Capt. Ray Wichmann

By April Thygeson

This
last Sunday a student named Rich Guttchen returned to OCSC after learning to sail here twenty years ago. Though his studies here had enabled him to enjoy a decade of sailing, it had been ten years since he’d spent any significant time on the water. Captain Ray had been his instructor twenty years ago, so it was fitting that Captain Ray would be his instructor once again for his review last Sunday. Would he remember how to rig the J/24? What if the outboard motor died in the fairway? But what concerned Rich most was the dreaded Man Overboard procedure. Would he remember the sequence of detailed steps under Captain Ray’s watchful eye?
As
anyone who has been on a boat with Captain Ray knows, he is a scrupulous skipper with a penchant for precision. Given that, it might not surprise one to learn that pre-OCSC he fixed computers for the Navy. This was in the 60s, when computers were four times the size of our clubroom.
It
may, however, surprise one to learn that upon returning to the states in the late 60s after a stint in Vietnam, Captain Ray lived in the Haight district of San Francisco and worked at the Free Store, where everything was free, including the bowl of money on the counter. In the next few years he would hitchhike across the U.S. five times, exploring National Parks like Big Sur with only a backpack, and live as a candlemaker in Monterey before meeting a girl named Sandy and following her to the enchanted Hawaiian island of Kauai.

When
that relationship fizzled, Captain Ray knew he needed to leave Kauai. It was sort of Sandy’s turf, as her uncle was the mayor of the island, but he wasn’t ready to leave Hawaii just yet. He made his way over to Kona, which was lucky for us, because that’s where he learned to sail.
At
age 30, Captain Ray became a Captain. He skippered Kahlua, a 26 foot double outrigger backyard special made by a man named Beans Beans, for a Kona tourist enterprise called Pacific Sail & Snorkel. The small beach near the Kona pier, where the IronMan triathalon now begins, was his office. Captain Ray’s commute every morning required swimming out to Kahlua at anchor and beaching her to pick up their guests. It was an idyllic life. The running joke was that you could have Kahua anyway you wanted but on the rocks.
But
Captain Ray is a serious man, and eventually the Mellowest Place on Earth grew tiresome. By this time he had a 100 ton Master’s license, and he knew he needed to put it to better use. From a 26ft outrigger he moved to a 112ft Schooner called Manutea, owned by a wealthy hippie who envisioned bring technology to the poor benighted people of the South Pacific. It was a great gig until Captain Ray discovered that said Wealthy Hippie had run out on a yard bill in Samoa. Being a man of principle, Captain Ray quit and sought employment with more ethical establishments.
The
University of Hawaii hired him to skipper a boat for the Blue Water Marine Lab, a program where college students taught high school students how to teach a middle school marine science class. Captain Ray got his first taste of how rewarding teaching is. But the years he spent on a 46ft cutter doing inter-island charters in Hawaii was his best training for boat management. Every channel crossing was an ocean passage, and short ocean passages at that, making boat preparation and arrival regularities.
When
his time in the Pacific came to an end, Captain Ray returned home to visit his parents in New York. They were aging, and it was clear his father would need a hip replacement in the spring. As his mother didn’t drive, Captain Ray assured his parents he come back to New York to help out after his father’s surgery. He went back to San Francisco for a visit and happened to pick up a copy of Latitude 38, where he saw an ad for a sailing instructor position. He set up an interview with Rich and came down to look at the fleet before their meeting thinking if he didn’t like the condition of the boats he would can the interview. The fleet looked good to Captain Ray and Captain Ray looked good to Anthony and Rich, so he accepted a position here at OCSC. But he still had to return to New York for his father’s surgery, and when he forewarned Anthony of his impending absence, Anthony replied, “Family is important, Ray. It’s the honorable thing to do.” Captain Ray knew then that he had landed in the right place.
Honor
and integrity are important to him. Captain Ray considers it an honor to teach others, and he takes his work seriously. While sailing is a recreational sport, it is also serious business. He summed up his philosophy on the subject for me recently, “As a sailing instructor, it is not my job to teach students how to cut corners. It is my job to show them exactly where the corner is.” New sailors have one way to do things, so we need to teach them the one way that works in the largest number of conditions. With experience they will develop wisdom, which is the ability to use their knowledge capably.
Rich
Guttchen went out on the water with Captain Ray this last Sunday and performed his first Man Overboard Procedure for the first time in twenty years. According to Captain Ray, his execution was perfect. His review was a complete success. Rich attributes his skills to the quality of his initial training by Captain Ray here at OCSC. Thank you Captain Ray, for twenty-five years of showing students exactly where the corners are. It has served them well.

-April

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Jeff

    Fabulous life, great instructor, tremendous asset to OCSC.

  2. Rich Guttchen

    I am honored to be listed in the same article as Ray. Thank you.

Comments are closed.