From Tasmania to Annapolis

Published on November 17th, 2016

by Angus Phillips, SpinSheet
Asked to name the top regattas in the East, any racing sailor would include Key West and Block Island Race Weeks. Both are upcoming—Key West in January and the biennial Block Island event in June. It’s no accident that the on-water director of both is Annapolis’s own Dick Neville.

Running big regattas like that, with 150 or more highly competitive players from around the world, is a three-pill Excedrin headache. Neville, former commodore of the national Storm Trysail Club, seems well suited: He’s competent and, perhaps more important, unflappable.

“In the world of race officers,” says fellow Eastporter Jeff Borland, no stranger to running events for high-maintenance yachties, “he’s maybe this much behind Luigi.” Borland holds up a thumb and forefinger with a sliver of light between. “Luigi” is the nickname of America’s most sought-after Principal Race Officer, Peter Reggio of Rhode Island, who’s paid to run the biggest events in the world, most notably the America’s Cup.

Neville works for free, a volunteer. “But we do get nice perks,” he says, including travel and lodging in some special places.

I sat with “Dicky,” as the tall, silver-haired Australian ex-pat is known, for an hour or so in his sunny offices on Fourth Street, halfway between the Boatyard Bar and Grill and Davis’s Pub. That’s where he and wife Barbara run Innovative Properties, the real estate management company they founded. So how does a guy from a hick town in Tasmania wind up across the globe atop the sailing establishment?

Luck favors the prepared. Neville was studying engineering in Hobart in the 1970s, crewing on local boats, when a mate returned from the states gushing about Florida’s annual Southern Ocean Racing Circuit and its ribald parties. “You have to go,” he ordered.

But how? Neville was told if he had his passport and visa in order, his duffel packed, and no commitments, he could probably hitch a ride on a big boat going back to the states after the annual Sydney-Hobart Race. He shot for the top—Kialoa II, a 73-foot maxi that was running up global victories for wealthy Californian Jim Kilroy.

Neville was on the dock when K-II arrived. And he was aboard when it left a few weeks later for the Hobart-Auckland Race, filling the owner’s berth when Kilroy got called away to meet with the Shah of Iran, of all people. K-II won the race and set a record.

He made the rough, 50-day passage across the Pacific to Panama and then carried on to Miami and helped with a refit there. He didn’t make the race crew for that summer’s Transatlantic Race, but hooked a ride to Gibraltar on a 67-footer, spent the summer in the Mediterranean, and rejoined Kialoa for the trip home via the Canaries and the Caribbean. “It was,” he says wistfully,” a hell of a year for a 22-year-old.”

Soon he had a job as first mate on Kialoa and stuck with the program till the mid-1980s, when professional crew started taking over, killing the fun. “Instead of going to the bar when we finished,” he says, “these guys wanted to work on the boat.”

By then Neville had met some crew from the great Annapolis ocean racer Running Tide. Phil Dunn invited him to Maryland to help with Dunn Development Co., which built and refurbished commercial properties. He joined fellow ex-pats John Thackwray and Ian (Tink) Chambers there, and the rest is happy history.

When it came time to hang up his offshore boots, Neville sailed Wednesday nights and weekends. One day in the 1990s Geoff Stagg from Farr Yachts asked if he’d help organize a regatta for a hot new class he was promoting: Farr 36s. “It was me, Tink, and Andy Ogilvie. We’d been criticizing race committees for years. We figured, how hard could it be? We got out there, and it was like, holy crap, the wind is all over the place…”

But Stagg was pleased. He asked them to come to Miami and organize a Farr 36 Worlds. Twenty years later, Neville’s dance card is packed. In addition to Key West and Block Island, he’ll work the St. Thomas International Regatta and the BVI Spring Regatta in the Caribbean, and then after Block Island, he’ll run something called the Ugotta Regatta in Michigan in July. “It’s a challenge,” Neville admits. “It’s work—three to five days of intense focus. But then—you’re done!”

Provided courtesy of SpinSheet magazine (October 2016) which has been serving Chesapeake Bay sailors since 1995.

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