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On Watch - Samantha Pilz

Samantha PilzAs the Communications Director at Oakcliff Sailing in Oyster Bay, NY, Samantha Pilz is enthusiastically spreading the word about the innovative and successful programs at one of the world’s finest sailing centers.

“I grew up in Madison, CT and started sailing at Brewer Pilots Point Marina in Westbrook when I was 10 years old,” Samantha recalls. “I never sailed Optis – I started sailing doublehanded in JY15s, which was an interesting experience. I enjoyed skippering and making decisions but I ended up crewing more often, and really learned to love being a crew. My mom and dad, Misty and Jeff, were a big influence on my sailing. We did a bareboat charter when I was 11 and bought Tenacity, a Tartan 37, a few years later.”

“After two years, I moved to Pettipaug Yacht Club in Essex and became a member of the Pettipaug 420 Race Team. We competed on the ECSA [Eastern Connecticut Sailing Association] circuit, and went to a lot of regattas. I was also the Assistant Opti Race Coach at Pettipaug. I helped sailors travel to regattas, and ended up nannying my brother Griffin and sister Casey, who were Opti sailors and eventually became 420 sailors. The Director at Pettipaug, Paul Risseeuw, was very helpful in guiding us to accomplish whatever we wanted, and he’s an all-around great guy!”

Samantha was captain of the sailing team at Daniel Hand High School in Madison. “My mom co-founded the team during my sophomore year,” she says. “The team has come really far, and it was a great experience. I spent my first semester of college at St. Mary’s, and was on the sailing team. I thought I wanted to be a teacher, but then I decided to study Communications so I transferred to Roger Williams. I was on the Coed Sailing Team and the Women’s Team. The Hawks were ranked number one nationally in my first year, and we won the Team Race National Championship that spring semester. Amanda Callahan is an awesome coach! She excels at chalk talks, she’s a great coach on the water, and her team racing and fleet racing knowledge is excellent.”

While earning a degree in Media Communications, Samantha spent her summers working as a sailing instructor. “I taught at Niantic Bay Yacht Club, Madison Beach Club, Cold Spring Harbor Beach Club, and New England Science & Sailing (NESS),” she says. “Most of the kids I taught at NESS were on financial aid, and probably wouldn’t have had a chance to sail if it wasn’t for NESS. I had an awesome time teaching those kids, and a few of them became amazing sailors!”

“I heard about Oakcliff from a co-worker at Cold Spring Harbor Beach Club, and then I saw a job posting. I have a lot of responsibilities as Communications Manager. I update our website content, I’m in charge of all the social media, I write our newsletter and all the press releases, and create media plans and press kits. Sailing has taught me so much, especially about being a team leader, and I just love Oakcliff’s mission of ‘Building American Leaders Through Sailing.’”

Oakcliff’s training programs include the Acorn program for sailors ages 15 to 18, and the Sapling program for 19- to 30-year olds. “I think what sets Oakcliff apart is that we have so many different programs,” says Samantha. “We have match racing, offshore racing and high performance sailing programs, and you can’t find that combination at any other sailing center. We focus on training and coaching, and we teach sailors how to campaign and manage a team – even down to accounting – and students learn everything they need to know about running a racing program or a marine business.”

“The Sapling program is a summer-long residence program. Students work in our boat shop from nine to five every day, learning about boat maintenance, composites, sail repair, engine work – pretty much everything that needs to be done with a boat. Saplings participate in Grade 3, 4 and 5 match racing regattas. We also host ‘clinegattas,’ which are part clinic and part regatta, with top coaches including Dave Perry. They also have an opportunity to race offshore – they did the Newport Bermuda Race this year and they’ve done the Marblehead to Halifax Race, Block Island Race, Around Long Island Regatta, and Ida Lewis Distance Race.”

“The Acorn program has three sessions. The Inshore session focuses on match racing, and the High Performance session includes four days of sailing our NACRA 17s and four days on the 49er FXs, with top coaches. The four-week Offshore session includes working in the boat shop and doing events on a variety of boats like our Farr 40s, Farr 47 and Ker 50, including the Ida Lewis, Around Long Island, and the New York Yacht Club’s Annual Cruise. Oakcliff is also a US Sailing Team Sperry Top-Sider Training Center. The National Team and the Development Team come here to train, and we host several camps throughout the year. We hosted the 49er, 49er FX and NACRA 17 Nationals in August, and having a chance to meet potential Olympians and see them racing was really neat.”

At Oakcliff’s helm is Executive Director Dawn Riley, who led an all-women team in the 1993-94 Whitbread Round the World Race and is the first woman to manage an America’s Cup campaign. “Dawn is an awesome woman!” Samantha exclaims. “She knows everything there is to know about sailing, and I’ve learned so much from her. I’ve done some match racing since I’ve been here, and I’ve always been interested in big boat sailing and I’d like to try an offshore race.”

Samantha is looking forward to sailing on Oakcliff’s fleet of classic yachts this fall, adding, “I’d love to have a Concordia yawl. They’re beautiful, and I’d like to learn how to maintain a wooden boat. I love the freedom of being on the water, and knowing that I could buy a boat and sail around the world.”


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