George Oprisko: 15 Years at Sea

Longtime Sailrite customer, George Oprisko, is more than just the casual cruiser. In 2009, he completed a 15-year study of coral reef ecosystems that lead him around the world and on the adventure of a lifetime. George completed his circumnavigation aboard Pegasus, a custom alloy cutter that he built himself, powered by Sailrite sails.

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The idea to circumnavigate the globe didn’t come to George all at once, but grew over time, starting with the desire to build a boat.

“I wanted to have a place of my own that no one could take from me,” George explained.

He commissioned a ship design from Frank MacLear from the Manhattan firm MacLear and Harris and set to work building his ship on his front lawn in Boone Grove Township, Indiana. When Pegasus was finished, George hired the Sailrite Loft to build her first set of sails.

At first, George took Pegasus out on the Great Lakes, helping graduate students conduct research. Before long George was craving adventure beyond the lakes.

“Once the ship was built, I realized I had new options,” he said. “I had always wanted to be an oceanographer[…]wanted to see and record the life of the coral reefs around the world.”

Together with the team at the Public Research Institute, where he is the Executive Director, George got an endowment to fund a 4-year circumnavigation and coral reef exploration. The route was all planned out and in 1995 he set sail solo through the U.S. river system to the east coast. 2013_July_Cpt-George-vertical-2

After several years at sea, the exploration was taking longer than planned, but it was in 2000 that it hit a major setback. The Public Research Institute lost their endowment, which meant that George had to find new ways to fund his return and complete the circumnavigation. Not discouraged, he set to work, building robots in New Zealand, and later teaching and lecturing in China.

In 2005, George built himself a new set of sails for Pegasus using supplies from Sailrite, sewing the panels together in the aft cabin.

“I was glad that I had the ability to build my own sails, and that Jim [Grant] published the books he did,” George said. “I did a full six sails: two staysails, two Yankees, and a main. The sails that I designed myself were the best fitting, highest performing sails on the boat.”

Being a do-it-yourselfer came in handy again for George, when his boat wrecked off the coast of Borneo.

“We were sailing off the coast of Borneo to Miri. In the middle of the channel, a barge was moored without lights,” he recalled.

After the wreck, George was able to do all his repairs himself, thanks to his boat building knowledge. During the journey, George even found love. He met his wife, Natalie, in Russia and she joined him aboard Pegasus. They then traveled together to Africa and the West Indies following her medical career. Finally, in 2009, they returned to America completing the study and the circumnavigation.

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When asked about his relationship with Sailrite, George laughed heartily and said, “We’ve been together in one fashion or another for the last 25 years.

“I return to Sailrite again and again for the fast, friendly service, and quality products,” he added.

George sees himself as a token of what can be done with the kind of knowledge that Sailrite makes available.

“I wanted people to know what they could do with the assistance of the Grants,” he said.  “What I accomplished with Jim and Matt is something exceptional.”

What sets George’s circumnavigation apart from others is that he was the builder of his own boat.

“Only two [home builds] crossed the Pacific and went through French Polynesia in 2000. Pegasus was the only one sailed by the builder,” he said.

He recommends the cruising lifestyle for anyone who is considering it.

“If you want to go, get yourself a small boat and go,” he advised.

George and Natalie currently reside in Brooklyn, New York where Natalie is doing an internal medicine residency and George is readying Pegasus to head south. To learn more about the Public Research Institute and the Pegasus Expedition visit their website www.publicresearchinstitute.org.

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