Block Island and The Cat Came Back
Published on June 23rd, 2019
The biennial Block Island Race Week was first held in 1965 after a number of Storm Trysail Club members participated in Cowes Week in England and were inspired to create an American version. Now it its 28th edition (June 24-28, 2019), competitors are once again bracing for a week of sailing on this special island.
But for one skipper and a revolving cast of characters, this pilgrimage to Race Week means more than the races themselves. Bill Wagner reports:
Lincoln Mossop III is happiest when he’s on Block Island. He has been competing here since the mid-1970s and has always loved everything about the event and its location. Mossop has consistently berthed The Cat Came Back at Block Island Boat Basin and every race day is capped by multiple rounds of mudslides at The Oar.
For many years, the Mossop family has rented the Spear House, located across from The Oar on West Side Road, and Lincoln is a familiar sight riding his motorized four-wheeled scooter back and forth to the basin before and after racing.
They say he has a reserved seat at Yellow Kittens Tavern, his favorite night spot. The 56-year-old has been coming to Block Island for so long and with such regularity that he is well known by many New Shoreham locals.
Gary Brophy, pit man aboard The Cat Came Back, remembers when the team was leaving Yellow Kittens late one night and a few sailors were stumbling. A pair of Rhode Island state policemen approached and everyone was worried they were going to get hassled, but “the cops come up and start slapping Lincoln on the back and asking how he’s doing,” Brophy says.
A mid-week crew dinner at The Spring House is a long-standing tradition dating back to the days when Mossop crewed aboard his father’s boat at Block Island Race Week. Put it all together and the seven days Mossop spends on Block Island in odd years are among his most cherished.
“Block Island Race Week is the regatta Lincoln looks forward to most, bar none,” says Skip Mattos, longtime manager of The Cat Came Back.
“It’s the highlight of his year,” Brophy agrees. “He talks about it for months and months in advance.”
Mossop’s The Cat Came Back sailed to victory in the ORC Club fleet during the 2017 edition of Block Island Race Week. It was an impressive performance by the crew, which won six races and placed second in two others. Of course, Mossop was front and center at the final awards ceremony, proudly accepting the hardware with a broad smile.
“Lincoln really loves sailing, really loves having a good time and really, really loves winning,” Mattos says. “He’s very, very competitive. He’s extremely determined and can be a real tenacious bastard, I’ll tell you that.”
Mossop has owned a series of boats named The Cat Came Back and brought them all to Block Island Race Week. In order, there has been a J/24, J/30, J/109 and J/120. A dozen years ago, Lincoln Mossop Jr. and his namesake son purchased a Swan 42. “I’ve never seen Linc more excited than when he and his father decided to get the Swan 42,” says Brophy, who came aboard in 2001 when it was the J/109.
One Life-Altering Moment
Ken Read was racing in B Division for Boston University at the 1981 collegiate nationals when he heard his name over the loud speaker of the Robert Crown Sailing Center at the Naval Academy. He had received an urgent phone call from his mother informing him that his friend and high school classmate Lincoln Mossop had been involved in an auto accident and was in a coma.
“To say it was devastating news would be an understatement,” Read says.
Mossop grew up in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, but his family owned a summer house in Jamestown, Rhode Island, and he was a junior member of Bristol YC. Read sailed out of nearby Barrington YC and competed against Mossop in Lasers, then later in Club 420s.
“We were rival sailors when we were young and got to know each other pretty well,” Read says. “Lincoln was always one of the better sailors on Narragansett Bay.”
They both wound up attending Providence Country Day School and founded an informal sailing team. Although Mossop was one year behind Read, they became best buddies.
“Lincoln was a crazy man, and I say that with great fondness,” Read says of the teenage Mossop. “He still has that crazy, unpredictable streak. He walks a wonderfully fine line between crazy and huggable. Before and after the accident, Lincoln always fills up a room.”
Read went to Boston University while Mossop elected to do a post-graduate year at Northfield Mount Herman. He planned to attend Dartmouth University and join Read on the collegiate sailing circuit.
Life changed for Mossop, however, on a Friday night in early June 1981, shortly after he graduated from Northfield. He went to Providence for a party and promised to be home early in order to go racing with his father in the morning.
Terry Mossop woke up in the middle of the night and realized her son wasn’t home. She called the state police and learned Lincoln had been taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital and was in critical condition. He had been driving back to Jamestown on Route 10 when he came across a single-vehicle auto accident. He stopped to help and apparently was speaking with the female driver when another car struck the disabled one.
