My start date in the Global Solo Challenge race is now less than two weeks away. When this campaign began back in August of 2022 in Portland, Maine, I knew that it would be an uphill battle all the way to the start, but this endeavor has nonetheless been a humbling and challenging venture from start to finish. And by finish, I mean, just in getting to the start of the race! Now here in Spain however, with my newly renamed Open 50 Shipyard Brewing on the docks and nearly ready to start this epic solo, non-stop around the world race, I feel a great sense of accomplishment in how much work has been done and how far we’ve come together, but I also feel an immense amount of gratitude for all of the companies, individuals and organizations that have helped me throughout the past 14 months.
When I first got my hands on this older Open 50 that was then named Sparrow with the goal of racing it solo around the world in the Global Solo Challenge, I knew that I would need some good sponsors to help me get to the starting line. I also knew that I wanted to align the campaign with a non-profit organization; both to support a cause and organization I believed in, but also to align myself with a tax-free avenue to raise campaign funds. As a combat-wounded and medically retired US Marine who was wounded in Iraq, helping veterans heal through sailing has always been a cause that is very near and dear to my heart. So, the first person I reached out to was Peter Quinn, the director of US Patriot Sailing, which is a Veteran’s sailing non-profit based in the Chesapeake Bay. While the boat was located in Portland, Maine, I knew that I would spend a lot of time in the Chesapeake and that Maryland, and likely Annapolis, would become a sort of home-base for the campaign. As it ended up, Sparrow was eventually donated to US Patriot Sailing by her former owner, Whitall Stokes, and is now officially registered in Annapolis, Maryland. When my race is over, she will come back to Annapolis to be part of US Patriot’s program, and to serve as a platform for offshore sailing and training for Veterans.
Departing Portland, Maine in September 2022, the first place that I sailed Sparrow to was Newport, Rhode Island for the Newport Boat Show. There, I hooked up with my first campaign sponsors and managed to line up some press about the campaign. I also discovered how large and important the Annapolis Boat Show was, just a month later. This may sound silly, but as a sailor from Hawaii (and a member of Hawaii Yacht Club), the east coast sailing scene was a bit foreign to me, and I was on a steep learning curve! Shortly after Newport, I sailed the boat to New York City and then down to Annapolis, taking the long way around in an effort to get in more offshore training and let Sparrow stretch her legs down the coast.
Annapolis, Maryland and the Annapolis Boat Show were very good to us, and we found a lot of support in the Chesapeake. While there, we also engaged with a number of Veterans and supporters from US Patriot Sailing, while continuing to work on the boat, prepare for the race, and continually sign up new sponsors. During this time, we also found a very good sponsorship through Elvstrøm Sails and their local loft, Chesapeake Sailmakers. Shortly after Thanksgiving, I sailed Sparrow from Annapolis down to Beaufort, North Carolina where I would base myself for the winter to continue working on the boat and re-fitting her for the race. When Spring kicked in and the dock rates went back up in early April, I took off on my first solo sail on the boat and conducted a 300-mile training sail down to Charleston, South Carolina. A week later, I would take off on a 600-mile solo training sail from Charleston up to Annapolis with an overnight stop in Solomons Island.
While back in the Chesapeake, I took on some valuable safety training with US Patriot Sailing, while also attending the Annapolis Spring Boat Show and fitting on our new Elvstrøm Sails and Facnor furler and composite forestay, among other upgrades. During this six-week period that I spent in the Chesapeake during the Spring, I also applied to the Annapolis Yacht Club Foundation for a grant to help get me to the starting line. In early June, I then departed Annapolis for Solomons Island, where I would take off on my required 2,000-mile solo qualifying passage for the Global Solo Challenge.
Departing Solomons Island, I sailed down the Bay solo in a solid northerly breeze that would gradually taper off before a southerly breeze would fill in that would see me sailing upwind out of the mouth of the Chesapeake and then towards Bermuda. As that breeze died, I then found myself sailing downwind to Bermuda in light to moderate tailwinds before a southeasterly breeze filled in that saw me short-tacking the last 150 miles to Bermuda. As I rounded Bermuda, the breeze switched to a southwesterly and I reached back towards Newport, Rhode Island doing 225+ mile days and making quick work of that portion of the qualifying passage. While crossing the Gulf Stream, I sailed through intense thunderstorms that brought heavy rain and lightning, and then consecutive nights of 35 knots of wind and then 45 knots of wind during some squalls. Coming through those unscathed, I sailed close to Newport and then tacked away and sailed downwind around the Nantucket Shoals. Once into the Gulf of Maine, a new breeze filed and I reached northeast in anticipation of a low-pressure system that would deliver about 35 knots of wind from the northeast and allow me a fast downwind run to the finish in Portland, Maine, where I intended to conduct a haul-out and re-fit before sailing the boat to Europe.
