Ray Redniss: Backbone of the sport
Published on December 7th, 2017
If you’ve raced in Western Long Island Sound or at Block Island Race Week in the past 15 years or so, you’ve heard Ray Redniss on the VHF. A lifelong Stamford, CT resident, he’s among the finest race officers on the water. A fortuitous incident that brought Ray to race management also inspired what may be the most lovingly crafted guitars in the world. Report from the November/December 2017 edition of WindCheck Magazine.
“I’m a third generation Stamfordite,” says Ray. “There’s a picture from 1948 of my mother and me in my parents’ daysailer. I wasn’t yet two, although I didn’t get into active sailing until my teens. My father taught me a lot about rigging and knots, and a healthy respect for rules.
“Although I sailed on lots of boats, the first one I owned was a Seidelmann 25 I bought with my friend Rob Panish. He, my wife Jaime and I raced it for three years before we bought a J/29.
“I’d sailed in the Vineyard Race and Stamford Denmark Friendship Race since the late ‘60s and always found those events, together with the Storm Trysail Club’s Block Island Race, several Stratford Shoal races and race weeks, the highlights of Long Island Sound.
“But in 1991, I was in a collision in the American Yacht Club Spring Series, sustaining nerve damage to my right arm and tearing the rotator cuff.
“I’ve been playing guitar since I was 13, but after that accident, I didn’t play for over a year. I was playing acoustics, but couldn’t put my arm over the body. Jaime suggested I get ‘one of those skinny guitars.’ I said, ‘Yeah, a Telecaster!’ I bought one, but the sharp radius on the body still hurt my arm. Jaime said I should get ‘the one with the sloped top.’ When I said, ‘I’m not a Strat lover’ she replied, ‘You work with wood… build yourself one!’
“I did lots of research, shopped for woods and parts, and built a Telestyle body with a Strat-style contoured top. The next thing I knew, (son) Jesse was borrowing it for practice, then a gig, and then said that if I wanted it back I had to build him one. He found a small round pendant with a silver moon on stained glass that he wanted set into the headstock. That’s when Old Moon Guitars was born!”
Unwilling to stay off the water, Ray volunteered for race committee duty at Stamford Yacht Club and Breakwater Irregulars, the Tuesday night racing club with whom he’d sailed since 1967. A Stamford YC member for 31 years, he’s served as Race Committee Chairman, Fleet Captain, and on the Board of Directors, Executive Committee and Nominating Committee.
“We’ve made great friends there, sponsored other friends, and had wonderful opportunities,” he enthuses. “I got lucky when the Storm Trysail Club moved the start of the Block Island Race to Stamford and asked me to work with Event Chair Peter Reggio.
“My goal from the start was to run races the way I would’ve liked to sail them,” says Ray, a Professional Land Surveyor whose facility with angles and vectors has given countless sailors great racecourses. He currently serves as the Storm Trysail Club’s Fleet Captain and on its Race Committee and Board of Governors. “I’ve been the Event Chair and Principal Race Officer for the Block Island Race for 15 or 16 years, a PRO at Block Island Race Week since 2003, and on an RC crew at Key West Race Week for 10 years.”
For sailors contemplating RC work, Ray counsels, “Do it! There’s a huge need for volunteers at all levels. You’ll be met with open arms! Get out with as many race officers as you can. You’ll learn something from each, and find one with whom you are comfortable. I’m not just talking PROs – I’m talking scorers, event organizers, mark boat operators, and judges. It’s a complex sport with lots of rules, but that’s part of what makes it fun and rewarding.”
A member of the International Society for the Perpetuation of Cruelty to Racing Yachtsmen (ISPCRY), Ray serves on that venerated group’s Moosehead Committee. Each fall, race committees from around the Sound attend the Moosehead Luncheon, celebrating race management blunders. “We could do an entire magazine on race committee stories!” he chuckles.
Recalling the first night out on a Bermuda Race, he says, “The crew was all on deck while the skipper was rummaging around below. He seemed to be getting more and more frantic, but refused help. After about a half-hour he came up and announced that we had a problem. What was left on the roll was all the toilet paper on board!
“I really don’t get a chance to race anymore,” says Ray, who is also Vice Chairman of the Stamford Harbor Management Commission. “I have a 23-foot Seacraft, Ragtime, that I bought from the estate of an old friend who’d recently passed. The executor of his estate, another old friend, asked if I could help evaluate the boat. I went to Stamford Landing to take a look, and instantly fell in love!”
Ray is frequently seen on Ragtime between Larchmont and Westport, often with his four grandsons. “Stone is 7, Cole is just shy of 6, Boden is 4 and Rigby is 3. My son Jesse and daughter-in-law Andrea have a house on the Saugatuck River and a 21-foot bowrider. Jaime and I have met them on Cockenoe Island, and I go fishing with the boys as often as I can.”
SoundWaters, a Stamford-based environmental organization that protects Long Island Sound through education and action, recently honored Ray as its first HarborFest Commodore. He’s a former board member of the Young Mariners Foundation, an organization dedicated to educating underserved youth. “Young Mariners and SoundWaters merged in 2016,” he explains. “The Young Mariners STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Academy operates out of the SoundWaters Harbor Center in Boccuzzi Park.”
“The best thing about sailing,” says Ray, “is the enjoyment of spending time on the water with friends and family, doing something everyone loves, and knowing you can continue to do it well into your years!”