It was a massive impact that killed the female driver in the disabled vehicle and almost did the same to Mossop. He would spend four months in a coma as a result of a traumatic brain injury—and the prognosis was not encouraging.
Lincoln Mossop Jr. and Terry weren’t sure their son would survive when he was initially transferred to Tufts Medical Center in Boston. Lincoln was down to 105 pounds and developed several severe infections. He was due to be moved to a long-term care facility when he miraculously came out of the coma. He was completely paralyzed on one side and could not talk because he’d had a tracheotomy tube for so long.
Mossop was moved to the renowned Braintree Rehabilitation Hospital and over time his condition improved to the point he was able to return home.
“Throughout the time Lincoln was in the hospital with the coma, his sailing friends were very loyal and supportive. They came to visit, posted sailing pictures on the wall and just really rallied around him,” Terry Mossop says. “Lincoln was always surrounded by love and support.”
When Mossop finally returned to the Jamestown summer house, he was intent on resuming his sailing career. His parents were wary because the accident left him with limited mobility.
“He kept saying he wanted to get back out on the water and my husband and I weren’t sure what to do,” Terry admits. “We finally decided we couldn’t keep Lincoln away from something he loved so much. He has always been an extrovert and such a social person. We never wanted to crush that indomitable spirit.”
So the family bought the J/24, and thus began The Cat Came Back program, aptly named because the skipper emerged from a coma even though doctors predicted he never would. Mossop III had been a sailing instructor at Bristol YC for a few summers and some of his former students stepped up to crew aboard the J/24.
“The sailing community is Lincoln’s community and has always been there for him,” Terry Mossop says. “Lincoln is happy as can be whenever he’s on the water. He’s been blessed with crews that are very, very loyal and has always been surrounded by a great group of sailing friends.”
Read would become a world-renowned sailor with multiple America’s Cups and Volvo Ocean Races on his resume. The two-time Rolex Yachtsman of the Year is President of North Sails and has always supported The Cat Came Back program.
“I truly believe Linc’s passion for sailing has kept him strong all these years,” he says. Read amends that statement to include religion and family as the backbones of Mossop’s life since the accident.
“If ever there was a family that had the strength to cope with something like this it was the Mossop family,” he says. “They shrugged off the accident and decided to make the best of it, which they have for almost four decades now.”
Lincoln Mossop Jr. was a renowned sailor on Narragansett Bay, initially racing a Lightning then later campaigning a Pearson 36 and Doug Peterson-designed Islander 40. It was those boats, both named Elena, that first brought the younger Mossop to Block Island.
There was never a doubt The Cat Came Back program was going to make Block Island Race Week one of the signature events on its racing calendar.
“It’s important for everyone involved to know what The Cat Came Back program is all about. The whole purpose is to create a phenomenal experience for Lincoln,” Read says. “Skip [Mattos] has done a great job. Not only has Lincoln had a blast and won a lot of trophies, but Skip has also raised the competitive level of the program without losing its DNA.”
Mattos had raced with Lincoln Mossop Jr. and developed a solid relationship with the Mossop clan. When The Cat Came Back needed new leadership in 2007, the marine industry veteran was the ideal choice. “This goes back to 1998 when I was working at North Sails in Portsmouth and Kenny wanted me to sail with the Mossops,” he says. “Me and the old man clicked immediately.”
Mattos now works as a project manager for Harken and has been involved with numerous grand-prix sailing programs. Needless to say, he has all the skills necessary to oversee Mossop’s club-racing operation. “All the knowledge I gain from my day job, I try to apply to this program,” he says. “Our motto for prepping the boat is: We do it once the right way.”
Still Going Strong
Wallace Lincoln Mossop Jr. was chairman of the board and partner of the Providence-based investment firm Barrett and Company. The Naval Academy graduate and former naval aviator died in May 2015 at the age of 81. Mattos admits there were doubts The Cat Came Back program would continue after the elder Mossop’s death.
Mossop Jr. was convinced sailing was an integral component of his son’s recovery and provided unwavering support for his racing endeavors. Whenever The Cat Came Back competed in Block Island Race Week, Lincoln Jr. and Terry would make the trip from Jamestown to New Shoreham aboard their trawler Resolute. They would watch a couple days of racing and spare no expense on the traditional team dinner.
