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In the Spotlight: Steve Dair

Anyone in the South Bay area who has been involved in ocean yacht racing over the last few decades almost certainly knows Steve Dair of Dair Elliot Patterson Sails. Kind, fun and humorous, Steve is always a handy guy to have around when you need new racing or cruising sails made or find a rip that needs mending, or when you just want to sit down and share a conversation about ocean sailing.

Steve started sailing literally before he was born. While still in his mother’s womb, his family set off regularly on trips to Catalina Island aboard their small sailboat, Wispy. His parents went on to have seven children and the entire family of nine made frequent trips to Catalina throughout his childhood.

These short voyages gradually led Steve’s dad, Frank Dair, to become involved in coastal ocean racing. Back in the 60s and early 70s, there weren’t many sailboats in any given class for one-design racing to flourish. In an attempt to even the scale among widely varying boat sizes, Frank devised the Pacific Handicap Racing Fleet, today known worldwide as the Performance Handicap Rating Fleet (PHRF) system, which allows vessels of different sizes to race against each other equitably.

While Steve was attending Los Angeles Harbor College in the late seventies, he met sailing guru Bill Petersen, who went on to serve as sailmaker and crew member for Stars & Stripes, winner of the 1987 America’s Cup. When Steve inquired as to which classes would help him in a yachting career, Bill recommended he focus strictly on sail-making. He also introduced Steve to Sails by Watts in Torrance.

Steve worked at Sails by Watts for several years, perfecting his talent and skill in designing and building sails for various racing designs, as well as for coastal and offshore cruising. Although Steve’s career was well established in sail-making, he still maintained a full schedule of ocean racing.

In 1981, Steve raced to Hawaii on Audacious, a modified Choate 40. Originally believing his team had come in first, they missed the trophy by only a few minutes. Years later, he also competed in Australia in the Little America’s Cup entry Wingmill, which, Steve said, was “still the most radical sailing vessel ever, in my mind.” During the race, three photo helicopters hovered just a bit too low, and as Steve lamented, “tipped us over and destroyed six years of work.”

Another memorable project was a three-day race all the way from Marina del Rey to Puerto Vallarta on the 80-foot vessel Double Bullet. Steve boasted, “We still hold the record!” He and his team mates have won many ocean racing trophies over the years, too many to count. “Trophies can fill up your house,” Steve explained. “More fun to give them to the crew.”

When asked what he considers the greatest motivation in running a small marine business, he explained, “The most rewarding part of being a sailmaker, with a lifetime of right answers, is letting me make the best part of people’s lives.” Steve emphasized, “The customer gets to escape all the hassles of life and just focus on what they love to do. And when I fix all their problems, it’s the best therapy one can get in life.”

“When I work for a customer,” Steve continued, “I focus on sailing in safety and comfort. All that I do is aimed at enhancing the customer’s life.” He explained further, “It’s hard to get rich making sails, but one can get rich making the customer experience the best part of their life. That’s all you can get from life.”

Steve’s plans for the future focus on both family and sailing. “As for my family, the most exciting thing is my daughter just had my first granddaughter! And my son just sailed Con Cup! My other son was recently the first to finish the Ensenada Race on a fast trimaran, so watching all my four kids and all they do is my entertainment.” He added proudly, “My daughter runs a horse ranch in North Island, New Zealand, if you need a great vacation!”

As for the future, Steve says he wants to hang out more with ocean-cruising friends while staying active in the Cal 20 racing circuit. At the same time, Steve plans to remain in the sail-making and yacht brokerage business. Steve smiled for a moment and added, “No matter what happens, I will continue to sell sails through Dair Elliott Patterson.”


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