Victor Romagna, 80, Hall of Fame yachtsman Innovator changed how boat crews performed

June 18, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Victor Romagna, one of the most famous names in America's Cup racing, whose expertise in sail setting and crew training put competitive sailing on a new tack, died Friday of cancer at his Chesapeake Harbour home in Annapolis. He was 80.

Mr. Romagna gained lasting fame with the early 12-meter yachts, which revived America's Cup competition in 1958. That year, he was foredeck boss on Columbia, which defended the cup.

In 1962, he was executive officer of the Weatherly, which won the America's Cup.

Mr. Romagna's innovations in crew training include detailed assignment lists, which combined intensive training with the expectation of high performance during racing competitions.

"We made what I call an organizational chart," he told the Capital in 1994.

"You gave a guy his jobs. You impressed upon him that these jobs he must do, that he must do them perfectly, and that he must never turn around to help somebody else because that would leave his job unfinished. Everyone has their specialty and was in movements on deck. I dedicated myself to finding ways to perform every function faster."

Mr. Romagna was known as a stern yet fair taskmaster.

"He was a very competitive racing sailor, fair but firm, and he expected his crew to give him 100 percent," said a daughter, Marion Jones, of Catonsville.

He and Emil "Bus" Mosbacher, skipper of the Weatherly, collaborated on the design of the Intrepid, which beat Australia's Dame Pattie in the 1967 America's Cup.

The pair worked closely with Sparkman & Stephens, creators of the Intrepid, whose revolutionary design is now commonly accepted in 12-meter yachts.

The two "coffee grinder" winches were placed below deck and the steering platform placed amidships. Mr. Romagna insisted on two sail hatches rather than one, and that they be moved from the center of the vessel to a position well forward for more efficient sail handling.

Mr. Romagna's usual station while racing was on a vessel's foredeck, where he gained a reputation for being one of the best spinnaker handlers in the business.

"He was also a very fine helmsman -- either you have the patience for it or you don't -- and he had it," said Jakob Isbrandtsen, who lives in Bridgeport, Conn., and began sailing with Mr. Romagna in 1940.

"He liked challenges and believe me, Vic could get the best out of a crew and a boat," said Mr. Isbrandtsen, who retired as president of American Export-Isbrandtsen Steamship Co.

Robert W. Carrick, racing journalist, wrote of Mr. Romagna: "Vic had an overall view not only of a 12-meter and its physical properties but of the emotional tolerances of the men working the boat, which he handled with a quick sense of humor and an even temper. Most sailors are eager to steer, but Romagna would rather be the best crew chief in the business."

Mr. Romagna retired from 12-meter racing after the America's Cup win in 1967, moved to Annapolis from Port Washington, N.Y., in 1980, and coached the Naval Academy's varsity-offshore sailing team for several years.

In 1994, he was inducted into the America's Cup Hall of Fame in Bristol, R.I., as only the fourth career crew member to earn that distinction. Of the Hall of Fame's other members, 14 are helmsmen and seven are designers.

He was a member of the New York Yacht Club and served as secretary during the 1980 and 1983 America's Cup races. He was also a member of the Royal Yacht Racing Association, Larchmont Yacht Club, Manhasset Bay Yacht Club, Southern Ocean Racing Conference and the prestigious Storm Trysail Club.

Mr. Romagna was born in Port Washington, where his father taught him to sail on Manhasset Bay.

He graduated from Valley Forge Military Academy and served in the Coast Guard during World War II, earning a Medal of Bravery for rescue work during the Normandy invasion.

He retired in 1981 as vice president of Ivy Hall Lithographic Co. in Great Neck, N.Y.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete.

He is survived by his wife of 48 years, the former Louise Zinzke; two other daughters, Lenore Alexander, of Annapolis, and Lisa Frappaolo, of Port Washington; a brother, Leonard Romagna, of Sun City, Fla.; and four grandchildren.

Pub Date: 6/18/98

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