An Extraordinary Sailing Life
Geoffrey Michael Ewenson died unexpectedly in Annapolis, MD on October 14, 2020 after suffering an apparent heart attack. He was 50 years old.
Geoff’s life was rich and active; full of boats, adventure, travel, music, laughter, and a global contingent of people whose lives were better for knowing him. He was a deeply experienced sailor, a talented coach and mentor, and a trusted friend. His smile, laughter, and an extraordinary ability to spread his joy will be deeply missed and never forgotten.
The oldest son of Patsy and Geoff Ewenson, Geoff was born in 1970 in New Jersey but soon moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where his mother’s large family have been an active part of community for generations. His father was a recent arrival from Melbourne, Australia.
As a boy Geoff was a regular on the docks at the Newport America’s Cups of the 1970s and into the 1980s and at every other major event that came through town. In 1980, at the age of 10, he was an unofficial mascot for Dennis Conner’s America’s Cup defender Freedom.
Geoff was constantly on the water and was an active part of the Ida Lewis Yacht Club junior sailing program. Geoff’s lifelong friend Josh Adams recalls, “Geoff was one of the most versatile youth sailors of his generation in Rhode Island, active in both dinghies and big boats.”
Geoff graduated from Tabor Academy where he was co-captain of the sailing team and received the prestigious Braitmayer Award in honor of his outstanding contribution to the sailing team. At Tabor, Geoff was twice part of the team that won the High School Team Racing National Championship. After Tabor, he attended the University of Rhode Island where he twice sailed to All American status and was a key member of URI’s successful big boat program.
“Geoff was the ultimate connector in the sailing community,” said Adams. “He kept very high standards in sportsmanship and was a role model to New England junior sailors.”
While competing in a frostbite regatta at the Severn Sailing Association in Annapolis in 1996, Geoff met Mary Iliff. Mary is a third-generation Annapolis sailor and the co-founder and publisher of SpinSheet, the Chesapeake Bay sailing magazine. The two connected instantly and formed an extraordinary bond. They were married in Annapolis in 1999 and made a home together in the city.
Mary enthusiastically supported his professional sailing career, while Geoff served as Mary’s unfailing pillar as she grew her business. Together, Mary and Geoff brought out the very best in each other and their friends in a productive, warm, and honest manner. A close friend articulates what all who knew Mary and Geoff as a couple understood: “They were always an inspiration to the rest of us as a couple. So obviously in love.”
The list of high-performing and championship-winning boats and programs Geoff contributed to is lengthy and spans multiple decades, classes, and oceans. He was a leader aboard the boats but never afraid of getting wet or, in his words, “grunty.”
Annapolis professional sailor David Flynn (and SpinSheet columnist) sailed thousands of miles with Geoff and countless regattas including the Fastnet Race, Bermuda Races, and multiple trans-Atlantics and world championships.
“Geoff had a knack for being a part of winning teams,” recalled Flynn. “What I will remember most is the sheer joy that he found on the water. He always managed to maintain his sense of humor…
“At the scary times he was great to have with you. I remember a pitch-black night in the high latitudes of the North Atlantic. ZARAFFA, Skip Sheldon’s Reichel Pugh 66 (now at the Naval Academy) was hurtling down 20-foot swells keeping just ahead of a big low-pressure system. Geoff was steering with a manic grin. As we hit 20-plus knots headed down the mine shaft pulling out at the last moment just before we augured-in, he shouted against the noise of the wind and waves, ‘Damn I love steering sailboats.’”
Geoff found equal joy racing at home with the Iliff family aboard their MUSKRAT and in local events with his sailing friends from Newport, Annapolis, and beyond. “He was without question the best sailor we ever had on our boat,” his father-in-law Charlie Iliff says. “But he was an even better family member and a better man.”
Geoff was a lifelong supporter of the sport of sailing and most eager to bring newcomers into the scene. He patiently taught countless people how to sail, he helped countless others hone skills and build confidence, and he made every boat he was aboard safer, faster, and better.
Despite his vast experience and network, there was no greater joy for Geoff than sailing with Mary aboard the Viper 640 they owned and campaigned up and down the East Coast. Geoff and Mary are longtime members of the Annapolis Yacht Club, the Eastport Yacht Club, and the Storm Trysail Club.
Geoff campaigned a Finn for a spot representing the United States in the Olympic regatta in three quadrennials. He is remembered by his many friends in the Finn community as a fierce but friendly competitor. He sailed to second place in the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2004 and in 2008.
Geoff was a multi-sport athlete and trained with his friend Harry Legum for many years. Geoff approached hockey, running, standup paddleboarding, and swimming with the same focus and energy that he brought to his sailing.
In January 2018, Geoff made headlines when he joined the rapid response and CPR efforts to aid a fellow sailor who went into full cardiac arrest on the racecourse off Annapolis. Geoff and two others shifted the sailor to shore and performed CPR until first responders arrived. The sailor survived and Geoff was honored for his role by the City of Annapolis.
Geoff valued community and, together with Mary, volunteered time and his talents to a number of organizations including Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating, the United States Naval Academy, and Athletes Serving Athletes.
Geoff is survived by his wife, Mary; his parents, Patsy and Geoff; his brother Nick, his sister Ashley; eight beloved nieces and nephews; his Labrador retrievers Angus and Malcolm; and innumerable other friends and Ewenson and Iliff family members who loved him dearly.
“He was my whole world,” his wife, Mary, said. We are all tremendously thankful he was in it.
Mary Ewenson requests that those wishing to make donations in Geoff’s memory direct them to Athletes Serving Athletes, The Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County, or any other organization that does good in the world.