In an age where vast amounts of information are available with a few clicks, the subtleties of actually learning the correct way to do something are often taken for granted or even lost. Consequently, we too often rely on the work of faceless others to show us the ‘how-to’s’ in life. Luckily, there are still plenty of hands-on doers and mentors in sailing. These are the people that keep our sport thriving.

When speaking with WindCheck’s Publisher Anne Hannan about the loss of Paul Risseeuw of Ivoryton, Connecticut, who passed away in November, she made it clear that sailing lost a true doer – one who did the work of many. I did not know Paul personally, but I could tell he was a really extraordinary guy as Anne went on to describe the incredibly large contribution he left in his wake. Here are some of the things Paul did for sailing, simply because he loved it.

Paul was a formidable champion of junior sailing. From the Pettipaug Yacht Club in Essex, he led thousands of kids through junior sailing programs. He was the Eastern Connecticut Sailing Association’s Junior Advisor, coordinating regattas from Bridgeport, Connecticut to Watch Hill, Rhode Island and helping enthusiastic young racers attend regional and national championships in terms of both planning and financing. He was the first to develop hands-on powerboat training for junior sailors. “He wanted to make sure instructors knew how to handle the boats around ‘his kids,’” Anne noted. He was the Head Coach of Daniel Hand High School Sailing Team in Madison, and was US Sailing’s Area B Coordinator, representing Connecticut, New York and the U.S. Virgin Islands to ensure that young sailors are successful on a national level.

“Any one of these jobs alone would be enough to max out a person’s volunteer time, but for someone like Paul there was no limit,” said Anne. “Paul knew everyone, was a go-to guy, and was always happy to help.” I could tell that Paul garnered much respect, and it was also clear that his passing left a major void. I think people like Paul are becoming rare. Maybe they always were, because it takes a special type of person to give so much for so many; Giant, unflappable volunteers with enough passion and energy to drive entire programs.

Last week, I thought about my conversation with Anne in a somewhat unusual locale – a winery. Some friends and I have begun making wine together, or should I say we’re carrying on a tradition started by our fathers. While I suppose we’d be able to produce the wine on our own, consulting the Internet for how to choose a grape, press, rack, bottle, etc., and with trial and error, probably come up with a decent product, we didn’t have to. We’ve enjoyed great success, even with our first batch, because we could draw on the wealth of experience of those who’d done it all before.

Our dads have been making wine for years. The process is second nature and the product is second to none. We’d have been foolish to ignore the great pool of talent available to us in thinking we might do it better or more easily. Volunteering for sailing projects and events can be similar, insofar as there is a technique for each task that only seasoned and committed volunteers can pass along to ensure that the job is done correctly, on time and on budget. I hope people were paying attention when Paul did his work.

For my group, having learned the proper methods, we now are able to put our own signature on the wine we make – in some respects improving on those tried-and-true methods, but always acknowledging that the root of our success is the experience of others who made the process so easy – and fun. Paul did this for the many volunteers that will now need to follow in his wake. And, like our fathers enjoy watching their process and passion passed along in our winemaking endeavor, I am sure Paul relished watching the fruits of his labor and most especially seeing others take the best practices and the art of getting the job done. Paul helped provide opportunity to many people so that they could enjoy all of the great aspects of our sport and more importantly, enabled others to do the same.

If you’re fortunate enough to have someone willing to share expertise with you or your group, cherish the opportunity. Part of the joy of knowing how something is done is teaching others to do the same. Imagine Paul’s legacy as his knowledge is passed along from person to person and group to group. The sport of sailing will no doubt benefit.

See you on the water.

Chris Gill

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