Aboard the Blue Yankee
Bob Towse '63 wins races with will, skill, and a lucky boat

Blue Yankee - Photo by Dan Nerney
by Dan Nerney

The sleek 66-foot sloop Blue Yankee slices through the choppy water past the breakwater at the entrance to Stamford Harbor, moving into position for the start of the 2001 Vineyard Race. The wind is from the southwest off Long Island Sound and freshening, and the wind-speed gauge attached to the boat's mast reads 16 knots. The mainsail goes up in shimmering folds of gold as four men grind the winches to raise it. The first of the three jibs and three spinnakers they will use during the race is on deck, awaiting the helmsman's order. In 15 minutes, Blue Yankee will cross the start line and begin her 238-mile voyage through Long Island Sound, past Block Island, around the Buzzards Bay light tower between Newport, R.I., and Martha's Vineyard and back to the finish in the harbor at Stamford, Conn. It is the Friday before Labor Day weekend. The sky is clear; the tide is flowing into Long Island Sound; and the forecast is for a steady southwest wind into Saturday. For 23 hours, 16 men will try to keep Blue Yankee's sails full and her course on track to win the only ocean-racing prize that has eluded them: the Vineyard Race trophy. On board are some of the world's best sailors: helmsman Steve Benjamin, an Olympic medalist and winner of three world championships; tactician Eddie Warden-Owen, also a multiple world champion, who has flown over from the United Kingdom for the race; and navigator Bob Towse '63, the boat's owner and three-time United States Admiral's Cup team captain. Towse has been winning some of the most grueling long-distance yacht races for 25 years. The key to victory, he says, is the same as it was when he played football at UNH: teamwork. "It's the consummate team sport," Towse says. "To win at this level you've got to have the best people at each position."

Towse, an advisory director for the investment-banking firm Morgan Stanley, was a relative latecomer to yacht racing. Most of the world's top sailors begin sailing dinghies as young children, but Towse spent his boyhood summers piloting powerboats on the St. Lawrence River. "I thought sailing was a sissy sport," he says with a rueful smile. "I found out it's very complicated, athletic and cerebral."

Bob Towse on Racing
I'm very competitive. If we can reduce a race to a war of wills, we'll win."

Towse sailed for the first time in the late 1960s when friends invited him aboard their 28-foot Olympic-class sloop. "I had no idea where it would take me," he says. In 1970, he bought his first boat, a 26-foot-long sloop, and named it Blue Yankee, the first of six of that name. He quickly discovered the world of racing, and within a few years he was competing in major races.

"I'm very competitive," he says. "If we can reduce a race to a war of wills, we'll win." Towse has won many of the world's top offshore races, including the prestigious Newport-Bermuda race. He has represented the United States in Admiral's Cup competition four times. The Admiral's Cup-considered the world championship of ocean yacht racing-involves a grueling series of five buoy races and two long-distance races off the coast of England, including a 608-mile-long loop around the Fastnet Rock in the Irish Sea.

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