On the Shoulders of Giants Page 2

In a classroom on Captiva Island in Florida, six students gather around a white board and watch their instructor draw a diagram of the points of sail. The students range in age from 30 to 70 and hail from Ireland, South Africa, Texas and New York. As their minds take in the new information, a door opens behind them. “Hi, we’re Steve and Doris Colgate!” says a grinning Doris. “Just stopping by to
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Back at the office in Ft. Myers, Doris sits at her computer and blows through a hundred or so emails. One, from a former captain reads, “Every now and then I get some gratifying correspondence from a student from my Offshore Sailing School years. I thought you two would enjoy the confirmation that the endeavors of a business that you have been guiding for so long have changed the lives of many.” She then jumps on the company website and updates the monthly specials. Steve walks in and hands Doris an idea for a new blog post. She grips it enthusiastically and says, “Post it! Do a series! That would be great!” Steve pulls a notebook out of his breast pocket to write himself a reminder.

Last September, Doris decided it was time to redo the company website. For two months, she immersed herself in website population and source engine optimization, working tirelessly, even to the point of exhaustion, to ensure that Offshore Sailing stayed competitive. She and Steve hired a public relations firm to manage their social networking and started a blog where Steve posts news and sailing tips. While many people their age find web development to be incomprehensible, Doris says, “I’m 68 years old. He’s 74. We can’t just throw in the towel. We are learning this and we are staying on it.”

Doris’s fiery ambition combined with Steve’s knowledge of sailing has been the key to their successful 42-year partnership. When they began working together, women in the business world were few and far between. In 1978, Doris had an opportunity to be a part of a federally funded group of entrepreneurial women in New York. Led by the finest entrepreneurial men of the day, these women received an MBA-like education and became part of a network of successful women who support one another to this day. “Those were some of the most brilliant women I’ve ever met,” says Doris. “The program made me who I am today.”

As her love affair with sailing deepened, Doris felt a need to reach out to more women and introduce them to the sport. “Women didn’t know what it could do for them—the empowerment, the self esteem, the places you can travel—so I wanted to show them that world,” she explains.

In 1990, she started the National Women’s Sailing Association and one year later, the Women’s Sailing Foundation, which reached out to underprivileged women to get them on the water. Doris has since resigned from both organizations, but says, “I’m happy to say they are thriving on their own.”

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Doris’s list of achievements is astounding. She was the recipient of the 2004 Leadership in Women’s Sailing from Boat U.S. magazine and the Betty Cooke Memorial Achievement Award from Boating magazine. She is listed in Who’s Who of America, Who’s Who of American Women, Who’s Who of Finance, Who’s Who in the South and Southwest and Who’s Who in American Education. She is also the author of SAILING: A Women’s Guide (2000) and coauthor of Fast Track to Cruising (2005).

Providing the perfect complement to Doris’s knack for business, Steve’s sailing resume has earned him the reputation as one of the most respected racers and instructors of his time. He has competed in two America’s Cup trials (1967 and 1970), 20 Newport-Bermuda Races, nine TransAtlantic races, eight Fastnets, the Olympics and the Pan American Games. Together with Doris, he campaigned their 54-foot ocean-racer Sleuth from 1978 to 1980. He also tackled a rounding of Cape Horn with SAIL’s editor Peter Nielsen in 2007.

Every mile Steve has sailed has helped him narrow down his idea of the perfect boat for sailing, racing and teaching. In 1996, Steve tapped into these years of experience and worked to create a boat that could replace the Soling as the ideal sailing instruction platform. “Thirty-two years of teaching went into the Colgate 26,” says Steve. “It’s a trailerable, maintenance-free daysailer, and it’s ideal for teaching beginners. It is unsinkable—we’ve tested it!—and has a low, open transom. Both features have proven beneficial to our students.”

He created the parameters for the boat and worked with marine architect Jim Taylor to design it. Since that first hull, the Colgates have sold 320 Colgate 26s, including 30 to the U.S. Naval Academy, 16 to the Coast Guard and eight to Maine Maritime, with additional fleets in Europe, the Great Lakes and Annapolis.

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Steve’s dedication to sailing instruction goes beyond the Colgate 26 and Offshore Sailing School. For 10 years, he served as president of the International Sailing School Association, an organization that helps sailing schools collaborate on how to improve the sport of sailing. “It was nice for us to come together and learn from each other,” says Steve. “ISSA is small but growing, and it’s an excellent source of networking for sailing schools.”

Steve is also a member of the New York Yacht Club, the Cruising Club of America, the Royal Ocean Racing Club and a recipient of the President’s Award from US Sailing. He is listed in Who’s Who in America and has authored or co-authored all of Offshore Sailing’s textbooks.

Together, Steve and Doris participate on national boards and committees for US Sailing, Boat U.S. and Sail America. In 1996, they shared SAIL’s Industry Award for Leadership and in 2003 US SAILING’s Timothea Larr Trophy.

Back in Fort Myers, Steve sits in his office, the walls of which are adorned with awards, photos, memorabilia from around the world and gifts from his lifetime of sailing. Above his desk is a gold Harken block honoring hull #300 of the Colgate 26. He and Doris sit across from each other and conduct business with rapid-fire banter. They analyze a recent hire’s aptitude test. They book plane tickets for Strictly Sail Chicago. They talk about their upcoming St. Lucia cruise, ways they can improve office procedures and where they’re going for dinner that night.

They seem to speak their own language, finishing one another’s sentences and understanding the other’s ideas and desires before they’re expressed. Their modesty suggests they are unaware of their giant presence in the sailing world. They are both wise veterans and enthusiastic rookies, never losing sight of what brought them here in the first place. “Sailing changed and shaped my life…our lives,” Doris explains. “We teach so we can bring that joy to other people.”

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