Greg Fisher, one of the most accomplished competitors in U.S. sailing history, was content with his career as a sailmaker at North Sails One Design in Annapolis, Md., and in mid-life, could have coasted comfortably into his golden years.
Name: Greg Fisher
Birthplace: Columbus, Ohio.
Occupation: Director of Sailing, College of Charleston.
Family: Wife, Jo Ann; children, Martha, 26; Kurt, 23; Bessie, 20; and Addyson, 8. (All enjoy sailing.)
Education: Ohio Wesleyan University and Miami (Ohio) University.
But when the job as director of sailing for the College of Charleston opened up, he jumped at the chance.
“I wasn’t looking to change careers at the time, but having the opportunity to be a part of this program was really special,” says Fisher, who has won 21 North American and national championships in seven different sailing classes.
“The reputation and respect the sailing program at C of C had earned was and is really amazing,” says Fisher. “Charleston also is a spectacular spot to sail. Not only do the conditions offer some of the best, most challenging sailing and racing, but the sailing community is tremendously enthusiastic and supportive of all programs.”
Since moving to Charleston in the fall of 2010, the sailing community has been singing the praises of Fisher for his outreach and willingness to share expertise.
Mike Palazzo, commodore for the Charleston Ocean Racing Association, says Fisher is a tireless promoter of sailing and making sailing accessible to more people. He noted Fisher’s willingness to give talks, provide college sailboats for races at low cost and even videotaping races and providing free advice to sailors.
“He’s not doing it to make a buck,” says Palazzo. “He’s doing it because he loves the sport and wants to get more people on the water.”
Palazzo and others say Fisher’s outreach is matched by a down-to-earth, approachable personality.
Avid local sailor Miles Martschink, a 37-year member of the Charleston Yacht Club and board member of Charleston Community Sailing, says that Fisher is a rare mix of being among the best in the sport and being a “genuinely nice person.”
Martschink says Fisher holds a lot of promise for not only building on sailing legacy at the college but expanding Charleston’s reputation nationally.
“He stepped into a good situation at the College of Charleston. (Coach) George Wood did a fantastic job of building and growing the program,” says Martschink, in reference to the college’s coach from 1976 to 2006.
“Though he’s not the coach, I think he will help maintain and fine tune the program ... I also hope he’ll put us on the map for sailing. I’ve been sailing here all my life and it’s a great place to sail, but hate to say we’re not considered a big sailing town on a national level.”
Fisher, he adds, may be the sailing ambassador that Charleston needs.
In his blood
Fisher’s destiny on the water started early In life. His father was passionate about sailing.
“My brother and I started sailing with him when we were very young, and by the time we were 6 or 7, we were hooked. Racing sailboats was a way of life for us and we, as a family, would travel to regattas almost every weekend in the season.”
By the time Fisher reached age 12, however, his father gave up sailing to let his boys, well, sail on their own. He never became an overbearing “sailing dad.”
“I look back on his commitment to our sailing and our growing in the sport and I really appreciate what he did for us,” recalls Fisher, noting that he and his brother had their own boats by the time they were 10.
“Many, including my mother, thought it was maybe a bit early and extravagant but we sure loved it and again, it created a way of life for all of us,” says Fisher. “We sailed youth events and then when we started sailing in college, he watched and supported us,”
Passion to profession
Fisher’s avocation quickly pointed him into his profession during his college years. He attended Ohio Wesleyan University, but in his senior year, transferred to Miami of Ohio, to sail on the same team as his brother.
During summers, he worked for a boat builder. After college, he moved to a hub of sailing, Newport, R.I., to work for a sailmaker.
Fisher says sailmaking became his passion. He helped open a sailmakers first franchise in 1978, shortly thereafter starting Fisher Sails. In 1991, he sold it to North Sails, the largest sailmaker in the world, and worked for the company until 2010.
Elements of sailing
His passion for the sport includes helping to clear up misconceptions about it.
“I think many people are unaware of how technical and challenging physically the racing aspect of sailing can be,” says Fisher.
“Most recognize the relaxing and comfortable cruising and day sailing aspect of the sport, which is great. That is an important part of the sport, frankly the largest part, but the racing has so many variables from boat prep and speed, crew choreography and physical stamina to understanding the wind, water and weather. There’s a lot to master.
“Actually, that is the part that is most interesting. There’s always something new to learn since the conditions are never the same. I also wish people had the opportunity to see the way of life sailing provides and how it involves families and provides opportunities for all ages”
In fact, Fisher put his knowledge on paper in a book titled “Sailboat Racing With Greg Fisher,” co-written by his physician, Tom Hubbell, and published in December 2000.
Fisher jokes the interview formatted book “never quite made the best seller list” but that he and Hubbell had fun writing it.
His new role at the college allows him to tap all of the experiences he’s learned over the years, benefiting sailing on both the collegiate and local level.
Fisher is humbled to follow in the footsteps of George Wood, who Fisher considers “a mentor to me,” and to join in the successes of the program, coached by Ward Cromwell and a relatively new assistant, Mitch Hall and dockmasters Ned Goss and Jacob Raymond.
“These guys are key to our success,” says Fisher.
“I feel best about is the tremendous quality of our team and staff we’ve been able to build and how we’re all focused on the same vision … That vision is to continue the legacy and winning ways of the varsity team, which so far Ward and Mitch have done so exceptionally well,” says Fisher.
The team has won three national championships this past couple years and draws some amazing talent to the college to sail, says Fisher.
“We also offer opportunities to kids who come to the college who aren’t fortunate enough to sail on the varsity team either for talent or size. So we started a JV club team and an offshore big boat team, both of which have been successful and together have made sailing available to over 35-40 who otherwise might have missed out on the great sailing while at the college.”
Fisher feels strongly about the college’s opportunity, or what he considers “almost a responsibility,” to help make sailing even more available to the community at a reasonable cost.
Those opportunities include joining a sailing association and offering sailing lessons, high school clinics, youth camps, racing events that encourage people at all talent levels and ages to give sailing a shot.
“With our facilities and the passionate staff we can, I hope, really help the sport continue to flourish in Charleston. Once people are hooked they can continue on with our program/association or take the next step to join some of the great sailing clubs in Charleston.
“Truly, Charleston has the opportunity to be one of the very best sailing, whether its racing or cruising, destinations in the country.”
Reach David Quick at 937-5516 or dquick@postand courier.com.
Greg Fisher (left) sailed with his wife Jo Ann (right), long-time sailing buddy Jeff Eiber and Sarah Paisley to win the 105 boat J/24 World Championships in Rochester, N.Y., in 2008.×
Truly, Charleston has the opportunity to be one of the very best sailing, whether its racing or cruising, destinations in the country. Greg Fisher, director of sailing for the College of Charleston×
Greg Fisher with wife Jo Ann and their 8-year-old daughter, Addyson.×