Published January 1, 2011
Like others who are devoted to advancing the sport of sailing, Paul Risseeuw is exceedingly modest about his accomplishments. A soft-spoken resident of Ivoryton, CT, Paul has built one of the best junior programs in the country and he’s a pioneer of hands-on powerboat instruction.
“I started sailing in high school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin around 1957,” says Paul, who earned a degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering at Webb Institute in Glen Cove, NY, and a graduate degree in Marine Engineering at the University of Michigan. “My dad was a woodworker and he, my brother and I built three Penguins in our basement. They came out fine and they still exist. I sailed on the college team at Webb, and we got into offshore sailing during the spring and fall because big boat owners in the area needed crew. Paul spent most of his career at Electric Boat in Groton, CT, holding several positions involved with the construction and design of nuclear submarines. He retired in 2006.
“My wife Mary and I sailed International 14s for a number of years,” Paul continues. “We were getting bruised all the time, so we decided we wanted something that wouldn’t bang us up and that we could have lunch on. We bought J/24 number 621 from Bob Johnstone in 1979." Having seen a Tartan Ten named Slippery When Wet with a logo inspired by that road sign (complete with skid marks), Mary and Paul wanted a similar name for their J. “We looked through books of international traffic signals, and ‘Children at Play’ looked good,” he explains. “We traced an actual sign, although we had to take the word ‘Slow’ off!”
“We did 80 races on Children at Play one year, and we still own her. My son Reynolds has a 420, and we have a Laser, two Optis, a DN iceboat that my dad and I built, a dinghy, a 15-foot Boston Whaler [soon to be named Men at Work], and an electric launch that my buddies and I are building from a hull we picked up years ago. We’re using three trolling motors that we got for nothing, but they’re not putting out as much thrust as we’d like so we might go with an inboard electric motor.”
Paul is a Past Commodore of Pettipaug Yacht Club, located on the Connecticut River in Essex, CT. “We’ve had a junior sailing program since the Fifties and I’ve been involved for years, from hiring instructors to fixing boats. When I retired, they hired me as Director of the Pettipaug Sailing Academy. I became certified by US Sailing to teach powerboating, and Sandy Sandstrom and I set up a powerboat program for adults and kids. We don’t do it in a classroom like everybody else – we put ‘em behind the wheel on the water, and they learn maneuvering, anchoring, docking and man-overboard rescue. I’ve run 480 people through the course over the years and it’s been extremely successful. I have my U.S Coast Guard license and I teach Connecticut Safe Boating courses. I’m also a US Sailing Cruising Powerboat Instructor, and I give one-on-one instruction to private clients on boats up to 40-feet.”
As a US Sailing Regional Training Coordinator, Paul sets up Level 1 and Level 2 instructor courses. Last year, he initiated a junior windsurfing program at Pettipaug. “Nevin Sayre [Junior Sailing Programs Director at Bic Sport North America] encouraged us to get windsurfing going, so we requested donations from our 350 members and got several thousand dollars. We bought four windsurfers and six rigs, and then Ned Crossley [a US Sailing certified Windsurfing Instructor Trainer] ran our instructors through a two-day windsurfing certification course. The kids start windsurfing at age eight or nine. We’ll probably buy more boards and equipment for next season It gives them something different from an Opti. They don’t just windsurf – they dive off ‘em and play ‘King of the Board’ and they all love it.”
“I wear a lotta hats,” Paul chuckles. “I’m also the Junior Sailing Chairman for ECSA [Eastern Connecticut Sailing Association, a racing organization for the waters of eastern Long Island Sound and western Rhode Island]. “I’ve done that for 15 years, and now they’ve talked me into becoming Commodore. I have a mailing list of about a hundred names at clubs up and down the shoreline, so if a kid’s looking for an instructor job I can tell them who to contact and where to get their Lifesaving, First Aid and CPR certification. I urge every ECSA club to have their instructors become Level 1 certified and take the powerboating course. Bob Cashman and I publish a junior newsletter so that everyone knows regatta dates, venues, entry fees and contact information.”
Paul is also the Head Coach of the Daniel Hand High School Sailing Team in Madison, CT. “I was recruited by Misty Pilz, a parent who co-founded the team,” he explains. “Misty’s daughter Samantha, who graduated last year, was Team Captain, and her son Griffin and daughter Casey [twins in the class of ‘13] went to the Bemis Finals last year. Maria Keogh, a Lightning sailor who has competed in the World Championship, is also coaching the Tigers. They sail out of Pettipaug and they’re doing very well.”
“Misty’s kids trained with FAST Sailing in Newport, and she decided we should have a parent-run junior team under the ECSA banner. She set up the ECSA Advanced Race Team and got Caroline and Peter Levesque to coach for five Sundays last fall at the Wadawanuck Club in Stonington. It’s been very successful, and they went to the Orange Bowl in December.”
Greeting parents when they drop off and pick up their kids at Pettipaug each day, Paul asks if their young sailors are having a good time. “The answer’s almost always ‘Yes,’” he says. “I like to see the kids’ smiling faces, and the whole thing has been fun.”