Seeking to inspire the next generation

Published on April 1st, 2019

The Red Star Sailing Team, led by Charlie Welsh (Newport Beach, CA) and Tommy Hickey (Weymouth, MA) have entered an all under-25, mixed gender crew to compete in the 50th Transpacific Yacht Race aboard a turbo’d Columbia Yachts built Carbon 32.

After working through the winter with Columbia Yachts to refit the Carbon 32 made available to them, the team will soon be training extensively along the California Coast in preparation for the race.

Red Star Sailing Team aims to provide sailing opportunities for young adult sailors who often lack the financial means to participate at a high level. Working with industry professionals, team members advance their knowledge of all aspects of racing from the boatyard to the finish line. Red Star sailing team members aim to be well rounded and valuable members of the sailing community,

Now 23 years, Welsh grew up racing dinghies but moved into keelboat sailing skippering a youth team aboard the J/124 Marisol and then starting an extensive match racing campaign that has brought Red Star all over the globe. It was through match racing at Oakcliff Sailing Center when he met Hickey who has a dinghy background in Boston Harbor before finding a passion for offshore sailing.

Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck checked in with the 24 year old Hickey for an update:

Is this more about assembling a youth team or is it a reflection of young people not being given opportunities?

This program is a result of an age gap in sailing. Leadership opportunities for young adults are definitely lacking across the sport. We decided to take matters into our own hands and create the opportunity for ourselves and for other interested young adult sailors. The 2019 Transpac is just the beginning.

This is an issue I feel strongly about and I know there are plenty of others out there who have identified this problem in our sport, and while I am speaking mostly to keelboat racing, I’m sure the problem exists elsewhere.

I do think there is some issue with the rigidity and divisiveness of our sport at a youth level. I grew up in the Boston area and I’m sad to say that of the couple hundred people I grew up sailing with around here, not many continue past college or even high school.

I think there are a few reasons for this but really only one solution. The reasons in my opinion are lack of a clear pathway after high school or college sailing, a lack of time, and a lack of finances.

Of the programs in the US that allow high school and college aged sailors the opportunity to sail on and run a keelboat in major regattas, several have influenced my sailing career such as the team at Webb institute, Oakcliff, Young American, and the Storm Trysail Club’s collegiate regattas.

All of these programs have a couple things in common. They all have passionate, experienced sailors who want to pass the sport on to the next generation; they are all very public and promote well so as that opportunities for up and coming sailors are apparent; and they all have some financial base to run a competitive program.

I think the solution is simply stated. We need to show developing sailors what their options for continuing in the sport are, we need to provide them with opportunities to pursue those options, and we need to show them how to fundraise and finance a campaign in a responsible way.

Youth leadership in sailing will come from young sailors who are inspired by the opportunities presented to them and strive for improvement of their own skills as well as the improvement of the sailing community as a whole.

How did the boat offer come about?

Columbia Yachts acquired the boat from Oakcliff Sailing after an incredible year on the east coast and was looking for a young team to campaign it. Charlie and builder Vince Valdez from Columbia began discussing a partnership this past summer. Building off the success of Charlie’s Red Star Sailing Team, an agreement was reached to actively campaign and promote the boat for Columbia.

The 32 has had some noted failures. What is being done to insure safe passage?

When some people think of the Carbon 32, they instantly think of the disaster during the 2013 Islands Race. While the incident was tragic, there were of course many factors at play besides the engineering of the boat.

The number one priority of our campaign is safety and the team will undergo extensive safety training before the race. However, this is no ordinary Columbia Carbon 32. This Carbon 32 has a carbon rig from Hall and over-sized square top main, fixed carbon prod, and has actually been reinforced forward to better deal with slamming loads.

The boat was in great shape and after getting even more love at Columbia Yachts to ensure her safety, this will likely be the fastest and most solid Columbia Carbon 32 out there.

Your team is from across the USA. Any common links?

Our team is geographically diverse. Transpac crew members are from California, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Texas, but we regularly have members onboard from up and down both coasts and the Great Lakes for other events.

After Charlie and I met, he filled in occasionally with the offshore team at Webb Institute where I was the captain and I started calling tactics for Charlie’s match racing team. We began to discuss the challenges that would face us as we graduated college and discussed options for taking ourselves to the next level.

At first it was uncertain where we would set the bar, but eventually this led to the Transpac campaign. Most crew roles have been filled with people that we met through match racing, college sailing, and offshore sailing.

How many total crew will be in the Transpac race?

We currently plan to sail six up in the race. The crew will include Charlie and myself along with Sam Wright (22, Annapolis, MD), Julia Lines (22, Southampton, Bermuda/Charleston, SC), Kate Shaner (24, Kirkland, WA), and Chandler Hill (22, Huntington Beach, CA).

Has any of the team done Transpac or similar type races?

None of the current crew has done Transpac, but the crew does bring a variety of experience. Several members have competed in one or more Newport to Bermuda Races, Marblehead to Halifax Races, Annapolis to Newport, Newport to Ensenada, Chicago-Mac, etc. The list goes on, but pretty much most major offshore and coastal races in the US are accounted for. We realize this race is a step up for us and we are looking forward to the challenges that come with that.

Where will we see your team on the water before Transpac?

Before the Transpac, we’ll be in California with our current schedule including training in San Francisco followed by a training sail to Newport Beach, CA. This will have the boat set to race with an all female team in the Newport to Ensenada Race, and then we will follow that by doing California Offshore Race week.

Between these events, we’ll be training on weeknights as well as getting local youth programs out on the boat for beer can racing. Throughout our spring schedule we’ll be working to streamline our watch system, ensure reliability of key onboard systems, and practice emergency procedures.

Following the Transpac, we plan to ship Weegie to the East Coast to compete in the SORC Islands in the Stream Series.

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