ST. PETERSBURG — Pat Seidenspinner made sailing look easy, if only because she had worked so hard at it for so long.
We're not talking about taking a sloop out for a jog around Tampa Bay. For more than two decades, Mrs. Seidenspinner organized regattas on all levels of complexity, all the way to the Olympics. In 2000, her first year as commodore of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, she brought the best female sailors in the world to Tampa Bay.
Before all that, Mrs. Seidenspinner served passengers as a stewardess for Trans World Airlines. She lived in other countries for several weeks at a time, immersing herself in languages and cuisine.
Mrs. Seidenspinner, the first woman to serve as the Yacht Club's commodore, died June 13, the result of kidney failure, friends say. She was 82.
Mrs. Seidenspinner and her husband, Ralph, moved to Venetian Isles in 1974 and soon joined the Yacht Club. She was an active member of the club's Salty Sisters, a women's racing group started in 1951 with 8-foot prams.
The group grew to more than 200 members; the boats and the skill sets of the sisters have grown apace. Mrs. Seidenspinner, whom friends describe as private yet pleasant and always in control, took a leadership role. In 1990, she was the first woman put in charge of the 403-mile St. Petersburg-to-Fort Lauderdale race, the longest of the Southern Ocean Racing Conference series.
She made history again in 1996 as the first woman to serve as a principal race officer in the Summer Olympics.
The St. Petersburg Yacht Club, founded in 1909, made her its first female commodore in 2000. Sailing World magazine honored her as one of the top 10 American women in racing. At the Commodore's Ball, peers carved her initials into 3-pound blocks of ice on one of the tables laden with caviar and stone crab claws. Mrs. Seidenspinner wore a long white skirt beneath the traditional navy blue yachting blazer.
Her first year, she brought four-women teams from 17 countries to Tampa Bay to compete in the International Sailing Federation World Match Racing Championship, then helped officiate the race.
Organizing a sailboat race, from the opening horns and flags to the end, is a constant juggling act. A race manager tries to bring competitors together in favorable weather, set or change the course of the race if necessary, and take into account local variables such as currents or even the wind blockage created when passing by the Pier.
"She was just an unflappable, competent person," said Bill Ballard, 76, a former Yacht Club commodore and board member. "You're out there with the weather and competitive people. You're worried about their safety and you're worried about whether people are enjoying themselves."
Born Patricia Harvey in Rochester, N.Y., Mrs. Seidenspinner grew up nurturing a different love — her cello. She played in school orchestras all the way through what is now known as Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio.
She went to work for TWA in an age when stewardesses had to be weighed each month and have the seams on the backs of their stockings inspected before each flight, said longtime friend Carole Bardes.
She married TWA flight engineer Ralph Seidenspinner, a partnership that resulted in many exotic vacations. "They had lots of time off," said Bardes, 74. "They could pick their routes and block them off together."
Mrs. Seidenspinner learned to speak multiple languages fluently, especially French, and to cook gourmet meals. Ralph Seidenspinner died in 2009. He was her first love, followed by travel, a good martini and cooking with lots of butter, friends say.
Women's sailing also ranked close to the top, said Laura Bryant, 59, whose husband, Matt Bryant, is the current Yacht Club commodore.
"She was extra passionate about encouraging women, and young women in particular, to become involved in sailing," Bryant said. "That was extremely important to her."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.