Global Solo Challenge skipper Ronnie Simpson: “Sailing Saved My Life”
When an entrant to the Global Solo Challenge (GSC) is announced, the organisers post a profile of the entrant, and one of the questions asked is ‘Do you intend to link this personal challenge with a social message?’
American, Ronnie Simpson’s reply was ‘As a combat-wounded and retired Marine Corps veteran whose life has been changed by sailing, I feel very strongly about the many benefits that sailing can provide our veterans. I am proud to be raising funds and awareness for the veterans’ sailing non-profit US Patriot Sailing.’
I spoke to Ronnie, as I wanted to know more about this aspect of his story and how he came to be where he is today.
He explained that as a teenage recruit, he had been a Marine Corps Infantryman posted to Iraq during the war there. On that fateful day, 30th June 2004, he had been on patrol and was manning the rear gun on a Humvee, when the enemy fired a Rocket Propelled Grenade that hit the vehicle that he was in.
Ronnie was blown unconscious and when he came around, he found out that he was, somewhat disorientingly, back in America. It transpires that as a result of the horrific injuries he had suffered in the blast (which included losing half of one of his lungs, which was severely damaged in the explosion), he had been put into an induced coma for eighteen days, during which time he had been flown home.
Over time most of the wounds healed, though Ronnie tells me that as a result of the injuries to his eyes, he had to have cataract surgery when he was just nineteen years old, and to this day, still suffers from problems with his vision, but otherwise he considers himself fit and well.
Now after being retired from his military service, Ronnie admits his life was falling apart, and he acknowledges that during this period of his life, he made some bad decisions, that is, until one day when he was trawling the internet, he discovered some articles on sailing.
He was immediately hooked, sold his house in Texas, bought a boat and took off.
During the following years, Ronnie supported himself by working anywhere he could in the sailing industry, delivering yachts, captaining charters, undertaking writing and media work within the industry, and most importantly working as a racing Captain.
Incredibly in those years, despite him still being only 38 years old, Ronnie has clocked up 130,000 nautical miles of sailing, has completed 19 crossings between Hawaii and mainland USA, which include two class wins in races over this course, and competed in an edition of the Sydney to Hobart race. That is, apart from his ‘cruises’ around the Pacific Ocean, and sailing solo to New Zealand in a 27-foot boat.
As soon as Ronnie learnt of the Global Solo Challenge he was interested. Fortune looked down on him, and he was offered the loan of an Open 50 yacht by Californian sailor and businessman, Whitall Stokes.
This yacht had been built in 1994 to compete in that year’s BOC Around the World Race. She was captained by Alan Nebauer, who completed the circumnavigation despite her having been demasted and having suffered a rudder failure (at the time the yacht was called ‘Newcastle Australia’). Indeed, Nebauer received several awards for his tenacity in finishing the course.
Four years later, American, Brad Van Liew successfully raced her around the globe in the 1998-99 Around Alone (at this time she was called ‘Balance Bar’).
Stokes acquired the yacht and sailed her extensively, but he could not afford the time to enter the Global Solo Challenge himself, so decided to loan the yacht to Ronnie for him to complete the challenge.
Though this yacht, now called ‘Sparrow’ is obviously set up for Category 0 offshore sailing, it does need to have a refit and other work completed on her and this is being undertaken by Ronnie and his team in Beaufort, North Carolina (his team name is naturally ‘Sparrow Racing’).
Ronnie plans to complete the work this winter and then undergo sea trials, before he undertakes the qualifying 2,000 NM solo sail in May, crossing from Chesapeake Bay over to Europe, from where he will start the GSC later in the year.
Sparrow is an older Open 50 yacht, so was built of fibreglass and has a fixed keel (rather than the later models which were made of carbon fibre and have canting keels). She is therefore slower than these newer boats, and obviously slower than the larger boats that have entered the challenge, but Ronnie still maintains that he hopes to average around the 10-knot mark for the duration of the circumnavigation.
Ronnie is also a keen supporter of US Patriot Sailing, a not-for-profit charity that works with veterans whose mission statement clearly explains their work.
‘We support our Veteran community by welcoming our fellow Veterans back onto a winning TEAM – offering camaraderie, mission accomplishment, and new dynamic experiences – we foster supportive and understanding Veteran communities, ready to help Teammates navigate the hardships of transition, rehabilitation after injury, and the complex life challenges associated with combat deployments.’
As a great recent development ‘Sparrow’ has been donated by its former owner Whitall Stokes to US Patriot Sailing so that once Ronnie has completed the GSC, this yacht will be available for use by this worthwhile organisation.
In part, due to his collaboration and association with US Patriot Sailing, Ronnie gratefully states that he has secured some good sponsorship and financial backing, though inevitably, he does need further financial support, and is actively trying to source a main corporate sponsor.
Ronnie’s priority now is to complete the Global Solo Challenge, and he is totally focused on this project. He states that his earlier dream of entering the Vendée Globe is something that he is not thinking about. He is too busy.
I will finish this article by giving you a direct quote from Ronnie that is so thought-provoking and relevant to his work with US Patriot Sailing:
“Sailing, literally, saved my life”
If you want to know more about Ronnie Simpson he has a website