Farewell to the Best Boat Park Buddy

Geoff Ewenson died suddenly and much too soon, and I feel completely unqualified to write about his life. After all, I was just one of his many, many casual boat park buddies. But weeks later, his loss is still clogging my brain, somehow much bigger than it should be given our passing acquaintance. So maybe writing out my own vague memories will help. And maybe the attempt to convey what he meant to me will help all you other boatpark buddies deal with your own loss, as well. Maybe.

Photo: Harry Legum

I don’t remember exactly where or when I first met Geoff. J/24 sailing in Newport? J/22 sailing in Annapolis? Finns and Europe dinghies at a Miami Olympic Classes Regatta? It was definitely in a boat park, either getting ready to go sailboat racing or cleaning up afterward. And I am absolutely sure he made the afternoon seem brighter, just with a casual remark. He was always so comfortable in his own skin, and so happy to go sailing—didn’t matter where, or what kind of boat.

As we both fundraised and power-lifted our way through our Olympic hopeful years, I learned to depend on him as a reliable oasis of great attitude—no matter where in the world we found ourselves, how cold and wet the day was going to be, or how disappointing our results were against the world’s best. While most of us got way too wrapped up in all the pesky and distracting details of campaigning, Geoff always reminded me—and so many others—just how lucky we all were, just to go sailboat racing. 

The only time I got to sail on the same boat was a personal embarrassment. Filling in for the regular bow person, I was tossed up onto the pointy end of an IMX-38 to flub my way around the buoys with a string of late spinnaker sets—and one particularly mortifying leeward mark rounding, when the only thing flying forward of the mast was the still-erect spinnaker pole. At the end of our first day, Geoff was the only one in the afterguard who came forward to help clean up; he didn’t try to pretend all those blunders hadn’t happened, but he did seem to understand I was doing my best. Which made it much easier to take in his quiet suggestions about how to do better on day two. 

After we both retired from Olympic sailing, my random glimpses of Geoff shifted to venues outside the world’s boat parks: I’d spot him at the business end of a Labrador leash, or picking up a to-go order at a favorite restaurant. I always felt better about the world after even a quick chat with him, especially if it also included his wife Mary and maybe a quick dog head pat. 

But our last conversation, only a few weeks before his death, was back in a boat park again. I was rigging up my Snipe for a weekend regatta at Severn Sailing Association in Annapolis. He stopped by to pick up a Star boat before driving to Oxford: “Where I’m going to try really, really hard to beat THIS guy,” he said, pointing to another Star sailor who was also hooking up a trailer. It was just another Friday afternoon in the all-too-short life of Geoff Ewenson; on his way to a regatta, turning a chore into an occasion to spread joy.

As we waved goodbye and wished each other luck that sunny October afternoon, I was absolutely sure that he would try his very best to beat that other sailor. But I also knew that once the race was over, he’d do his very best to help everyone else improve and share a laugh about any mistakes. If there’s an entry in the dictionary for “cooperative competitiveness,” it should be updated with a picture of Geoff. Or better yet, his logo, which has been made into stickers by some of his less casual acquaintances.

A few weeks later, I heard the news and realized: there wouldn’t ever be another casual boat park interaction somewhere around the sailing world. Geoff has sailed off to that great regatta in the sky, leaving the rest of us to work at filling such a brain-clogging loss with understanding and acceptance. So, now that I’ve cleared my head a little by sharing these few random memories, I’m going to go paste reminders of his spirit and attitude onto both the back of my tow vehicle and the front of my trailer box. In 2021 and beyond, Geoff will be with me in every boat park, at least in spirit. And I’ll try to remember all on my own just how goddamn lucky we all are, just to go sailboat racing.

22 Replies to “Farewell to the Best Boat Park Buddy”

  1. What a nice article Carol. I knew Geoff from our Etchells campaign. Geoff and Skip Dieball spent much time together. I was shocked when Skip told me the grim news. It made me very sad. As I have reflected on it , I have decided not to be sad because he has gone, but happy because I knew him. I think it’s what he would want.

  2. Carol Well said and a beautiful piece – He was very lucky to have you as a good friend – you both made each other better!

  3. Carol, this is so thoughtful and well written, and as you said, I hope it helps so many as no one can wrap their had around this loss of a guy who was the picture of health, and especially Mary putting one foot in front of the other. These are the things that will help Mary especially going forward and all his family and really close friends. You have a gift! Love the Olympic memories too!

  4. I had not seen Geoff in nearly 20 years, but I have no doubt that if I would have run into him in the boat park at any point in time, my experience would have matched your own. He was just the kind of guy that had a really big tent and was always looking to bring more people in. Do you know where to get the “EWE” stickers?

    1. Mark, I tagged you in the EWE Spirit group on FB. And here’s a link to where you can order the stickers: ewespirit.org

  5. Thanks for writing this Carol. He is so dearly missed by so many, and it is nice to see the perspective of someone who knew him casually still cognizant of what a radiant spirit he was.

  6. Carol,
    Thank you for writing your words on Geoff. I feel these writings from those who he touched even so slightly is helping all of us. We never forget loved ones, family, and friends, no matter how big or little they touched us.

  7. I only really talked to him twice but he was always around helping. Great buy, nice tribute and he will be missed by many let’s all keep his legacy going by sailing fast and helping each other. RIP Geoff, you are tacking among the stars now….

  8. Really nice writing Carol. It’s probably been 15 years since I sailed with Geoff (and Jeff J) on Dave Coppe’s J-24. I remember him as a real talent on the boat and an incredibly kind (and funny) person on and off the boat. I know he’ll be missed by all who knew him.

  9. Carol, thanks for sharing. You couldn’t have described Geoff’s joy and sportmanship any better. As a judge at the 2004 Finn Trials, Geoff in 2nd place uncharacteristically protested eventual regatta winner Kevin Hall in a contentious hearing (Geoff was right). I saw Geoff the next morning in the gym for the layday. With his wide natural smile brought up nothing about the high stakes event, nuance of our decision, just the beautiful winter Ft. Lauderdale conditions and looking forward to a relaxing day off the water. The sport and our world is a little less generous without Geoff in it. We should all take on the challenge to be that competitor giving back to others.

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