Ronnie Simpson Sails Again
May 30, 2012
Ronnie Simpson Sails Again
by Tim Zimmermann
Ronnie Simpson is not the sort of person to leave anything unfinished. A Marine vet, who was wounded and almost killed in Iraq in 2004, Simpson abandoned a soul-sucking suburban life in 2007 and turned to sailing for salvation. Since then, he has: abandoned a storm-battered sailboat (and most of his possessions) mid-Pacific, shortly after setting out on a solo circumnavigation by way of Hawaii; ridden a bicycle most of the way round the world after being dropped by the rescue freighter in China, because that was the only way he could afford to complete his circumnavigation; and raced a Mount Gay 30 in the 2010 Singlehanded Transpac, partly because his first attempt to sail to Hawaii had ended in failure. He's just 27, legally blind from his Iraq injuries, and usually broke. But it would be hard to find someone who manages to squeeze more fun and adventure out of whatever life throws his way.
Simpson finishing the 2010 Singlehanded TransPac
Next up is a return run at the Singlehanded Transpac, which starts June 30. Simpson plans to set off this week on his 400-mile qualifier, expecting to see 30 knots of wind. In 2010, he finished second in his class and sixth overall, and then lost the keel on the way home. (He and a friend somehow managed to nurse the boat 800 miles to the Golden Gate.) Mostly he was happy to finish, and survive. This year, he wants to win, and is campaigning a Moore 24 called US 101 that he found on Craigslist (where he does most of his purchasing) for $6250. To do that, he will have to beat a few other Moore 24s for a class win, and some 25 other boats for the overall victory. "At this point I have put a lot of time effort and money into getting a competitive boat. I've been sailing the hell out of it and getting some pretty good results [including the overall win in the Doublehanded Farallones Race]," he says. "My goal is to win. Do I have a shot? Well, let's sail the race."
Doing well is important this time around, because while the last Singlehanded TransPac was a fantasy, he's hoping that this year's edition will help launch him into a full-time career as a professional solo racing sailor. "I am not really seeking fame or money," he says. "My vision is to be a professional, sponsored, solo ocean racer, to get a boat and campaign the shit out of it."
That's a rare American breed (Mike Plant and Brad Van Liew are two that come to mind). But Simpson is not someone who is easily put off by long odds. He has a title sponsor, Hope For The Warriors, and Quantum has supplied him with a full set of racing sails. West Marine Rigging Services, where Simpson used to work, has thrown in all new standing and running rigging, and other manufacturers are kicking in the goods as well. In short, as an amateur, Ronnie Simpson is already doing a pretty good impression of a professional sailor.
The Singlehanded Transpac is a good race for American solo sailors that want to prove themselves (in fact, it's one of the only races), and maybe make the jump to the much more sophisticated and competitive French and Atlantic solo sailing circuit. "With any kind of racing, whether motorcycles or bicycles, or offshore sailing, to reach the next level you have to win the level that you are at," he says. " I am an amateur sailor competing at a Corinthian level, so I have to first succeed at the level I am at." If he can do that, Simpson wants to find a sponsor who will back him, and his life story, in a Class 40 campaign, a Mini, or even help him jump straight to an Open 60 that he could race in the next Velux 5 Oceans, if it comes together. To entice that kind of money, Simpson wants to turbo-charge the potential exposure he can bring a sponsor by working out a reality TV deal that would track his attempt to make the huge (and inevitably humbling at moments) leap to that level of solo ocean racing.
It's as good a plan as any, and Simpson will need to execute it if he wants to get to his ultimate goal, which is--naturally--a Vendee Globe campaign. He doesn't know when or how that will happen, but does know that all he can do to try and make it happen is work harder than everyone else and hopefully win some races. No one who saw Simpson lying in the burn ward of the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio in 2004 would ever have believed where he is right now. But strange things happen when the sailing bug hits. And no matter what happens, Ronnie Simpson will be fun to watch.