National Sailing Hall of Fame Clock Is TICKING

A board vote on NSHOF's relocation to Newport could change everything

There have been more words written about the fate of the National Sailing Hall of Fame (NSHOF) than there are sailors at a Jimmy Buffett concert. Its “here today, gone tomorrow” status has yielded countless op-ed pieces in the Annapolis Capital, scores of letters to the editor, even an ode to the Hall by the Capital editorial staff populated with fistfuls of “sad to see you go” country western songs.

As of this writing, the NSHOF’s Board of Directors is still undecided with respect to accepting the City of Newport’s offer to buy a waterfront location for the sum of $1.7 million and move the not-for-profit entity to Rhode Island. Spokepersons for the NSHOF have told Newport officials they have the resources to make the move. Under terms of the agreement, the Hall would occupy two floors and 13,000 square feet of an iconic waterfront building. In the latest development, Newport has accepted the property agreement

On September 4, in a SpinSheet exclusive, Jobson told us: 
“When we receive the final documents from Newport, we will compare them with the possibility of an arrangement of staying in Annapolis. There are a few board members working to keep the Hall of Fame in Annapolis. The governor’s staff has told us there is a possibility that the property on City Dock, currently owned by the state, may be deemed ‘surplus property’ and either given to a municipality or sold at ‘fair market value’ to a non-profit. We do not have an appraisal of the value of the property. It is unclear whether the state would be willing to sell the property to the NSHOF directly, or the property would go out to bid.” 

Jobson continued, “The NSHOF started operating in 2004. Then Governor Ehrlich signed a lease with the Hall in December 2005. That lease has been extended in three-year increments. The Board of Public Works has made it clear this is the last extension. It terminates in February 2020.  The clock is ticking. We need to show substantial progress. There are 25 people on the board. When all the facts are presented, there will be a vote. I anticipate the vote will take place this month (September).”

Even if the board votes to relocate, SpinSheet understands there are still a number of hoops that must be jumped through to finalize the Newport deal.

Jobson has been walking a tightrope between keeping the Hall in Annapolis and moving it to Newport. Almost half of the NSHOF’s board of directors lives in the Chesapeake Bay area. It’s not hard to imagine a classic tack and cover strategy playing out behind closed doors, pitting some of the sailing world’s best tacticians against each other as they jockey to marshal forces on one side or the other of the move. 

Despite aggressive plans, the Hall has been unable to secure funding to adequately refurbish its present space which includes the historic Burtis house and more than 530 feet of dock space. Presently, the Hall pays rent in the amount of $1 annually, under the proviso that additional fundraising/development will be forthcoming. Initial plans called for an almost $30 million development. This has been scaled back to a proposed facility in the $10 million range. The Hall’s expansion kitty is well short of that amount. 

The history of the NSHOF is inexorably tied to Annapolis and the Chesapeake Bay. Founded in 2004, the NSHOF’s mission, vision, values, and strategy statements outline the broad constructs of the organization. Its stated mission is: “to promote sailing by preserving America’s sailing legacy and engaging the next generation by sharing the benefits, excitement, and beauty of sailing.”

To this end, the Hall not only conducts an annual selection process whereby America’s sailing heroes and innovators are honored, but of equal importance it offers a wide range of sailing programs to get people who would not ordinarily get out on the water the chance to take the helm of various sailboats and experience the critical life skills that sailing teaches.

To date, over 60 sailing luminaries including Jobson, Ted Turner, Dennis Conner, and Captain Nat Herreshoff have been honored as NSHOF inductees. The present Annapolis City Dock facility provides limited display space to highlight the contributions these individuals have made to the sport.

The list of Annapolis-centric sailing programs the Hall offers is impressive. Below is a recap of those activities over the past year. Almost 150 volunteers have devoted over 4200 hours of volunteer time to making these on-water programs a success: 

Exhibitions of 45 – 50 boats annually (eighth year)
STEM Sailing in partnership with Anne Arundel Public Schools and the United States Naval Academy; 3850 students have received academic credit; 95 percent had never been on the Chesapeake Bay (eighth year)
Free sailing on Sandbaggers Bull and Bear; 2930 people have participated; 75 percent had never been on the Chesapeake Bay (eighth year)
Recovering (Wounded) Warrior Spring and Fall Regattas (seventh year)
Classic Wooden Boat Rendezvous and Race (eighth year)
Yacht Club and Class Rendezvous (eighth year) 
Outreach Program (African-American and Hispanic communities, third year)

The impact the NSHOF has on the sailing community goes far beyond sheer numbers. This reporter recalls sailing with triple amputee Luis Ruiz in a Wounded Warrior event hosted by Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (CRAB) and NSHOF. Ruiz’s eyes filled with tears as he handled the jib sheet successfully, as the specially-outfitted Freedom 20 came about. That maneuver cost him his campaign cap… something he’d had since that fateful day in Afghanistan when he lost his limbs. But the smile that creased his face left no doubt that his day on the Bay was a life-changing event in its own right. 

I also remember a scared-stiff 12-year-old STEM sailor who doubted her ability to control a sailboat in 15 knots of wind with a crew of her contemporaries hanging on for dear life. But she brought the boat under control. Today she is contemplating a college curriculum that includes competitive sailing.

There are the countless times I’ve wandered the docks when the Pride of Baltimore, the America’s cup replica America, the historic Lynx frigate, or scores of other notable sailing vessels were moored at the NSHOF piers. You can just see the awe in the faces of the spectators as they mentally climb the rigging in raging seas and complete their own circumnavigation in their mind’s eye.

As Ian Smith of the Sydney, Australian, 18-footer fleet told me after he and two dozen of his mates had just completed a fun three-day regatta that pitted their wooden skiffs against the NSHOF’s Sandbaggers Bear and the Bull: ”Putting people in these boats is a special thing that more and more people should experience.”

CRAB executive director Paul Bollinger agrees: “It would be difficult to replace the facilities and collaboration we’ve enjoyed with our Wounded/Recovering Warrior Regattas if the Hall of Fame left Annapolis. Having that resource right at the City Dock gives our participants a nice feel for the City. Change is constant. We’ll go with the flow, but we sure will miss them if they head north.” 

Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley even sponsored a proclamation affirming the City’s support for the Hall. “It would be a shame to lose the Hall of Fame to Newport,” says Buckley. “Annapolis is the Sailing Capital of the United States. The Hall belongs here.”

In the opinion of one NSHOF volunteer, “It’s all about the money. As much as some of us would like to see the Hall remain here, if the board of directors thinks it is in the best interest of the Hall to relocate, then that’s probably going to happen… no matter how much Annapolis public and sailor sentiment exists to keep it here.”

In the words of that greatest of all sportsman philosophers Yankee great Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Stay tuned.

If you want to express your opinion about the Hall’s status, you can find contact information at the National Sailing Hall of Fame’s website

~by Craig Ligibel