The MudRatz Offshore Racing team will stand out from the other sailboats competing in a three-day offshore race from Marblehead to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in more ways than one.
Their neon yellow gear is illuminating against the deck of the new racing boat, Dreamcatcher, their row of good luck charms below deck includes a small stuffed squirrel named Nuts, and they will be the only all-youth team outside of those from military academies sailing in the race across the Gulf of Maine that starts July 7.
But before they arrived in Marblehead on Sunday for the start of the race, the team and its coach, John Winder, who lives in Essex, docked their vessel at Manchester Marine Friday and Saturday to prep for the race and explore Cape Ann.
“Sailing with the Mudratz Offshore Team as a coach is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had...” said Winder. “It was a natural step to team with Manchester Marine, having worked there for 10 years in the 1980s and ‘90s. They have been very supportive of the youth initiative.”
The team is made up of youth ages 16 to 27, and is based out of Stonington, Connecticut, through MudRatz Inc., an organization that provides children and teens with opportunities to participate in sailboat races.
“(MudRatz) is a good opportunity for younger kids to get some serious racing experience," said Dreamcatcher Medic Safety Officer Conor Fowler, 27.
Thanks to Dreamcatcher, which was donated to the organization last year and is being renovated by its current young crew members – and the start of the MudRatz offshore program last year – these youth now have access to offshore sailing; something that is usually reserved for adults older than 30.
“There isn't a lot of opportunity for people in their 20s and teens to get on a boat like this and learn the systems and actually have control,” said 23-year-old Lindsay Gimple, co-skipper of Dreamcatcher. “This is a really unique program in that we’re demonstrating that (youth) can be safe at sea, (youth) can perform well and we can get more kids access (to sailing) that generally does not exist in the community.”
MudRatz also has racing teams for young children learning how to sail on an Opti, which is a small, one person dinghy, teams for 420s – or larger two-person boats that are usually used by teens and young adults – and a team for sportboat racing. The program is mostly funded by sponsors and fundraising.
While this is the first and largest race for the offshore team this year, the team won its class at another offshore race from Newport, Rhode Island, to Bermuda last summer. But Gimple said racing with the team has taught her and her teammates more than just how to sail offshore successfully.
“All these people become your really close friends,” said Gimple. “You learn all the annoying things about them, you learn who is smelly, but you know that you have to work with each other and depend on one another, so you have this sense of trust in the entire team, and that's something special you don't see in a lot of land based activities.”