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2023 Cruising Club of America Awards announced, Blue Water Medal goes to Kirsten Neuschäfer

by Cruising Club of America 3 Jan 21:08 UTC
Self portrait at sea at the back of her 36-foot sloop, Minnehaha © GGR2022 / Kirsten Neuschäfer

The announcement by the Cruising Club of America (CCA) of the Blue Water Medal winner and other awards for adventurous use of the seas has taken place nearly every year since the Club was founded in 1923.

This year, recipients of five awards are announced, honoring these sailors for completing circumnavigations and other rigorous bluewater passages, as well as for exemplary innovation, contribution to the sailing community, and service to the Club itself.

Kirsten Neuschäfer, of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, receives the Blue Water Medal for 2023 in recognition of the tremendous effort, determination, and skill she exhibited during her 235-day solo circumnavigation in Minnehaha, her Cape George 36 sailboat. Out of 17 starters, she was first among only three finishers of the Golden Globe Race, which is a singlehanded race around the world that limits competitors to using sailboats and technology available when the first race was held, in 1968. As one example of her determination, while crossing the Southern Ocean, Neuschäfer spent several hours in the water below her boat, scraping sharp, speed-robbing barnacles off the bottom.

The Blue Water Medal was originated by the founding members of the Cruising Club of America (CCA) and first awarded to Alain J. Gerbault 100 years ago. It has been given almost every year since to "reward examples of meritorious seamanship and adventure upon the sea, displayed by amateur sailors of all nationalities..."

In her comprehensive preparation for the race and determined persistence throughout the eight-month marathon, Neuschäfer clearly demonstrated she belongs on the distinguished list of previous medalists including the two previous Golden Globe winners Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Jean-Luc Van Den Heede. She also takes her place alongside other solo circumnavigators including Sir Francis Chichester and Bernard Moitessier.

Max Campbell: Young Voyager Award

The CCA has named Max Campbell, of Falmouth, UK, as the recipient of the 2023 Young Voyager Award. The award recognizes "a young sailor who has made one or more exceptional voyages." Campbell set sail eight years ago, at age 20, on a 22-foot wooden sailboat. Today, despite personal disasters and Covid lockdowns, we find him halfway around the world aboard his 37-foot Swan Elixir—an accomplished sailor, writer, and social media star.

The CCA Young Voyager Award is a prestigious recognition that celebrates the spirit of adventure and seamanship. The award is given to young sailors who have demonstrated exceptional skills and courage in their voyages. Campbell's early adventuring took him across the Atlantic twice, singlehanded, and on the first trip he had a galley fire, which he barely survived.

In making the announcement of this year's winner, CCA Commodore Chris Otorowski said, "Max's achievements are a perfect example of the spirit within the CCA where we find fulfillment in 'exploring' the oceans and our own inner-limits aboard small boats at sea."

Paul Bieker: Diana Russell Award

The CCA has chosen Paul G. Bieker, of Anacortes, Washington, to receive the 2023 Diana Russell Award. This award goes to a club member in recognition of innovation in sailing design, methodology, education, training, safety, and the adventurous use of the sea, with a focus on recipients whose accomplishments deserve recognition by the CCA. The award is named for one of the first three women to join the CCA; Russell optimized designs under the IOR handicap rule for Sparkman & Stephens and later became president of the design think tank named WingSystems.

Bieker is a yacht designer and boatbuilder with a degree in naval architecture. He has 30 boat designs to his credit starting with a series of immediately successful International 14 skiffs. His development of small hydrofoils for the 14s led to being recruited to work on foil design and structures in several America's Cup campaigns optimizing IACC monohulls and semi-foiling and foiling multihulls. His efforts helped win two America's Cups (2010 and 2013), and he is now recognized as one of the world's foremost foiling-boat designers. Bieker has developed everything from surfboard foils to International Moth and 14 classes, America's Cup boat structures and foils, Sail GP's 50-foot foiling cats, and foiling powerboat and foiling ferryboat projects.

CCA Awards Chairman Steve James, said, "The CCA is proud to recognize our member, Paul Bieker. Paul's foil designs and developments are the leading edge of our sport. With them he continues to advance sailing and the adventurous use of the sea in remarkable ways."

Maxwell Fletcher: Far Horizons Award

The Cruising Club of America has chosen Maxwell A. Fletcher, of Orr's Island, Maine, as the winner of the Club's premier sailing award for a member, the Far Horizons Award for 2023. This award recognizes the sailing achievements of a member who has embarked upon a cruise or series of cruises that demonstrate the broader objectives of the Club including the adventurous use of the sea.

Fletcher has been sailing with his family since childhood, so he had his eyes set on the horizon from a young age, and with his wife Lynnie, he has made four Atlantic crossings and cruised throughout Europe. Among many adventurous passages, Fletcher made a 52-day double-handed voyage, in 1985, aboard his Westsail 32 when he sailed eastward from New Zealand, around Cape Horn, to the Falkland Islands. The trip included surviving a knockdown well past horizontal and a 60-hour stretch of hand-steering under bare poles, covering 130 miles per day.

Ralph Naranjo: Richard S. Nye Award

Ralph J. Naranjo, of Annapolis, Maryland, has been selected as the recipient of the Richard S. Nye Award for 2023 in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the Cruising Club of America and the international sailing community. The Nye Award, established in honor of the late CCA Commodore, is presented annually to an individual who has "brought distinction to the Club by meritorious service, outstanding seamanship, outstanding performance in long distance cruising or racing, or statesmanship in affairs of international yachting..."

Naranjo is well known in the yachting community for his safety-at-sea and seamanship knowledge, instruction, and leadership. He was for many years the Vanderstar Chair, supervising the sailing program for the US Naval Academy midshipmen. He is also a past chair of US Sailing's Safety and Seamanship Committee and has led countless safety-at-sea seminars. Naranjo earned his credentials in a variety of ways including sailing around the world (and writing a book about it, Wind Shadow West), and managing a full-service boatyard (another book titled Boatyards & Marinas followed). Naranjo's best-known book, The Art of Seamanship, was published in 2014 and is a go-to reference on the collective skills required of bluewater sailors.

For more on the Cruising Club of America awards, visit CCA Awards & Trophies.

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