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all about the pink

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all about the pink

I remember meeting Tom Watson for the first time. It was May 2010 and I was preparing to shove off on my 400-mile qualifying sail for the Singlehanded Transpac. A small group of us had assembled in Sausalito to leave together on an early morning ebb, Tom included. The night before, I shared a beer with Tom and he told me of his plans to circumnavigate the globe non-stop via Cape Horn. I looked at Tom in disbelief and said nothing. I then looked at his piece of shit Cal 27 T2. “You’ll never make it”, I thought. I turned to Tom and nodded in support of his voyage, mostly just hoping that he would shut up while silently shooting my friend Adam a look that said “who is this guy and why is he talking about sailing around Cape Horn in a Cal 27?”.

The next morning, Tom followed us out under the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Pacific Ocean. We all went on to complete our 400-mile qualifying voyages while Tom merely sailed out to the Farallones, got sea sick and then sailed back into port claiming that his keel was falling off. Wanker.

Wrong. First off, Tom’s keel actually was falling off, as evidenced by a severely cracked hull to keel joint that was pouring water into the bilge. Either way, I was confident that that was the last I would see of Tom Watson. Wrong again. Two months later, i’m standing on the beach in Kauai when Tom randomly shows up to help bring a boat back to California. That was to be his first ocean crossing.

Fast forward to July 2011. Tom has purchased a Pearson Triton and named it “Darwind” after his beloved son Darwin. He still claimed that he was going to sail the boat around the world non-stop and that his trial run would be the 2012 Singlehanded Transpac. He also claimed that he was going to raise $1 million for breast cancer research. Pretty lofty claims if you ask me. I again scoffed at Tom’s ambitions. Not that I wanted to see Tom fail, but having done some serious offshore single handing and worked to raise money for charity, I knew first-hand how hard Tom’s road would be.

Before he could do the Transpac however, he needed to qualify for the race, so he entered the 2011 “Great Pacific Longitude Race” or Longpac. The weather forecast looked ominous, predicting a gale. Needless to say, the gale materialized and only 4 out of 30 boats finished the 400-mile long solo race. Tom Watson persevered to finish an impressive second place in class and third overall. Sailing back from Hawaii double handed and then spending a few days in a gale was Tom’s coming of age, his rite of passage. I no longer scoffed at Tom when he claimed that he would sail around the world. Instead, I listened.

But to know Tom is to know the Pink Boat. He isn’t just sailing around the world for his own personal glory. He is doing it to make a difference. With Darwind now painted bright pink, Tom began sailing her up and down the West Coast organizing fundraising regattas to raise money and awareness for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. To start, he organized the first Pink Boat Regatta in San Francisco which went off with great success. Two months later, I was walking down the street in San Diego watching the AC45’s practice when I saw a pink Pearson Triton sailing around San Diego Bay, wing-sailed catamarans buzzing by at speed. “This kid is everywhere”, I thought to myself. Sure enough, he was down in San Diego to promote another fundraising regatta.

This summer, Tom sailed the paint off of his pink Pearson Triton in the Singlehanded Transpac race. He blew up two spinnakers along the way, bent his spinnaker pole in a round down, hoisted himself up the rig solo under spinnaker and finally sewed his two kites together to create “Franken-kite”. Despite these problems, Tom managed to keep Darwind moving at exactly hull speed for 16 days and corrected out to first in class and third overall; an impressive result in a stacked fleet. A natural salesman and true philanthropist, I watched him chat up a bar tender at a bar in Kauai and solicit an online donation to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. “The kid’s got commitment”, I thought to myself. He truly believes in the cause he’s sailing for, as I do for mine.

Not only does Tom believe in his cause of raising money for breast cancer research, he believes in using sailing to help others, no matter what the cause. When I organized Hope for the Warriors’ first wounded-veteran sailing clinic in San Francisco in April, Tom was one of the first to volunteer; he worked tirelessly, sun up to sun down, to help me pull off the clinic. And for our next wounded-veteran’s clinic in two weeks? He volunteered to drive from Seattle to San Fran on his own dime to again volunteer. I spoke to him about possible reimbursement for his expenses and he shrugged it off nonchalantly in between sips of his beer, “nah man, I got it. It’s what I do.” I am both humbled and inspired by Tom’s selflessness, dedication to the cause and courage.

Two weeks ago, I skippered a delivery from Kauai to Seattle. As I made my final approach to Shilshole Bay Marina, I noticed that there was a regatta going on. It was the Pink Boat Regatta. “This kid is EVERYWHERE!!!” I again thought to myself, in utter disbelief. After his triumph in the Singlehanded Transpac, Tom had again sailed solo across the Pacific, this time from Kauai to Seattle in his engineless Pearson Triton. The kid has commitment AND balls.

Tom’s most recent Pink Boat Regatta was his biggest yet, boasting nearly 50 boats in the race. With a rocking live band, dunk tank and donated beer, the after party was absolutely raucous. But it was for a cause as Tom brought multiple yacht clubs together, not just to party but to raise money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The crazy thing is that it actually worked.

Last week, Tom Watson and the Pink Boat wrote a check to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation for $36,000, a staggering amount considering that the Pink Boat started just a year ago with literally nothing. $36k from ONE regatta. And the Pink Boat is only getting bigger and better.

Two years ago, when Tom told me of his plans to sail around the world, I laughed and dismissed him as a dreamer. Now I cheer for him.
Tom Watson will sail Darwind around the world, solo and non-stop via the three capes, from San Francisco next September.
Fair winds and following seas, friend. If anyone can do it, it’s you. I am both honored and privileged to be able to consider you a friend. For more information, go to: www.pinkboat.org or on Facebook.

-Ronnie Simpson