2018 Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award
Style and Substance
George Coumantaros was a highly motivated yachtsman who thrived on organizing winning ocean racing campaigns, and yet was admired by his competitors for being a thoughtful sportsman. After joining the New York Yacht Club at the age of 33 in 1955, he would build and campaign five yachts, two that were named Baccara, and three named Boomerang. One of his greatest victories was shattering the course record by — five hours — in the 1996 Bermuda Race and winning fleet honors on corrected time. He had been pursuing that victory for 40 years. Author John Rousmaniere reported that at the prize-giving after the race, Coumantaros told the assembled sailing audience, “We’ve been like Jason chasing the Golden Fleece.”
Coumantaros had a loyal crew who all raced with him as amateurs for many years. Jeff Neuberth organized a number of those domestic and international campaigns and says, “George was a great navigator. He always made sure he spent time talking with every member of the crew throughout the race. He always wanted to know what was going in the lives of his team. One of Cou’s (as the crew called him) greatest strengths was his meticulous preparation.” Other members of his long-time crew included Bob Hale, Paul Cayard, Gary Weisman, LJ Edgcomb, John Fisher and Tom Whidden.
Boomerang was always a formidable challenger and won the Maxi Yacht World Championship and the Fastnet Race. In the 1985 Maxi Worlds, Boomerang and Bill Koch’s Matador had each won three races. Matador led at the last turning mark in race seven when her mast broke. Boomerang went on to win. At that prize giving, Coumantaros was gracious, “We were really happy to win, but there will always be a question on our minds: Which is the better boat?”
Coumantaros was born in London and educated in Athens, Greece. In 1941 his father took 19-year-old George and the rest of the family to Argentina. Coumantaros moved to the United States right after the end of World War II, and started a shipping company in 1947, when he was only 25 years old. The Southern Star Shipping Company became a huge success, and continues as an important transporter of cargo to this day. Coumantaros and his wife, Sophie, have four children and 14 grandchildren and great grandchildren. His son, John, is also a passionate sailor.
In addition to his long career of successful racing, Coumantaros was a generous supporter of many sailing organizations including the USA Olympic program, many America’s Cup campaigns, junior sailing, the development of handicap rating rules and offshore safety. His legacy for gracing the oceans and helping so many others will be enduring for many years in the future.
— Gary Jobson
“We’ve been like Jason chasing the Golden Fleece… I’d like to give all who sail for the Lighthouse Trophy some advice: don’t despair, keep trying, and if you don’t win it by the time you are 75, withdraw.”
— George Coumantaros, upon winning the Bermuda Race in 1996 on his 23rd attempt at the age of 72.
Links of Interest:
Video: February 9, 2017 Memorial Service for George S. Coumantaros (YouTube):