“I cannot say enough about the generosity and kindness the Mossop family has shown every member of the crew. They treat all of us like family and take care of everything we could possibly need,” Brophy says. “That big dinner at the Spring House is the highlight of the week.”
Brophy, originally from the Philadelphia area, moved to Newport in 1998 while working in the high-tech industry out of Boston. He was asked to join The Cat Came Back crew for beer can racing every Tuesday night out of Jamestown. On May 18 of this year, he set the record for longest-tenured member of the team.
He has seen three major crew turnovers during that time, but noted there has been one constant. “Every person that comes aboard does so because of Lincoln,” he says. “He’s just a lovable guy that people want to help out.”
Mossop has a specially-designed seat with a backrest secured to the stern of the boat. He remains on the port side regardless of what tack the boat is on, which has occasionally caused problems.
“We’ve had a few knockdowns while sailing in heavy air off Block Island,” Brophy recalls. “Lincoln was on the low side when we jibed the spinnaker and the boat went over. He and I were submerged completely. When the boat popped up, he was smiling and laughing. It didn’t faze him one bit.”
Brophy remembers another day off Block when winds were gusting to 30 knots and the crew chose not to race out of concern for Mossop. It was a decision made with an abundance of caution, but Mossop wasn’t happy upon realizing the boat was returning to port.
“He got really upset and told the helmsman: ‘Why don’t you jump off and swim to shore?’ I’ve never seen Lincoln so pissed off,” Brophy says with a chuckle. “He wanted to go sailing.”
He has gotten to know Mossop as well as anyone after two decades together.
“Lincoln is incredibly sharp and has a great sense of humor. He knows the lyrics to every Steely Dan song and those of a lot of other classic rock bands as well,” he says, noting Mossop was once the lead singer in a band called The Low Road.
There is no doubt the knowledge, skill, and instincts Mossop developed as a top junior sailor remain intact. Mike Campbell, main trimmer and tactician on The Cat Came Back for the past five years, routinely listens to the skipper’s advice.
“Lincoln definitely knows what is going on and still has that innate feel. I’ll hear him say, ‘Mike, I think it’s time to tack,’ and by golly it usually is,” he says.
Campbell, a teacher at Quincy High School outside of Boston, says Mossop loves telling old sailing stories—and various situations on the racecourse or coming across a particular boat will cause one to come tumbling out.
“Lincoln is a real joyful guy and sailing with him will lift your spirits, for sure,” Campbell says. “He gets very excited to go sailing and loves to be on the water. Sailing keeps him active and motivated and our main goal every day is to make sure he is having fun.”
Today, Mossop splits time between condominiums in Pompano Beach and Jamestown. He’s a huge Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots fan. Friends say one of his biggest thrills was performing the pregame coin flip before a Patriots game at Gillette Stadium. He hosts an annual Super Bowl party because he presumes his favorite team will be playing.
Block Island Race Week XXVIII will be one of transition for the team. The Spear House was sold, and Mattos had to find a new crew house. “It wasn’t easy to find a proper 12-person house with some specific amenities like a bedroom on the first floor,” he says.
Mattos has grown extremely close to Mossop, who is the godfather of his eldest child, Finley. They have become like brothers, a status that comes with the requisite hugs, heart-to-heart talks and arguments. “Oh, Lincoln and I have gone at it. We’ve had some real go-rounds,” he admits. “We’ve also enjoyed some incredible moments, whether winning a regatta or just having a great dinner together. My whole take on Lincoln is: I don’t see the handicap, I see the person.”
The team has a full schedule each sailing season with Block Island Race Week preceded by the New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta. However, every member of the crew knows the one regatta that means more than anything to Mossop.
“Lincoln absolutely lives for Block Island Race Week. He looks forward to it more than anything,” Terry Mossop says. “Block Island is his Christmas, Easter, and birthday all wrapped up in one.”
Mossop soaks up every aspect of the experience that is Block Island Race Week. He gets dressed up for the nightly awards party and always looks sharp. He usually takes the helm of The Cat Came Back and steers the Swan 42 across the finish line.
“Lincoln himself makes this a unique program. He loves the camaraderie that comes with sailing and loves being part of the team,” Mattos says. “Honestly, the most direct way of putting it is that Lincoln is the ultimate Corinthian. What he has been able to overcome and how the crew has helped facilitate his ability to continue sailing truly is a terrific story.”