Eight Bells: Elsa Green

Published on August 12th, 2020

Suddenly and with only the briefest warning, the much-loved Elsa Green (1945-2020) slipped her mooring lines and slid gently away from her berth for the last time, departing July 21 in Lymington, England.

Known and respected from California to Cornwall, from the Pacific to the Mediterranean, both as a sailor and as a warm and generous hostess, she leaves behind a legion of friends from across the sailing world, from many countries and of many languages. She will be most sorely missed.

Born Elisabeth van der Graaf in Rotterdam on 12 March 1945, the young Elsa grew up in the beach town of Rockanje, sailing occasionally with friends until she and her brother, Rik, were given a wreck of a boat – no mast, keel, rudder, or sails – that they brought back to life, scouring friends and acquaintances for useful bits of wood and equipment.

In her early twenties she began racing offshore. Elsa’s brother recalls “in those days the crew were mainly men – but Elsa had extremely good eyesight and would often see buoys in rough seas faster than the men – in the days before GPS a very strategic weapon. Also, seasickness did not exist for her.”

In the early 60s, Elsa was sailing with Dutch friends in Malta. Their yacht Bestevaer was lying alongside an American boat skippered by a young Californian itinerant sailor called Bill Green. It proved a fateful coincidence.

Bill found reasons to visit the Netherlands and Elsa soon quit her job as a kindergarten teacher to go sailing with him. They lived a peripatetic existence, covering tens of thousands of (nautical) miles across Europe, the US, and the Pacific, selling boats, managing builds, running charters and deliveries, and racing.

Though Bill’s name was synonymous with the racing scene at the time, Elsa was always a valued member of any crew. British racing sailor, navigator, and author Peter Bruce recalls Elsa from one campaign of that time: “I thought I was pretty hot at trim but, as time went by, I came to realize that Elsa was even quicker!”

Eventually, in the mid-70s, they came ashore in Lymington, England. Daughter Saskia was born in 1976, son Jonathan (universally known as ‘Pom’) two years later. About this time Elsa, an inveterate entrepreneur, formed a company she named Green Marine, importing from the US yacht fittings and deck hardware, either unobtainable or prohibitively expensive via normal channels in the UK.

In 1974, the inspired Bill Green persuaded the Royal Lymington Yacht Club to stage an invitation match-racing regatta modeled on the highly successful Congressional Cup run by the Long Beach YC in his native California. Bill became the on-the-water advisor/ guru and Elsa the shoreside Queen Bee. She ensured everyone had food to eat, boats to sail, and places to sleep. And on top of all this, Elsa was now helping two friends run a French restaurant based in a Dutch (of course) barge.

At this time Bill worked with close friend Jeremy Rogers in his yacht building company Contessa Yachts, and when that firm ceased production, Bill and a colleague decided to set up on their own.

Elsa’s little company, Green Marine, was resurrected in a new guise when in 1982 Bill and Elsa, along with Ian and Dianne King, set up shop with their first build for British owner Peter Whipp – the One Tonner and later Admiral’s Cupper, Panda.

Elsa was the Financial Director, untrained formally but with a keen eye for incomings and outgoings. It was a precarious beginning: there was no bank loan for the start-up, just that vote of confidence from Peter Whipp and Bill’s credit card.

World leaders in advanced composite construction, Green Marine went on to build some of the fastest racing boats and classiest cruising yachts of their time. Bill and Elsa enjoyed working with friends from their racing days – Doug Peterson, Ron Holland, German Frers, Bill Tripp.

Elsa always made sure that everyone was well looked after, dragging her small children down to the factory in the middle of the night to bring home-made food to the guys on night shift or cooking for the non-stop visitors to the family home – customers, sailors, designers – all enjoying the lively atmosphere and good food.

When Green Marine was sold in 2010, Elsa stepped up the travel – a life-long passion, even of the aeroplane variety – and more recently relished her role as Oma to her three young grandchildren.

In 2008, Elsa had been diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). Her illness was well-managed but despite seeming full of life, she had low immunity, and her condition worsened in June of this year. She went into hospital and things seemed hopeful until a non-COVID related infection took hold and suddenly she was gone.

Due to COVID-19 regulations in the UK, there will be an attendance-restricted cremation on Friday 14th August but Saskia and Pom invite Elsa’s friends and extended family to light a candle (or several), honouring the light she brought into all of our lives, at 6pm British Summer Time. Condolences, memories, and photos can be sent to the family at memoriesofelsa@gmail.com.

Warm-hearted, generous, sympathetic, enthusiastic, funny; supportive mother, partner, sister, and Oma and the warmest person, the kindest friend and the most fun party-goer-and-giver Elsa’s absence will be felt profoundly.

Let Jim Pugh have the last word: “If there were more Elsas, the world would be a better place”. – Malcolm McKeag

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