Sailing's Real-life "Mini-Me"
Sailing's Real-life "Mini-Me"Report Abuse
Most everyone's heard the old line about chickens and pigs, and their respective relationships with ham-and-egg breakfasts; it's a parable on the differences between involvement and commitment and a favorite anecdote of high-school football coaches since the dawn of, well, ham and eggs. The chicken, of course, is involved, but the pig? He's committed.
I was reminded of this tale earlier this month during the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Md., after a long chat with Jeffrey Dingle, a fledgling sailor and budding entrepreneur from Marblehead, Mass., who was on hand with the shell of his brand-new M65 Mini-Transat racer, the first production Open 6.50 rocket to be launched in the U.S. You meet all sorts of boat builders and yacht brokers at the Annapolis show, which is as close to an annual sailing convention as you'll find in this country. Most of them are "involved" with their products. But Dingle? Man, he's committed.
[color=blue]Jeffrey Dingle takes in the view from the
companionway of his Owen Clarke-designed M65, the
first production Mini Transat racer to be launched in
The Classe Mini, as it's known in France, is the growing domain of one of the more interesting and radical designs in offshore sailing, the Mini. For the uninitiated, the 21'3" (6.5 meter) Mini resembles a scaled-down version of a Vendee Globe-type round-the-world racer: It could be the centerpiece of a movie entitled Honey, I Shrunk the Boat. Like many Open 60s, it sports a plumb bow, massive beam, a big asymmetric flown off a sprit, and twin rudders. Like the Open 60, it's generally raced solo or doublehanded. There are basically two subsets of Minis. The Serie, or production Minis, like the French-built Pogo and Dingle's M65, must conform to strict, rather conservative class requirements (no carbon, aluminum spars, etc.). With the so-called Prototype Minis, anything goes (carbon hulls and spars, canting keels, etc.).
The boats were originally conceived over three decades ago for the inaugural Mini-Transat Race, and in the intervening years they've helped launch the careers of some of the world's top singlehanded sailors, folks like Thomas Colville, Isabelle Autissier, Michel Desjoueaux, and Dame Ellen MacArthur. An American sailor named Norton Smith won the Mini-Transat in 1979, and Jonathan McKee would've probably matched the feat in 2003 had he not suffered a dismasting some 700 miles from the finish line.
That's about the time Dingle entered the picture.
He'd grown up doing some sailing on the Chesapeake Bay but is quick to note he's far from an experienced sailor. Nope, Dingle's thing is marketing and promotions, websites and brochures. In that capacity, through a series of chance meetings, he became involved with a young American sailor named Adam Seamans, who also sailed in the 2003 Mini-Transat. Dingle helped manage Seamans' campaign, and was on hand for the start, in La Rochelle, France, and at the finish in Brazil. "It was just an unbelievable scene," he said.
By early 2004, Dingle couldn't get the Mini off his mind. "I just thought it was a boat that could capture a lot of people's imagination," he said. "And I thought if it could be re-purposed as a production boat for round-the-buoys racing and even pocket cruising-- not just as an extreme ocean-racing machine-- that there might be a nice little market for it in the U.S."
In June of '04, at a Marblehead reception for Kip Stone, who'd just won the Open 50 class in the solo Transat Race, Dingle met yacht designer Merf Owen of Owen Clarke Design in the United Kingdom, and told him about his dream. Dingle asked Owen if he might be interested in the commission, and the answer was music to his ears.
"Absolutely," said Owen.
With that, the real odyssey began in earnest. There were fits and starts, money raised and money spent, checks written from the family coffers. Dingle has three kids under the age of 16 and there was more than one occasion when he was tempted to dump the plan and get on with his life. But he didn't, and along the way he started meeting kindred souls, folks who liked the idea and kept him going. It all culminated with a mad dash to Annapolis in early October, where he finally launched hull number one of the M65 class—sans rig, keel, accommodations, and hardware, just the basic hull/deck platform—for the entire world to see.
"So many people have come up to me and said, 'I've followed you for years, I didn't think you'd pull it off,'" he said.
The M65 is being built by Porta (pronounced "Por-tay") Fiberglass in Edgewater, Fla. Dingle has lined up many vendors, including Lewmar, Spinlock, Samson, Facnor, Gill, US Spars, and many others. With the able assistance of Jud Smith, Tyler Doyle of Doyle Sails is designing the sails. Dingle's company, The Mini Store, will provide all the basics required to campaign a Mini; it's one-stop shopping from the man who might be best be hailed as Mini-Me. He's set up a variety of related web sites (www.m65usa.com; www.ministoreusa.com; www.minisinamerica.com) to promote and market the boat, which costs $41K base, and an even $50K in sail-away condition (boat, trailer and three sails).
Now, of course, all he needs to do is sell a few. Dingle plans on having a boat available for test sails next January at Key West Race Week. Ideally, he'd like to build a circuit not unlike World Cup skiing that combines multiple events and awards points across a variety of disciplines: buoy racing, overnight events, and true offshore races. And he wants to make further inroads into existing contests like the Bermuda One-Two, which opened up its ranks to Minis the last time around and attracted seven boats right off the bat.
"Event development is really the cornerstone," said Dingle.
He should know. By launching the boat, Dingle has cleared the first hurdle. But he knows his bacon is still on the griddle. That's the way it is when you're fully committed to a cause.