Kirsten Neuschäfer Named CCA 2023 Blue Water Medal Winner

The Cruising Club of America’s annual awards included the iconic Blue Water Medal, first awarded 100 years ago, plus other recognition for adventurous use of the sea.
Kirsten Neuschäfer on her Cape George 36
Blue Water Medal winner Kirsten Neuschäfer was recognized for her effort, determination and skill in her 235-day solo circumnavigation in her Cape George 36 sailboat. Courtesy Kirsten Neuschäfer

In its annual affair, the Cruising Club of America has announced the recipients of five awards honoring sailors for completing circumnavigations and other rigorous bluewater passages, as well as for exemplary innovation, contribution to the sailing community, and service to the club itself. Headlining this year’s winners list is Kirsten Neuschäfer, who sailed into the record books in her victory in the 2022-23 Golden Globe solo round-the-world race. She became the first woman to complete the Golden Globe Race; the first woman to win it; the first South African sailor to win a nonstop, unassisted round-the-world event; and the first woman to win any round-the-world race, including solo and fully crewed races, nonstop or with stops. The Blue Water Medal winner and other awards for adventurous use of the seas has taken place nearly every year since the CCA was founded in 1923. Here are this year’s award recipients.    

Blue Water Medal: Kirsten Neuschäfer

Kirsten Neuschäfer of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, received the Blue Water Medal for 2023 in recognition of the tremendous effort, determination and skill she exhibited during her 235-day solo circumnavigation in Minnehaha, her Cape George 36 sailboat. Out of 17 starters, she was first among only three finishers of the Golden Globe Race, which is a singlehanded race around the world that limits competitors to using sailboats and technology available when the first race was held in 1968. As one example of her determination, while crossing the Southern Ocean, Neuschäfer spent several hours in the water below her boat, scraping sharp, speed-robbing barnacles off the bottom.   

The Blue Water Medal was originated by the founding members of the Cruising Club of America and first awarded to Alain J. Gerbault 100 years ago. It has been given almost every year since to “reward examples of meritorious seamanship and adventure upon the sea, displayed by amateur sailors of all nationalities…” 

In her comprehensive preparation for the race and determined persistence throughout the eight-month marathon, Neuschäfer clearly demonstrated she belongs on the distinguished list of previous medalists including the two previous Golden Globe winners Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Jean-Luc Van Den Heede. She also takes her place alongside other solo circumnavigators including Sir Francis Chichester and Bernard Moitessier.      

Young Voyager Award: Max Campbell

Max Campbell
Campbell—who set sail eight years ago, at age 20, on a 22-foot wooden sailboat—today is an accomplished sailor, writer and social media star. Courtesy Max Campbell

The CCA named Max Campbell, of Falmouth, UK, as the recipient of the 2023 Young Voyager Award. The award recognizes “a young sailor who has made one or more exceptional voyages.” Campbell set sail eight years ago, at age 20, on a 22-foot wooden sailboat. Today, halfway around the world aboard his 37-foot Swan Elixir, he’s an accomplished sailor, writer and social media star. 

The CCA Young Voyager Award is a prestigious recognition that celebrates the spirit of adventure and seamanship. The award is historically given to young sailors who have demonstrated exceptional skills and courage in their voyages. Campbell’s early adventuring took him across the Atlantic twice, singlehanded, and on the first trip he had a galley fire, which he barely survived. In announcing this year’s winner, CCA Commodore Chris Otorowski said, “Max’s achievements are a perfect example of the spirit within the CCA where we find fulfillment in ‘exploring’ the oceans and our own inner limits aboard small boats at sea.”     

Diana Russell Award: Paul Bieker

Paul Bieker
Paul Bieker is a yacht designer and boatbuilder with a degree in naval architecture and 30 boat designs to his credit. Stephen Matera

The CCA named Paul G. Bieker, of Anacortes, Washington, as the recipient of the 2023 Diana Russell Award. The award goes to a club member in recognition of innovation in sailing design, methodology, education, training, safety and the adventurous use of the sea, with a focus on recipients whose accomplishments deserve recognition by the CCA. The award is named for one of the first three women to join the CCA—Diana Russell optimized designs under the IOR handicap rule for Sparkman & Stephens and later became president of the design think tank named WingSystems.   

Bieker is a yacht designer and boatbuilder with a degree in naval architecture. He has 30 boat designs to his credit starting with a series of immediately successful International 14 skiffs. His development of small hydrofoils for the 14s led to being recruited to work on foil design and structures in several America’s Cup campaigns optimizing IACC monohulls, and semi-foiling and foiling multihulls. His efforts helped win two America’s Cups (2010 and 2013), and he is now recognized as one of the world’s foremost foiling-boat designers. Bieker has developed everything from surfboard foils to International Moth and 14 classes, America’s Cup boat structures and foils, Sail GP’s 50-foot foiling cats, and foiling powerboat and foiling ferryboat projects.   

CCA Awards Chairman Steve James, said, “The CCA is proud to recognize our member, Paul Bieker. Paul’s foil designs and developments are the leading edge of our sport. With them he continues to advance sailing and the adventurous use of the sea in remarkable ways.”    

Far Horizons Award: Maxwell Fletcher

Maxwell Fletcher
Far Horizons Award winner Max Fletcher has been sailing with his family since childhood. Courtesy Maxwell Fletcher

The CCA chose Maxwell A. Fletcher, of Orr’s Island, Maine, to be the winner of the club’s premier sailing award for a member for 2023: The Far Horizons Award recognizes the sailing achievements of a member who has embarked upon a cruise or series of cruises that demonstrate the broader objectives of the club including the adventurous use of the sea.   

Fletcher has been sailing with his family since childhood, so he had his eyes set on the horizon from a young age, and with his wife, Lynnie, he has made four Atlantic crossings and cruised throughout Europe. Among many adventurous passages, Fletcher made a 52-day double-handed voyage in 1985 aboard his Westsail 32 when he sailed eastward from New Zealand, around Cape Horn, to the Falkland Islands. The trip included surviving a knockdown well past horizontal and a 60-hour stretch of hand-steering under bare poles, covering 130 miles per day.      

Richard S. Nye Award: Ralph Naranjo

Ralph Naranjo
Ralph Naranjo earned the Richard S. Nye Award for his outstanding contributions to the CCA and the international sailing community. Courtesy Ralph Naranjo

Ralph J. Naranjo, of Annapolis, Maryland, was selected as the recipient of the Richard S. Nye Award for 2023 in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the CCA and the international sailing community. The Nye Award, established in honor of the late CCA Commodore, is presented annually to an individual who has “brought distinction to the club by meritorious service, outstanding seamanship, outstanding performance in long distance cruising or racing, or statesmanship in affairs of international yachting…”   
Naranjo is well known in the yachting community for his safety-at-sea and seamanship knowledge, instruction and leadership. He was for many years the Vanderstar Chair, supervising the sailing program for the US Naval Academy midshipmen. He is also a past chair of US Sailing’s Safety and Seamanship Committee and has led countless safety-at-sea seminars. Naranjo earned his credentials in a variety of ways including sailing around the world (and writing a book about it: Wind Shadow West), and managing a full-service boatyard (another book titled Boatyards & Marinas followed). Naranjo’s best-known book, The Art of Seamanship, was published in 2014 and is a go-to reference on the collective skills required of bluewater sailors.