Howard Slotnick (1930-2020)

Howard Slotnick, (center), Charles J. Urstadt (left) CEO Battery Park City Authority, sign OpSail ’76 parade of sail public viewing agreement as Frank Braynard (right) looks on.

The Trustees of Operation Sail, with heavy hearts, mourn the loss of a dear friend and former OpSail Trustee, Howard Slotnick.  Howard was one of the guiding lights of Operation Sail during the early years, beginning with OpSail ’76 where he helped lay the foundation for the next 25 years of grand Tall Ship gatherings in New York and beyond.  Howard is survived by his daughter, Sharon Slotnick. 

Howard, a native of Brooklyn, NY, was a lifelong sailor, maritime history enthusiast, and unstoppable force within the tall ship community.  Howard not only saw the great beauty and majesty of the tall ships, but he selflessly sought to share the historical message and inherent international goodwill associated with the newly invented phenomenon, “the grand tall ship gathering.”  In the run up to OpSail ’76, along with Frank Braynard, Howard enthusiastically journeyed abroad to recruit the great tall ships of the world for America’s 200th anniversary,  July 4th, 1976, “The greatest Birthday Party in History.”  

Frank Braynard’s sketch of Kruzenshtern made while sailing with Howard aboard the ship.

The Soviet Tall Ship, Kruzenshtern, was at the top of the list, being the largest and grandest of its day.  During their courtship, famously, Howard puffed his cigar walking the deck while Frank sketched nautical scenes for her Captain as they crossed the English Channel to Saint-Malo.  It was in the wardroom during that short voyage that Howard and Frank sealed the deal. Kruzenshtern was going to attend OpSail ’76. 

Due to the efforts of Howard and others, OpSail ’76 was such a success that the event catalyzed an idea of rebirth among the major eastern port cities of America.  This rebirth went even further as to develop new friendships and goodwill among seafaring nations in a time of much need.  This is the true legacy of Howard Slotnick and those that came together to plan and execute those early OpSail Events.

Howard went on to continue his work with OpSail, as the Director of OpSail 2000 in Miami, and in decades-long support of other maritime organizations such as the National Maritime Historical Society where he served as Trustee and Treasurer, and the South Street Seaport Museum where he served on the board for nearly thirty years, to name a few.  Howard laid a strong keel and built upon it. His contributions will be forever etched in the memories of the sailors of tall ships as they enter a port in formation with their counterparts, in unison, as part of something bigger, as an International Parade of Sail.  

Charles A. Robertson (1947-2020)

Charlie Robertson (left) with President Clinton (center) and Admiral Bob Natter USN Atlantic Fleet Commander (right) aboard USS John F. Kennedy, OpSail 2000 Parade of Sail.

On February 9th, 2020 Operation Sail lost a true guiding light with the death of OpSail Chairman Emeritus Charles “Charlie” Robertson following a long battle with cancer.  Known for working tirelessly at everything he did, Charlie had the unique skillset and tenacity necessary to recruit the support required to carry out an OpSail event, and he did it with boundless enthusiasm. Charlie, OpSail’s longest serving Chairman, oversaw the last two major OpSail events: OpSail ‘92 (commemorating the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage), and OpSail 2000 (America’s millennium celebration).

He brought all of his myriad talents to OpSail and our events, as Chairman and Chairman Emeritus. During OpSail 2000, Charlie managed not only to gain the full support of the White House and President Clinton, but was able to push through Public Law 104-282 which was enacted by Congress establishing OpSail as America’s Tall Ship organization. This bolstered our mission to advance brotherhood among nations, commemorate the history of the United States, and to support young cadets, sail training, and seamanship.

Charlie also worked to strengthen the OpSail Board by recruiting key leaders and statesmen such as Senators Christopher Dodd and John Warner, USN Four Star Admiral William “Bud” Flanagan, and Former Attorney General of Puerto Rico, Jose Fuentes, our current Chairman.  Charlie’s leadership and herculean efforts enabled OpSail 2000 to succeed as the largest international maritime gathering in history.

Although Charlie was an avid sailor and competitor, winning the Newport Bermuda Race, the Queens Cup, and others, he was also a well-respected aviator who flew modified ex-military aircraft. Despite all of his incredible extra-curricular accomplishments, Charlie was at his core a shipbuilder and businessman, founding and owning several companies including American Cruise Lines where he served as Chairman, Chesapeake Ship Building, Pearl Seas Cruises, and many more. Charlie was most at home working with his hands and with teams of people. His leadership and gusto will be sorely missed.

Our deepest condolences go out to Charlie’s surviving family: his wife of 35 years, Carol Ann Robertson, his three sons Charles, Clark, and Carter and their wives, granddaughter Claiborne, and two sisters Jean Anne Robertson and Lois Gorman.

Operation Sail will be making a contribution to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in honor of Charles A. Robertson.

Fair winds and following seas, Charlie, your legacy will remain in the hearts of sailors and those who have borne witness to the great Tall Ship gatherings around the world.