My old mate Ronnie Simpson was on the phone, having just pulled into Halifax, Nova Scotia, after a short hop from Portland, Maine. It was the first week of September, and he was en route to A Coruña, Spain, aboard his newly renamed Open 50, Shipyard Brewing. On October 28, he would start the Global Solo Challenge—a nonstop, singlehanded round-the-world race with a rolling, pursuit-style start for boats from 32 to 60 feet.
“We were seeing a lot of cyclonic activity,” he told me, describing the suddenly bustling North Atlantic tropical-weather picture. “I think it was the right decision.”
Knowing Ronnie, he’d definitely given it a lot of considerable thought. Because as I’d come to learn, he basically has one speed: fast forward, with dispatch.
I’d last sailed with Ronnie almost exactly a year earlier, when he rolled into Newport, Rhode Island, aboard his new ride, then called Sparrow, at the outset of his campaign. We enjoyed a wild, windy outing in what he openly described as a training trip: “We’re doing a lot of learning here today.”
And he was clear that he was competing in the Global Solo Challenge with a broader goal in mind: to win it and then find sponsorship for an Open 60 for the next running of the Vendée Globe race, in 2024. “If doing [the Global Solo Challenge] on an Open 50 was the endgame, I probably wouldn’t be here,” he’d said. “I consider this my shot for the Vendée. I don’t know why I’m so driven to do that race, but I wake up every day and I want to do it, and I go to sleep every night and I want to do it.” Understood. And, I must say, Ronnie’s track record for getting stuff accomplished is pretty stellar.
I first met Ronnie in a professional sense, as his former editor here at Cruising World, where he chronicled his incredible journey as a sailor in a series of articles starting with a piece called “From Fallujah to Fiji.” It was a detailed account of a decade-long odyssey that began with his enlistment in the US Marine Corps just days after graduation from high school, and it recounted the day in Iraq when his Humvee came under attack and he was nearly blown to smithereens.
Quite by accident (or was it fate?), he found solace in sailing. He bought a 41-foot cruising boat that he abandoned in a hurricane, and he purchased a succession of small boats aboard which he raced alone to Hawaii and later rambled across the Pacific to Hawaii. With that background, he became a pro sailor and rigger, and notched more than 130,000 nautical miles leading up to his entry in the Global Solo Challenge.
After his visit to Newport this past year, he ambled down the East Coast and then knocked off his solo 2,000-nautical-mile qualifying sail, which concluded in Portland, Maine. There, all sorts of magic unfolded.
He met a local girl named Marissa and fell in love. She introduced him to Fred Forsley, the CEO of Portland’s Shipyard Brewing Company, which agreed to become his title sponsor. At the Maine Yacht Center, run by accomplished fellow solo sailor Brian Harris, he knocked off a long list of projects, including major structural repairs, to get his 50-footer race-ready.
“Brian and the whole staff at MYC made me feel like family. They were a massive help,” he says. “Shipyard Brewing has a long history of supporting returning veterans, going back to World War II. I found this amazing girlfriend, a perfect sponsor, a bunch of new friends and an awesome boatyard, all in Portland, where I plan to return after the race.” Wow. Maine, man.
With his close association with the nonprofit veteran-affairs organization US Patriot Sailing (which owns Shipyard Brewing), Ronnie remains true to his beginnings. He could still use support. Interested parties can follow his voyage and contribute to his cause by visiting ronniesimpsonracing.com or uspatriotsailing.org. They all have a long way to go on such a worthwhile mission.
With that, the day after we spoke, Ronnie was back underway across the North Atlantic. The plan was pretty straightforward. He had places to go. He had races to crush.
Herb McCormick is a CW editor-at-large.