Monday, January 21st, 2019

Michael Koppstein Brand Ambassador for Lürssen has Died

Lürssen Yachts have announced that Michael Koppstein the company brand ambassador in the USA suffered cardiac arrest and subsequently died while on a hunting trip with friends in Romania 

Michael joined Lürssen in 2017 to strengthen sales efforts in the American market, a task he executed with vigour and enthusiasm. 

He shall be sorely missed by all those who worked with him. 

Born in Sydney his upbringing was pretty typical of most Sydney kids of his generation, sucking in the sun, sea and outdoors.  An exception might have been that his father was a WWII refugee having fled Austria during Hitler’s European siege.  He was allowed to join the Australian Army with the rank of corporal, and was designated the status of “enemy alien.” It is often said that behind every good man lies a better woman and this may have been the case in his family. Michael’s Mother came from a pastoral background and was always quietly at her husband’s side through all his business dealings as an entrepreneur who made his money importing European products to Australia.  Her grandfather founded Australia’s own ‘Driza-Bone’ farmers wear. Upon his death, Michael inherited 1000 shares in the family owned company, valued at around 1,000 shillings.  Little did he know that the man from Snowy River and some foreign investment would later make the business an international success?  Sadly by then, his 1,000 shares were distant memories he having sold them to pay for a surfboard or two!

Educated at Seaforth Primary School and Sydney Grammar School before attending Technical Colleges in Sydney and Seaforth, academic honours were not a part of Koppstein’s teenage success. He claims to have been a mediocre student without a real career path. He rode horses, surfed, sailed and enjoyed Sydney life as a go for it teenager.

His first motorbike was a Honda 500 that was quickly followed by Kawasaki Z1 750cc.  Through school he worked in Brookvale shaping surfboards and worked in landscape gardening to make pocket money.  His early love of horses competed with his love of the ocean so eventually horse riding gave way to riding the seas, surfing and sailing.  He had sailed MJ’s out of Middle Harbour but for some reason did not like it very much. He remembers being told that if he capsized, he should scramble to get on the sails because ‘Jaws’ might be lurking and that scared him but never stopped him from surfing! 

As a young Aussie backpacker he arrived in Europe during 1975 and toured the continent spending just $10 a day living like a king.  He met many people and undertook all sorts of tasks to make his savings last. These included donating blood for money and eating at local shelters for the homeless. In Greece he started a landscaping business on the island of Hydra hiring other back packers to spread the work, one of which was Leonard Cohen who later went on to find fame and fortune in the recording industry.

Then he met Erik Delwart who owned a share in a Swan 65 hull # 1 called Swan. Erik offered him a passage as crew on board from Antibes to the West Indies.  It was to be the first of many yachts in which he sailed as he cruised the waters of the Caribbean.  He became a useful hand on deck during Antigua Race Week and then at other events on the international racing circuit.

He worked his way up the ranks and eventually became a Captain whose time, not spend racing, was fully occupied as a popular charter Skipper in New England and the Caribbean. His first charter guests included the then St. Lucian Premier, John Compton whose party on board were Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his beautiful wife Margaret, such was his introduction to the Caribbean and to yacht charter.

There comes a time when every Yacht Captain seeks to come ashore and that time came when Michael was asked to join the design offices of Ron Holland in Ireland.  He rose to Office Manager in that location before accepting a job at Royal Huisman in Holland.  After that company was sold, he was quickly recruited by Lürssen. 

While based in the USA he still found time to devote his expertise to charitable causes.  One such is the United Kingdom Sailing Academy (UKSA) a sailing school started by Noel Lister, for who Koppstein worked as Captain aboard Whirlwind XII.  The charity was set up to provide maritime education and personal development opportunities at sea.   As Captain of Whirlwind, he not only managed an excellent yacht but also shared Lister’s passion for sailing and the great benefits that it could offer to young people.  In particular how time at sea helped to develop personal skills that enabled a young person to make valuable contribution to society.

Although retired and enjoying a world girdling cruise that was to last over ten years, Lister could not resist the opportunity to build the Charity into an internationally recognised centre of excellence for the provision of maritime training. Koppstein identified over twenty years ago what is a hot topic in that the provision of trained crew would be essential to the growth of the industry and thus it was not surprising that he found himself tasked by Lister to develop the very first “Professional Crew Training” program.  Supported by the Cowes based management team, the syllabus of the course was developed drawing specifically on Koppsteins experience and requirements as a skipper.

There were no statutory requirements or qualifications needed at the time and the course focused on the skills necessary to be an employable crew, those of varnishing, painting, cleaning, seamanship and service.  In particular he identified the need to develop a can doattitude in new crew.  The course he helped create was the first of its kind and served as the foundation to the Academy’s now comprehensive range of courses for professional mariners

He continued to support the Academy as a trustee despite a hectic schedule working.  Working at the cutting edge of maritime technology, he was able to offer invaluable advice on industry trends and requirements, enabling the Academy to continually evolve to meet the needs in a rapidly changing market.  He was also instrumental in securing several generous donations of equipment. 

Michael is survived by his American wife Catherine (CJ) and their son, Justin.  Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

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