Sailor Spotlight: Steph Colie
Steph and Dev Colie are arguably the most influential people for junior sailing in the Barnegat Bay area. Together, they started Colie Sails in 1976, first making sails for the local fleet and then expanding to selling sailboats, gear, parts, and everything else needed to be on the water. When the Optimist dinghy first came to NJ, Steph and Dev jumped at the opportunity to support the class. It also helped that their two sons - Rich and Stu - were rock star sailors themselves. The Colies embraced the concept of traveling to big junior regattas outside of the state. They would load up Optis on their truck and drive them to New Orleans or Miami so that their kids could race against the best. They started selling Lasers, Laser 2s, Vanguard 15s, 420s, and every other boat juniors wanted to sail. For 36 years, Steph and Dev Colie would support junior sailing, run weekend races, sell the best equipment, and be integrally involved in everything junior sailing on the bay. We all owe so much to them and their efforts, and we're incredibly lucky that they decided to start Colie Sails on Barnegat Bay in NJ.
Name: Steph Colie
School: Point Pleasant Boro HS, U of Mary Washington, Georgian Court University
Yacht Club: (previously Bay Head YC, Mantoloking YC, Toms River YC)
1) What is your own sailing background? Did you sail in a junior sailing program on the bay? Who are the big sailors in your family? I grew up around sailboats because my dad, Richard Carr, loved sailing and sailboats. He built an El Toro dinghy that hung on davits in our back yard which was tricky to tack out of our lagoon, so I mainly rowed it. However, Bev, my younger sister by four years, thrived on the independence of sailing this boat out the lagoon solo to the bay, and by age 9 she could figure out the shifts and wind shadows of houses and willow trees, laying the groundwork for her to be the first big sailor on my side of the family. She was at home in a sailboat and liked racing too. At 18, in her Laser, Bev swept first place every Sunday at BHYC’s summer Sunday series; sailing home afterwards Dad would be waiting to help her de-rig. Forty five years later, she is still participating and enjoying the camaraderie of the sailing family.
I crewed on a duck boat at Bay Head Yacht Club as a kid. I liked my skipper. Sailing was ok, but I didn’t like coming in last so much. Our family had a Chesapeake Bay Ketch which we took on week long family cruises on Barnegat Bay. Mom sewed everything for that boat except the sails.
I’d like to add that when Bev was a teenager, my parents persuaded me to drive Bev and her friend (Nancy Simpson) an International 470, and a tent to Association Island, NY, for a women’s clinic and a women’s regatta on Lake Ontario. Janet Bjorn, Jan & Pat O’Malley, Jane Pegel, and Kiki Saltmarsh were there. A young Gary Jobson was the clinician. I saw that traveling for sailing was fun and that it grew much more than skills. I witnessed the importance of land support. I hadn’t chosen racing for myself, but I got a good look into the sport. I offered to take them the next year on the way home.
Rich and Stu Colie, our sons, enjoyed sailing from the start as I recall it. They began with sailing on boats with us and other family members, took sailing lessons, joined the Mantoloking junior sailing program, sailed for fun after school, and became members of sailing travel teams. We traveled as a family during school breaks to the Bruce Cup, Opti Midwinters and the Orange Bowl for many seasons. They went on to participate and place in national and international events, Rich in Lasers and Stu in Optimists, Laser 2s and 470s.
2) What made you and Dev decide to open up Colie Sails? Dev started Colie Sails when were dating. He brainstormed his plans with me to open a sail loft near where he had grown up sailing. As a young child he sailed with his grandmother on her catboat and first raced with his father in Penguins. He raced M scows and PHRF when he worked at Seidelmann Sails in South Jersey. He wanted to design and build sails near the Barnegat Bay and the ocean. I hung out and helped out from the beginning. I was a school teacher at the time, so for the first 3 years, I sewed after school and during summer vacation.
3) Tell me about the business at the beginning. Where were you located and what did you guys do? When did you move to 1649 Bay Ave? In the beginning we built sails of all sizes for boats of all sizes on Barnegat Bay. Our first shop was in Bay Head where Manasquan Bank is now. The building Dev rented was originally a lumber company office located alongside the closed portion of the North Jersey Coast Railroad line which had run to Seaside Park. Posts divided up the room. His friend Tom Barton, an architect, told him the space would work as a sail loft if some joists were doubled up. One Saturday, I stopped by and the 20 by 40 feet space was clear, posts were gone. In the next few days, he laid plywood on the decking and varnished it. This became the sail loft for the first twelve years.
