Our Team


Ralf Steitz

Ralf Steitz

President

Ralf brings to the foundation his 15 years professional experience as director of offshore sailing activities at US Merchant Marine Academy, and a combination of over 40 years of combined sailing and boat handling experience. He is active and well known throughout the sailing world, having participated in such events as the America’s Cup, Transatlantic/Transpacific ocean races, Maxi worlds, Farr 40 Worlds.

He brings the same passion that made him a great sailor to the teaching and training of people of all ages about sailing and seamanship. Ralf has always been a strong supporter of the sailing foundation, and has been actively involved with the program since its creation in 1995.

Ralf is also active as a member on the Safety at Sea Committee for the Storm Trysail Club in Larchmont, member of US Sailing and Storm Trysail Club. Ralf has been the recipient of numerous awards for his efforts to promote the sport of sailing including the OWEN C. TORREY award for outstanding service, Timothea LARR award for his lifelong contribution towards the advancement of sailor education, training, and safety.

Mobile: 516.423.6422

Office: 516.204.7860

ralfsteitz@gmail.com

Skype: rsteitz.usmmasf

Ben Poucher

Ben Poucher

USMMA Sailing Foundation Assistant Director & Director of The Warrior Sailing Program

Ben Poucher currently works as the Warrior Sailing Program’s director and as the assistant director of the USMMA Sailing Foundation. His role within the not-for-profit foundation is vessel acquisition and program management. Ben Poucher brings a decade of experience from the marine industry; professional racing program management, professional level racing, private yacht management, and coaching Paralympic campaigns. Ben worked extensively with boat modifications and coaching throughout his eight years working with disabled sailors. Originally from Michigan, Ben graduated from the College of Charleston in 2005, and now resides in Tavernier, FL.

Larry Larsen

Treasurer

Larry Larsen brings 40+ years of CPA experience to the Sailing Foundation.  He manages all of the financial records.  Larry has been instrumental in establishing and maintaining the foundation’s perfect track record of transactions since the foundation’s creation.  Contact Larry with any questions regarding financial recording and specific financial donation questions.  larry@usmmasailing.org

Jennifer French

Jennifer French

Development Officer

Jen is a quadriplegic due to a snowboarding accident in 1998. She has been an avid sailor before and after her accident.French is an 8-time recipient of the Milan-Gruson Award given to the top disabled female helmsperson. She is a silver medalist representing Team USA at the 2012 Paralympic Games in the sport of sailing and has been awarded 2012 Rolex Yachtwoman of the Year; the first woman with a disability to do so. She is also Executive Director of Neurotech Network and author of several books and publications, and public speaker.

Jonathan Kabak

Jonathan Kabak

Director of Marine Operations

Captain Jonathan Kabak comes to the USMMA Sailing Foundation with a 20 plus year career in the maritime industry, aboard yachts, Tall Ships, and commercial vessels, both power and sail. Prior to joining the Foundation, he served as the Director of Sail Training at the United States Merchant Marine Academy, where he developed their sail training program and coordinated the Academy’s SOLAS curriculum. Jonathan brings a wealth of experience in both underway operations and shipyard project management to his role at the Foundation, where he is responsible for logistics, crewing, vessel assessment, and new project development.

Jonathan holds a 1600/3000ton Ocean Master’s License for Steam, Motor and Auxiliary Sail Vessels. He is a graduate of Franklin Pierce College with a BA in History, with concentration in Education. In addition to marine operations, he has an extensive background in maritime education and safety training, as well as historic ship preservation. He serves on the Board of Directors for Tall Ships America’s Ship and is Chair of their Ship Operations and Safety Committee. A native of New York City, Jonathan grew up in Manhattan and currently resides in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter.

Vessel Support Team and Graduates


Ben Bardwell

Ben Bardwell

Briefly describe your sailing or boat maintenance expertise.

14 Years in the sailing Industry as first a sailmaker, then a boat captain, and finally the last seven years as a pro sailer, 2 first to finish Newport Bermuda Race, Barn Door Trophy, Overall Wins in Halifax, Vineyard, BI Race, Course record in the Vineyard Race, 2 IRC NA champs, Multiple wins at Key West Race Week, Win at BIRW, Win at St Barths Bucket, Extensive Racing on everything from M-32 Cats, TP- 52s, 100 footers, J-Class, Superyachts

A quote about the foundation.

Working with the kids from KP gives you hope for the future.

One highlight about your experience with the foundation.

Seeing several generations of kids from the Academy grow up and take on the world and then come back and go sailing with us again.

Charlie Enright

Charlie Enright

Briefly describe your sailing or boat maintenance expertise.

