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Professional sailor Geoff Ewenson, husband of SpinSheet Magazine publisher, dies at age 50

Geoff and Mary Ewenson aboard their Viper 640.
Geoff and Mary Ewenson aboard their Viper 640. (Courtesy Photo)

One of the most recognizable sailboats on the Annapolis racing scene is a Viper 640 named Terminally Pretty.

That’s because on downwind legs the billowing spinnaker carries the giant logo of SpinSheet magazine.

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Most of the time, that Viper 640 was sailed with great success by Geoff and Mary Ewenson. They were consistent podium finishers at major regattas such as Sperry Charleston Race Week, Annapolis NOOD, Bacardi Cup and many others.

Mary Ewenson has suddenly lost her husband, helmsman and best friend.

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Ewenson died last week after suffering an apparent heart attack. The renowned professional sailor was 50.

“He was my whole world,” Ewenson told friends who put together an obituary tribute.

Geoff Ewenson was raised in Newport, Rhode Island, and immediately took to the sport of sailing that is so closely associated with the city. He was a regular on the docks when Newport hosted the America’s Cup in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In 1980, at the age of 10, Ewenson was adopted as the unofficial mascot for Freedom, the America’s Cup defender led by Hall of Fame skipper Dennis Conner.

Ewenson honed his racing skills with the Ida Lewis Yacht Club junior sailing program. He attended Tabor Academy and became co-captain of the sailing team, receiving the Braitmayer Award in recognition of outstanding contributions.

“Geoff was one of the most versatile youth sailors of his generation in Rhode Island, active in both dinghies and big boats,” said Josh Adams, a lifelong friend and former Tabor Academy teammate. “Geoff was the ultimate connector in the sailing community. He kept very high standards in sportsmanship and was a role model to New England junior sailors.”

Ewenson graduated from the University of Rhode Island, where he twice earned All-American honors as a coed dinghy competitor and also led the intercollegiate sailing program’s successful big-boat program.

Ewenson met the former Mary Iliff while competing in a frostbite regatta at the Severn Sailing Association in 1996. Mary is a third-generation Annapolis sailor and co-founder of SpinSheet, a highly regarded Chesapeake Bay sailing magazine.

They connected instantly and were married just three years later, settling in Annapolis. Mary enthusiastically supported her husband’s professional sailing career, while Geoff assisted his wife in every way possible as she grew a publishing business that would add two other magazines — Prop Talk and Fish Talk.

“Mary and Geoff brought out the best in each other and in their friends. From the very start it was obvious this was a strong match. Whether it be was sailing, business, family, or service in the community, they dove in, always together and always with passion," said Dave Gendell, co-founder of SpinSheet Magazine.

Mary and Geoff Ewenson aboard their Viper 640.
Mary and Geoff Ewenson aboard their Viper 640. (Courtesy Photo)

Ewenson did whatever he could to help his wife and the rest of the SpinSheet Magazine staff. In fact, he was picking up copies of most recent edition for distribution when he was stricken on Wednesday morning.

“Although he was not on the payroll at SpinSheet, Geoff was an integral part of our team. We liked to call him our ‘fleet manager.’ More importantly, he was a consultant on racing topics, an excellent writer and boat reviewer and a calming influence on Mary,” SpinSheet editor Molly Winans said. "We at SpinSheet can’t yet imagine the world without Geoff in it.”

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Of course, Geoff and Mary were also teammates sailing their Viper 640 sport boat in major regattas up and down the East Coast. They were runner-up at the 2018 Viper 640 North American Championship in Kingston, Ontario and placed third at the 2019 World Championship in Long Beach, California.

The Ewensons were longtime members of Annapolis Yacht Club, Eastport Yacht Club and Storm Trysail Club.

Ewenson was a key crew member for a slew of high-profile big-boat racing programs competing on the grand prix circuit. He routinely served as tactician, providing strategical advice to owner-drivers such as Austin Fragomen and Skip Sheldon.

Dave Flynn, a professional with the Annapolis loft of Quantum Sail Design Group, sailed thousands of offshore miles with Ewenson in major distance races such as Newport-to-Bermuda, Annapolis-to-Newport, the Fastnet and many others.

“Geoff had a knack for being part of a winning team,” Flynn said. “What I will remember most is the sheer joy he found on the water.”

While accustomed to competing at the highest levels of the sport, Ewenson was equally comfortable crewing aboard boats owned by friends and family. Members of the Iliff family were always thrilled whenever Ewenson could join the team for a local regatta.

“Geoff was without question the best sailor we ever had on our boat,” Charlie Iliff said of his son-in-law. “But he was an even better man and family member.”

Ewenson strongly supported the Naval Academy varsity offshore sailing team, serving as a volunteer coach. He helped train midshipmen aboard the many high-performance racing vessels that are routinely donated to the Naval Academy Sailing Foundation.

Ewenson was instrumental in brokering many of the donations through his friendships with the owners. Sheldon donated the Reichel-Pugh 66 Zaraffa, while Fragomen donated the TP52 Interlodge.

Ewenson mounted three Olympic campaigns in Finn, the heavy dinghy class. He came incredibly close to reaching the Olympic Games, finishing second at the United States trials in 2004 and 2008.

While sailing was the primary pursuit, Ewenson was a multisport athlete competing recreationally in ice hockey, running, paddleboarding and swimming.

In January 2018, Ewenson made headlines when he helped save a local sailor who had gone into cardiac arrest on the racecourse. Geoff and two others moved the stricken sailor to shore and performed CPR until first responders arrived.

Ewenson was honored by the City of Annapolis for his role in the rescue, receiving special commendation from Mayor Gavin Buckley.

Geoff Ewenson - Original Credit:
Geoff Ewenson - Original Credit: (Courtesy Photo, HANDOUT)

Buckley, who had developed a friendship with the Ewensons, said he and his wife were shocked to learn of the professional sailor’s death.

“Julie and I were saddened to learn the news of the sudden passing of Annapolis professional sailor Geoff Ewenson. On behalf of my family and the residents of the City of Annapolis, we extend our deepest condolences to his widow Mary Iliff Ewenson, his family, friends, and the Annapolis sailing community,” Buckley said in a statement released by the city.

“Geoff had recently turned 50 and I know for many people, myself included, this news feels raw and painful because it doesn’t seem possible to lose such a vibrant soul at such an age."

In addition to his wife, Ewenson is survived by his parents Patsy and Geoff, brother Nick, sister Ashley, eight nieces and nephews along with his two beloved Labrador retrievers Angus and Malcolm.

Funeral arrangements have not been completed.

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