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On Watch - Diane Kropfl & Bill Sabanski

A shared love of sailing and a desire to help others inspired Diane Kropfl & Bill Sabanski of Highlands, NJ to help build the Ms. Race, a unique charity regatta hosted by the Atlantic Highlands Yacht Club that raises funds for an organization dedicated to ending domestic violence and sexual assault.

Diane Kropfl & Bill Sabanski“I started sailing when I was five years old,” says Diane. “My father built an 11-foot mahogany Evanston Robin from a kit in our basement, and our family sailed it on weekends. Bill and I met in our freshman year at the University of Delaware and we started sailing on a Sunfish. We went to my friend’s wedding in Cape Cod and went sailing on her Tanzer 22, and after graduation we moved to Highlands and had an apartment on Sandy Hook Bay. We inherited my father’s Robin and kept it on the beach, and we would go out sailing every weekend and occasionally during the week.” 
“I never sailed until I met Diane. I took up sailing to have something to do when it wasn’t ski season,” says Bill, the president of the Ski Bums of New Jersey ski club. “After the Robin we had a Force 5, then we owned an O’Day 22, a C&C Encounter 26, an O’Day 272, a C&C 35 and a C&C 110. We now have a Tartan 3700. She’s named Saint of Circumstance, after a song by the Grateful Dead. The joke for everyone who knows me is that I don’t actually like sailing…I just like working on boats!”

“We joined the Atlantic Highlands Yacht Club in 2000,” Diane recalls. “We originally joined for the launch service. Our boat was on a mooring, and Bill would row us out, but as the years went on it seemed more appropriate to have someone take us out on the launch. Over the years, we got involved in various activities in the club’s social program, daysailing, evening sails and the occasional cruise. In 2005, I saw that there was going to be an all-women race called the Ms. Race. I thought it would be interesting to learn how to race with other women, so I asked around and found a boat willing to take me. I didn’t know Aleen and Steve Colitz at the time, but I’ve been racing on their Tartan 3700 My Time in the Ms. Race ever since and we’re very good friends. Bill and I race on My Time on Wednesday nights, and we cruise to Maine with Aleen and Steve every summer.”

“Aleen and I are the co-chairs of the Ms. Race,” says Diane, who received the President’s Volunteer Service Award for her efforts. “The Ms. Race is about ‘Women Racing for Women,’ and every participating boat is skippered and crewed by women. We also include young women from the Atlantic Highlands Sailing Education Program on many of the boats. We’ve had sailors from seven to 80 years old, and the camaraderie is great. Last year’s Ms. Race was our biggest ever. We had 10 boats and 80 women, and the winning boat, Overlap, a Beneteau 40.7 skippered by Donna Syers, had a crew of 19! We had over 100 people at the Ms. Race Dinner and Charity Auction, and raised more than $12,000 for 180 Turning Lives Around, a non-profit organization in Monmouth County that supports women, children and families who are victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.”

“The Ms. Race committee at Atlantic Highlands Yacht Club does other events throughout the year to support 180,” says Bill. We run a community-wide garage sale to which club members donate boating equipment, and during the winter we have a comedy night at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank. I’m basically the Ms. Race promotions guy. I do the graphic art and printing, and I DJ the parties and do the video production. We hope to have the same number of boats at the 9th Annual Ms. Race on Saturday, August 17, but it’s a difficult year because Hurricane Sandy destroyed so many boats, particularly between Sandy Hook and Raritan Bay.”

“The entire Atlantic Highlands Municipal Harbor was basically wiped out by Sandy, and it’s not even functioning yet,” says Bill. “Our boat, which was at Lockwood Boat Works on Raritan Bay during Sandy, came out fine. That facility was destroyed and hundreds of boats were beat up pretty badly, but the pile of carnage stopped 40 feet from our boat. Our mast was in storage and it was completely underwater, so I’m rewiring it. There are not nearly enough repair facilities in this area to accommodate the number of boats that were damaged. Quite a few of them went to Rhode Island, Maine and other points north for repairs, and many club members are getting new boats with their insurance checks. The Atlantic Highlands Yacht Club is on the second floor of a building. The catering facility on the first floor, which is operated independently, was destroyed, but the club was mostly undamaged. The club was up and running in a relatively short period of time, and we had five boats for this year’s first Wednesday night race.”

With their busy lives (she is an executive director at AT&T and he owns a company called Top Notch Audio/TNA Industries), Diane and Bill relish what he calls the ‘quick-hit sail.’ “From our front door to the launch takes about 10 minutes,” he explains. “We can get out to our mooring, start the engine, get the sails up, sail for a while and be back in within two hours. I’m a big New York Jets fan, and Diane and I have season tickets. Both of us go to every home game, and it’s a sore point with Diane that she misses some great fall Sunday sailing to go to Jets games in September and October. If she had her way, she would not attend until the boat is hauled for the season!”


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