No Boat? No Worries
No Boat? No Worries
If it all sounds a bit unlikely, so too is the background of the fellow who makes it all possible. A native of Huntington, New York, Schmitt was a hotshot racer in his youth, a member of the sailing team at Rhode Island's prestigious Portsmouth Abbey. But while most of Schmitt's classmates went on to college, he headed south to Texas for an education of a far different kind, on the offshore oilrigs in the Gulf of Mexico.
For seven years he plied his trade from Canada to Africa, but when the boom went bust he headed back to his hometown and began what turned out to be a career in sailing and the sea, from boatyard work and deliveries to long-line fishing through the winters out of Montauk. Eventually, in 1987, he acquired his own boat, a Tayana 37 he called Hunk-a-Schmitt, which became his home for the next 13 years. In 1992, with $200 in his pocket and a wallet filled with maxed-out credit cards, he set sail, alone, across the Atlantic to join Jimmy Cornell's America 500 rally in honor of Columbus's voyage some five centuries before.
It was in the Canary Islands, at the outset of the rally, that a seed was planted which eventually became OPO.
"There were all these people, walking the docks, that had arrived with a one-way plane ticket and wanted to make the voyage," he said. "Everyone told them, 'Go see Hank, he soloed across, he might need crew.' So I had all these people coming up to me who wanted to go, saying, 'I have money, food, my own safety harness. I'm a really good guy.'
"I was already set up to go with one other guy so I didn't need anybody," he continued. "But on the 30-day crossing to the Bahamas, I had a lot of time to think about it. And I just thought there had to be a better option (for folks like that) than just showing up and putting out your thumb on the dock."
And so, the sailor became an entrepreneur. By 1995 he'd taken out an ad in Cruising World and he started attending anywhere from three to five boat shows a year, spreading the word. Slowly, the business grew. Today, OPO has 500 members who, in addition to the initiation fee, pay $125 annually in dues. Schmitt's mission statement is concise and straightforward: "To seek, gather and create passage opportunities for our members."
He does so in numerous ways. About half of OPO's opportunities come from members who are professional delivery skippers. They get free crew, as do the boat owners who hire them, who would otherwise be on the hook for several sailors, as well as their fee and travel. "It's win-win situation," said Schmitt.