Dev met with customers, measured for sails at marinas, designed, laid out and sewed the sails, and raced on weekends. I asked if I could help. First I sewed repairs to get the feel of an industrial machine, and soon I was sewing the new sails.
In the fall and winter, we were asked to make all kinds of things. We did a lot of sail repairs too.
The shop in Bay Head did not have running water or heat so we added a kerosene space heater in the winter. We built sails to Running on Empty, The Wall, Piano Man and Tea for the Tillerman, over and over, in the early days. I can still picture it vividly. It was a fun place to be, and we had a lot of friends stop by to visit us and watch sails come together. Our sons, Rich and Stu, grew up there.
When we started building winning E scow sails, it became obvious that we needed more space. We could work on only one at a time. We had already purchased property with an old house on it nearby in Point Pleasant for a future sail loft. A new floor plan would have room to lay out two E scow mains. We planned locations for sewing machines. And again we asked our architect friend, Tom, for help, this time to design a sail loft with living space above. We dreamed, planned and saved for ten years. In the fall of 1987 we broke ground, and we moved to 1649 in March 1988. Four of us carried the forty foot long lofting battens down Bridge Avenue on our shoulders.
4) How did the business progress since you first started? It started with sails for Dev’s M Scow in 1976, then Dave and Paul Magno volunteered to try out a suit of Colie M Scow sails. They had great success! I think they won almost all the races that summer. Paul was still in high school and they had a system for alternating skipper and crew. We sold lots of M Scow sails the first few years.
In the early days we made sails for cruising and racing. Larger sails were laid out at the high school gym on Sundays. We started with one sewing machine and later added specialized machines.
I think it was 1977 when Dev started designing E scow mainsails. They were different than the Midwest sails that were fast on inland lakes. People bought our mainsails because they were fast on the Bay. We made many jibs and spinnakers too. In the years that followed, many races, BBYRA and national championships were sailed and won with Colie Sails.
Dev also did rigging work, sail handling systems primarily, offsite at marinas.
A shift in our business focus occurred when our kids were old enough to join the summer sailing program. It was when Jan O’Malley was the key person involved in junior sailing at Mantoloking YC. She easily convinced Dev that the Optimist dinghy was the future for youth sailing, not any one of the boats used at the clubs on the Bay, such as the Duck Boat, Sunfish, Sneakbox and Toms River Pram. MYC added optimists to the program, and we located a brand new Optimist in Massachusetts for Rich.
We sourced Optimists, and our first experience selling boats began. The enthusiasm we had - and our own kids had - resulted in others' enthusiasm too, and our business branched out into youth sailing. We sold good boats, then optimized the gear and equipment. We found companies that made youth-sized shorter life jackets that would be less bulky and not get caught on the mainsheet bridle of an Optimist and kids sized sailing gloves and footwear for hiking out. This resulted in the development of the youth sailing focused chandlery that it still is today.
The sale of Optimists and the enthusiasm and momentum of weekly inter-clubs continued. In 1997 we began to sell other manufacturer’s one design sailboats: Lasers, Sunfish, Radials, Laser 2s, Vanguard 15s and Club 420s.
We began making covers and gear bags for the boats we sold. I made the first ones for our own kids and their cousin, Nate Wight, using superior materials and our own unique designs. We started spraying last names on blade bags and covers so the kids could tell theirs apart. We continued building competitive Optimist club sails to supply with boats we sold. Back when Stu was sailing Optimists internationally in the mid ’90s, we became aware of the exceptional performance of Olimpic Sails, and we became the North American importer.
5) What are you doing now that you retired? How have you been spending your time? Something new: I live in Michigan and have learned to Cross-Country ski. I volunteered for two summers at a CSA food project, and I am an active member of our local garden club. I took a couple car trips criss-crossing Canada and southern USA which included visits with Rich and his wife, Tabitha, in the Columbia River Gorge, plus connecting with family & friends, old & new. This winter, it’s my joy to help out taking care of my granddaughter, Sayla, a few days a week while her parents, Stu and Mariah, run their XC ski resort. I continue with my yoga and sew a few up-cycle projects for fun. I’d like to read and write more, but there’s so much to do outside.