Skipper – Team Alvimedica – Volvo Ocean Race

A quote about the foundation.

The USMMA sailing foundation is one of the only platforms for opportunity for young folks in the US sailing community and Ralf is leading the charge, his efforts should not be overlooked.

One highlight about your experience with the foundation.

The foundation helped give us our start. It was probably the most influential part of our personal “foundation.”

Tim Fetsch

Tim Fetsch

Briefly describe your sailing or boat maintenance expertise.

Race boat captain for 10+ years. USCG 100 ton license.

A quote about the foundation.

It’s all going to work out…..

One highlight about your experience with the foundation.

The Icarus Campaign. Too many stories to tell…

Jesse Fielding & Ralf Steitz

Jesse Fielding

Briefly describe your sailing or boat maintenance expertise.

I have had the pleasure of sailing many off shore miles with the Foundation. I provide general support for any of Ralf’s endeavors he needs a hand with. I have learned a lot from Ralf over the years in the areas of maintenance, logistics and team operations.

A quote about the foundation.

I owe my career to many people and organizations but none as much as Ralf Steitz and the foundation.

One highlight about your experience with the foundation.

The ultimate purpose of the Foundation is to support and grow the sport by teaching and educating. The foundation has provided countless opportunities for many young sailors. My personal highlight is the 2011 Trans-Atlantic challenge onboard the Vanquish, with the All American Offshore Team the foundation supported.

Joseph Messere

Joseph Messere

Briefly describe your sailing or boat maintenance expertise.

I’m an marine engineer licensed for ships and machinery of unlimited horsepower. I’ve even built the world’s most advanced oil rigs and worked on submarine nuclear power reactors for a few years. I’ve sailed as Chief Engineer for the Foundation’s vessels and performed maintenance, delivery and boat prep.

A quote about the foundation.

Ralf and his foundation have fundamentally changed my life and continue to do so every year.

One highlight about your experience with the foundation.

Ralf Steitz and the Sailing Foundation are the reason I started sailing in the first place and the reason that sailing and boats has remained such a defining part of my life and career. I met Ralf when he was a coach at the US Merchant Marine Academy and I was touring the Academy trying to figure out what was in store for my future. With his death grip handshake and ear to ear grin he proceeded to draw me in to sailing like it was crack and I was already late to my addiction. Turns out he was right. The Foundation has allowed me to race boats I could never afford against teams I could only dream to sail against, to sail on a Volvo boat, teach younger sailors, and now to help other veterans cope with their struggles while quietly healing my own. Ralf and his foundation have fundamentally changed my life and continue to do so every year.

Mark Towill

Mark Towill

Briefly describe your sailing or boat maintenance expertise.

I have been sailing since I was 8 years old… dinghies, highschool, college, and then one design inshore and offshore racing. I started offshore racing with the Morning Light project, where Ralf was one of our coaches, and have recently competed in the Volvo Ocean Race.

A quote about the foundation.

The USMMA Sailing Foundation does a fantastic job creating opportunities to experience high levels of sailboat racing and while fostering opportunities for personal growth.

One highlight about your experience with the foundation.

The USMMA Sailing Foundation has been a wonderful resource and opportunity creator for many years. In 2011, I helped organize the Oakcliff All American Offshore Team that the foundation was an integral supporter of. Ralf and his organization provided us with a boat, infrastructure, financial support, and high level coaching that was pivotal in making the program a reality. Our success in the Transatlantic and Fastnet races got the attention of the VOR organization and was ultimately what got us in the door leading to doing the 2014-15 VOR.

Chris Gasiorek

Chris Gasiorek

Briefly describe your sailing or boat maintenance expertise.

USCG Unlimited Tonnage Master, USCG 500 Ton Auxiliary Sail Master, USCG QMED, Electrician, Pumpman, Junior Engineer, USCG Unlimited Tonnage First Class Pilot, Great Lakes and Lower Mississippi River

Sailing Highlights
1995 Maxi World Championship aboard Sagamore, 2011 Pineapple Cup winner aboard Genuine Risk, 2005 Jamaica Race Record aboard Titan XIV, 7 Newport to Bermuda Races

Captain of various racing and cruising yachts and commercial vessels worldwide.

A quote about the foundation.

High Risk, High Reward

One highlight about your experience with the foundation.

The Highlight of serving as Captain aboard many Foundation Vessels with countless midshipmen and guests aboard over many years has been to see the profound affect that sailing on these vessels has had on so many people.  Weather sailing for an hour or for years, just a little bit of the skill, responsibility, self sufficiency, and leadership required to make some of these vessels go can change a persons perspective on all things and making them see the world through the eyes of a mariner.