of reality, Perkins had to sell his beloved Bugatti to help fund Maltese Falcon. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with Bugatti - which includes most of us - it is one of the most exclusive car producers of all time and is legendary for producing a few of the fastest sports cars in the world). CBS 60 Minutes, 7 p.m., Nov. 4.
Mother Nature was again kind to the Fall Series, held on Oct. 13-14 and 20-21. Look for full coverage in next week's column.