As well as the weather, there was just one major hurdle in conducting this re-fit; I didn’t know how I was going to pay for it! When conducting a campaign like this, funding is oftentimes the hardest part, and that has again proven true during my campaign. While sailing in the Gulf of Maine and approaching my final meteorological hurdle of the qualifying passage, I received an email from Annapolis Yacht Club Foundation Vice President Kathy Parks notifying me that I had been awarded a grant from the Annapolis Yacht Club Foundation! Kathy informed me via email that I would receive a check for $2,000 and then another $5,000 upon the successful completion of my 2,000-mile qualifier. This was great news for my program, as $7,000 would help me significantly while in the boat yard.
Day after day in this campaign, I’ve been forced to take these giant leaps of faith, just hoping that things would somehow work themselves out. Again, taking off on my 2,000-mile qualifier with the boat yard as the finish line, I knew that I would be in for an expensive haul-out, though I didn’t know how I would pay for it. Sure enough, I raised some money from a variety of sources, and then $7,000 came in from Annapolis Yacht Club Foundation, and I found myself with at least enough money to haul the boat out and begin conducting our work. That 35-knot front ended up being a 40+ knot front with gusts up to 54 knots, but Sparrow and I again came out unscathed and arrived safely at Maine Yacht Center in Portland, Maine ready to get to work.
After a bit more than two months, and a lot of work conducted and money spent, I would be preparing to depart Portland, Maine on the newly renamed Shipyard Brewing, in honor of the campaign’s new title sponsor; Portland, Maine based brewery Shipyard Brewing. Shortly after I had arrived in Portland, I quite unexpectedly was introduced to a girl named Marisa by a mutual friend from Oregon. What began as a simple delivery of a lunch care package turned into something much greater, and Marisa and I became very close. Now very much an item, Marisa leveraged her business savvy and personal connections and found me a title sponsor. Again, I had taken a big leap of faith with working on the boat in Maine, with no idea how I was going to pay for most of the work, when I both fell in love and found a title sponsor. Life is funny in how it all works out sometimes.
On September 1, myself and one crew member, Ed McCoy of Los Angeles, CA, departed Portland, Maine and set sail for Nova Scotia as Hurricane Idalia had changed her path and decided to park herself right along our route to Spain. After a fantastic and mellow downwind sail from Maine to Nova Scotia, we pulled into a quaint little mooring field and marina in the town of Chester and spent three enjoyable days there touring the area and working on the boat a bit as we waited out the cyclone. Departing on a Wednesday, we sailed through the remnants of the system and then sailed mostly downwind to the tip of Newfoundland. Once east of Newfoundland and south of Greenland, we sailed on a close reach to a beat, in very rough seas from all the low-pressure systems and cyclones in the Atlantic and pounded the boat pretty hard. We uncovered a few things we needed to address at the mast head, but structurally the boat fared well. After the bouncy bit in the middle, we sailed upwind in light air and then reached our way towards Spain. Near the end, we rode a low into Spain with gusts into the mid-40s and breeze mostly from behind.
Arriving at A Coruña, Spain, site of the start and finish of the Global Solo Challenge, Ed had to fly back to California to get to work, while myself and my small and constantly evolving shore crew of friends has gone to work on the boat to conduct a number of upgrades and final preparations for the start of the Global Solo Challenge, which, for me is on October 28. While here, we pulled the mast out to improve the mounting of our wind instruments, fix a broken VHF antenna and a halyard issue, and then undertook a very big solar panel install, while also focusing on final required safety gear and rule compliance. With most of that work done, we are now working on branding the boat and sails to reflect our new title sponsor in Shipyard Brewing, and then we have an ambitious final week planned with more upgrades, final preparations and a few sea-trials before the start, which is now just 13 days away as of this writing.
It’s a huge undertaking, and a wide range of emotions in preparing for an endeavor like this, but all in all, one of the biggest emotions that I feel is an overwhelming sense of gratitude for everyone who has helped me along my way, to include the Annapolis Yacht Club Foundation. While in Maine, I received a visit from Chip Carr of the AYC Foundation and his cousin Barb. Throughout my time in Maine, Chip’s cousin Barb became a friend and supporter of the campaign as well. A medical professional and a doctor, she has also come on board the campaign in a literal sense by helping me with some last-minute medical training and in organizing some supplies, such as antibiotics and other medical supplies that may help me out on my race around the world.
My race around the world on Shipyard Brewing will begin on October 28 in A Coruña, Spain. You can follow along on the race website at www.globalsolochallenge.com, on my campaign website at www.ronniesimpsonracing.com, and on Shipyard Brewing’s website at www.shipyard.com. I am also quite active on Instagram at captainron_official. Thanks again to Annapolis Yacht Club Foundation, and I will look forward to visiting the club in the Spring or Summer of 2024!