For the good of the beer-can sailor
Published on April 15th, 2020
by Chris Museler, Sailing World
Paul Sevigny is on a mission. He wants to slay giants and, along the way, revolutionize the handicap racing scene in America. How’s he going to do that? Win a world championship in a sporty 26-footer, taking down the most expensive and best-prepared racing machines around. The arena for this sailing battle of the ages will be Rhode Island Sound, venue for New York YC’s 2020 ORC/IRC World Championships in early October.
He will be stepping onto the battlefield not only for himself and his teammates from Noroton, Connecticut, but also for the good of the common beer-can racing sailor. Should he emerge victorious, he hopes to inspire local handicap racing teams to step up and travel to race weeks, as many big-boat teams did 20 to 30 years ago before the proliferation of smaller, turnkey one-design classes that live on trailers.
I once thought he was nuts. But then I sailed with him.
“You can race with the big boys for a fraction of the cost with a small sporty boat,” Sevigny says. He bought his GP26 Smokeshow in spring 2019. “A [used] $14,000 Melges 24 might not be competitive in one-design. But in PHRF or ORC, you might have yourself quite a rocket ship.”
He reasons that adding crew and new sails, and optimizing the design for handicap racing, are simple upgrades. “When your boat costs less than most top guy’s mainsails, you have a little change left to try things. And now you can race against big teams. Isn’t that wonderful?”
I fall under Sevigny’s spell in fall 2019, during the daylong Denmark Race on Long Island Sound. When I first meet him, the boat is under the hoist at Noroton YC, surrounded by a monolithic fleet of Sonars. It looks like a miniature TP52, all tricked out with control lines and high-tech sails. We cram six sailors into a cockpit that is no bigger than a solo sailor’s Mini, and over the course of a breezy afternoon—pulling plenty of power from the boat’s asymmetric spinnakers and code sails—we hoot and plane to second overall, ahead of several 45-footers.
Though the experience is fun, I don’t see a GP26 future in my career, until Sevigny bends my ear about his goal to win the ORC/IRC World Championship. Now I’m listening. Full report.