Dennis Powers: Over the Bounding Main
Dennis Powers has been sailing for more than six decades, but at the upcoming Connecticut Spring Boat Show at Safe Harbor Essex Island on Friday to Sunday, April 29 to May 1, he will be on dry land.
This is the sixth annual Connecticut Spring Boat Show and its goal is to benefit not only sailors but the larger community. The event aids Sails Up 4 Cancer, with a goal of raising $30,000, up from the $22,000 raised last year. Fifty percent of the admission fee goes to the non-profit cancer-fighting organization.
Dennis, the rear commodore of the local branch of the Cruising Club of America (CCA), will be at the yacht shed directly across from the ferry dock where CCA is presenting a series of talks on the Newport to Bermuda Race. CCA and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club sponsor the race. As rear commodore, Dennis oversees the local CCA group.
CCA, Dennis explains, is an organization with branches in Canada, Bermuda, and the United States devoted to open-water sailing. Membership, by invitation, is limited to some 1,400 people. There is no CCA clubhouse, but members meet once a month for a luncheon, with one caveat.
“All of them would rather be out sailing,” Dennis says.
The CCA program at the upcoming boat show features Rives Potts, the president of Safe Harbor Marinas, who has won Newport to Bermuda race twice. In addition, Frank Bohlen, a professor emeritus of marine sciences at the University of Connecticut and an expert on weather and the Gulf Stream, will talk about using forecasts and the Gulf Stream to best advantage in the race,
The two other speakers on the program, Ed Cesare and Chad Corning, will cover preparation for the race and how best to optimize crew performance.
In addition to the CCA presentations, there will be a wide variety of other talks on subjects from fishing to the story of the Connecticut River by Dick Shriver, publisher of Estuary magazine. Amy Trout, curator at the Connecticut River Museum, will present a program on female hydroplane racers on the Connecticut River in the first 40 years of the 20th century—there is an accompanying exhibit at the Connecticut River Museum through Oct. 9.
Dennis didn’t start out as a sailor; his first boating experiences were in a power boat, but by his college years at Rensselaer Polytechnic institute (RPI) in Troy, New York, Dennis was a deeply involved in sailing; he was a member of the RPI team that won the Sugar Bowl Regatta in New Orleans in 1962 and l963, and also a member of the United States team in 1963 that defeated a team from the United Kingdom in the Lipton Cup and the British America Cup.
After decades of racing, including among other events seven Newport to Bermuda and two Marblehead to Halifax, Nova Scotia races, as well as many years of cruising, Dennis gave up his sailboat for a power boat.
“I went over to the dark side,” he says, adding, his grandchildren loved the powerboat.
The trouble was he didn’t.
“It was too noisy,” he says. “A sailboat is tranquil and quiet.”
Now Dennis owns and races an Alerion Express 33 day sailer.
Dennis, who earned an MBA from Columbia University, spent a long career in business management with a focus on strategic planning.
“It’s setting out goals and getting people on board with the goals,” he says. “If people don’t know the goals, it can be the blind leading the blind.”
He had left what he planned as his last executive position in 2004, aiming toward retirement, but it didn’t turn out that way.
“I failed at retirement,” he says.
He worked another 10 years as an operating partner at Nova Capital Management, finally retiring in 2015.
“It was time to put back into the community after years of working and I enjoy the challenge,” Dennis says.
Now he is a board member and chair of the finance committee of the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center, which is converting the property that once housed the Bee and Thistle Inn in Old Lyme into its headquarters. Dennis led the effort ot make a strategic plan for the organization.
“You have to have a master plan. You have to start right. Now we are implementing it,” he says.
He is also chair of the board of the Mentoring Corps for Community Development (MCCD), an organization based in Old Lyme and focusing on southeastern Connecticut that connects volunteers with different fields of expertise to groups where that experience can provide valuable guidance. MCCD has worked in areas as varied as arranging for a kidney transplant to provide career direction for both individuals and businesses.
Through MCCD, Dennis has volunteered with Lyme-Old Lyme elementary schools for their annual 5th Grade Invention Convention, providing mentoring and technical assistance for student projects and working with the youngsters whose inventions are chosen to go on to the state convention. MCCD awards a book on invention and innovation to each local winner.
In addition, Dennis has worked with Shriver on Estuary magazine, starting a year before the first issue came out in spring 2020.
Dennis is sometimes asked how he fills the supposed void created by retirement.
“It’s easy. There isn’t any void,” he says.
At the end of a conversation about sailing, business, and community, Dennis still had something he wanted to tell a reporter.
“You haven’t asked what I most proud of,” he pointed out. “It’s my wife and my children.”
Dennis and his wife Verity celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2021.
Connecticut Spring Boat Show
The Connecticut Spring Boat Show runs Friday to Saturday, April 29 and 30 and May 1, at Safe Harbor Essex Island, Essex, to Benefit Sails Up 4 Cancer. For more information and a list of featured events, visit ctspringboatshow.com.