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Newport is About Sailing

Published on October 19th, 2018

There are few cities in the USA where sailing resonates as it does in Newport, RI. It only seems appropriate that Newport was chosen to be the location of the National Sailing Hall of Fame, but as multi-time world champ and local resident Moose McClintock notes, his seaside town has come a long way from its early days.

If all the visitors to Newport had seen what the city looked like in the late ’60s and early ’70s, any notion of it being a highbrow area would never have entered the conversation. The town was a dump, overrun and dependent on the Navy to survive. Historic houses and the mansions were ruins and being razed, the waterfront was deadbeat bars and tattoo parlors, and the idea that you’d go there to sail a regatta outside of the America’s Cup was ludicrous.

The Navy did the town a favor by pulling out in ’72. Although the town went into a massive depression, local leaders looked forward to how to keep it going. First in line was the spectacular parade of Tall Ships in ’76 for the Bicentennial, attracting one million people in Newport for a three day weekend. The Historical Society, formed in the mid-60s to protect the heritage, became more proactive in saving local houses and the mansions. Things were just turning around when we lost the America’s Cup in ’83.

The result: the foundation of Sail Newport, at this point an afterthought after the Olympic trials of ’80 that were foiled by the boycott, but a critical infrastructure developed to take advantage of the sailing opportunities so abundantly available. The acquisition of John Nicholas Brown’s estate to become the waterfront home of the New York Yacht Club led to more visibility of the town as a sailing destination rather than an oasis on the typical cruisers itinerary.

Sailing is not the lifeblood of Newport; tourism is. Other than fishing, there is no industry here. But that doesn’t stop multitudes of classes from coming to Newport to run their Olympic trials, Worlds and National championships. We sail from December to December, either in world class regattas or frostbiting out of Sail Newport (though as a veteran of the Laser Fleet, I can assure you the Armory that will house the National Sailing Hall of Fame was fantastic as our base for many years).

Newport isn’t about mansions and white fashion, it’s about sailing. The stupid argument about which city is the sailing capitol is moot. Titles mean nothing, it’s how you’re perceived that defines what you are. Call Newport whatever the hell you want; I call it home to the best sailing I do, year in and year out, and I’ve sailed in a lot of places. Categorizing Newport as a snooty, fashion-based city is ignorant. Calling it the home of the NSHOF is a privilege, and calling it home is an honor.

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