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Mike Martin '83

Accomplished Sailor and Engineer 

How did you get to where you are today in the sailing profession? How has this affected your engineering career?
It has been a long road and one that is very different from that of most of the top sailors. Most successful racers come from yacht clubs with junior programs and coaches. None of that existed in Alexandria so I started racing with the local adult Laser (a one-person boat) fleet down at the Washington Sailing Marina. One of the sailors, James Jacobs, was a St. Stephen's alumni, and he took me under his wing and helped me out along the way. I was improving as fast as I could just through asking questions and figuring it out on my own. 

When I was about 14, I was lucky enough to team up with a very skilled local sailor, Bret Barbehenn, on his 3-person boat. I was able to learn a great deal from him and we did quite well together, including winning a national championship. The skills that I learned were applicable to my Laser sailing and really helped my results in that fleet. The Laser was an important class to do well in since it was the primary single-handed boat used in collegiate sailing. Due to these results, I was recruited by several universities and ended up at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia as a student-athlete. Old Dominion had a great program with a full-time coach and some of the country's top sailors. In this environment, I really developed as a competitor, winning the Laser North Americans Championships in 1985 and the Collegiate Singlehanded Championships in 1988, the same year that our team was ranked number one in the country. During college, I also campaigned for the 1988 Olympic spot in a boat called a Finn. Ultimately I did not win the U.S. Olympic Trials, but in the process as a member of the US Sailing Team, I had the opportunity to travel around the globe competing against the top sailors in the world.  

In 1990 I moved to Southern California to continue this effort again for the 1992 Olympics but did so while trying to maintain a full-time job, which proved not to be a realistic approach. The Finn is a very powerful boat that must be about 220 pounds to be competitive. In order to attain this weight, I would wear about 30 pounds of water in a vest. These vests were banned after 1992 effectively making me no longer competitive in that boat. At this point, I switched to a boat called a 505. (5.05 meters long). I teamed up with a very talented sailor from Long Beach, Ca. named Howard Hamlin and we began to not only sail together but in an effort to win a world championship, built a training program based on what I had learned from my collegiate and US Sailing Team experience. Our efforts paid off in 1999 when we not only won the World Championships in Quiberon France, but our training partners finished second. At that point, no one had ever won the 505 worlds as a skipper and as a crew. Having won as a crew and knowing that most of my sailing experience was as a skipper, I switched positions and set a goal to be the first. It took 10 years, but in 2009, my crew Jeff Nelson and I won the 505 World Championship in San Francisco. 
 
My entire adult life, I had made it a point to try and keep my professional career and sailing career separate. I am a mechanical engineer, and up to this point, had full-time employment with companies such as Canon, Hewlett Packard, and Alcon Surgical Devices. In 2010, I broke my rule and became the Director of Rules and Umpiring for the 34th America's Cup that would be held in San Francisco in 2013. The position included developing a virtual umpiring system that used GPS data to track the boats to 2-centimeter accuracy at 10 Hz. This was a super interesting job but ironically did not allow any time for me to compete for myself. 
 
At the conclusion of the America's Cup in 2013, I returned to working in the engineering world, running an engineering team at Synapse Product Development where I am working to date. I also found a new teammate in Adam Lowry and revamped the training program that had worked so well in the past and brought it to Northern California. Together we won the 505 World Championships in 2016, and in 2019 our training group swept the podium with Adam and I coming out on top. For this success, we were named the 2019 Rolex US Sailing Yachtsmen of the Year, an award granted to the greatest on the water achievement of 2019.
 
Were you involved in athletics at St. Stephen's? 
Yes. I was on the JV football team as a wide receiver in my freshman and sophomore years. The summer sailing schedule conflicted with training camp and weekend games in the fall so I did not try out for football in my junior and senior years. I was on the wrestling team my freshman, sophomore, and junior years. I did not join the team during my senior year because I was trying to gain weight for sailing, which did not mix well with cutting weight for wrestling. I was on the track team all four years and competed in the long jump, triple jump, pole vault, 110 hurdles, the 880 relay, and mile relay. During my senior year, I was captain and MVP of the track team.
 
Were any St. Stephen’s teachers instrumental in your life? 
Yes. There was one teacher, Dr. Bill Van Swearingen who taught French and Spanish. However, the lesson that he taught me had nothing to do with languages. It was more of a wake-up call and philosophy on life. Any time I came up with an excuse for not performing or putting effort into something, he would call out my behavior as "the victim mentality," that it must not be my fault because of someone else's actions. It taught me that I was ultimately responsible for my own actions, errors, and also successes. As an adolescent, this was a critical realization and I still look back at this as one of the most valuable lessons that I have ever learned.
 
Favorite St. Stephen's memory? 
I would not say that there was anyone in particular. What I think I enjoyed the most are the friendships that were formed while at St Stephen's. Despite living 3,000 miles away and almost 30 years passing by, many of those friendships still exist today and I always look forward to the opportunities to reconnect in person around events like class reunions.

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Age 3-Grade 12 coed Episcopal day school in Alexandria, Virginia

Campuses

List of 3 items.

  • Lower School

    Age 3-Grade 5
    400 Fontaine Street
    Alexandria, Virginia 22302
  • Middle School

    Grades: 6-8
    4401 West Braddock Road
    Alexandria, Virginia 22304
  • Upper School

    Grades: 9-12
    1000 St. Stephen's Road
    Alexandria, Virginia 22304