(Jamestown, RI)- Having sailed against the PARTY TREE J/80 racing team in the Jamestown Tuesday evening race series and in various Round Jamestown Island Races over time, it was fun to catch up with them in the spring of 2021 at SAIL NEWPORT's south drysail lot as they prepared their boat for the 2021 sailing season.
Here is the story of how this crew of Millennials came to fruition from the perspective of Mike Filimon (kite trimmer, travel & logistics) and the team of Connor O'Neil (tactician), Sam Cushing (skipper), and Will Snyder (bow & tech support).
In his opening comments, Mike said, "the drop off in sailing among post college sailors and young people, in general, is something I am very passionate about. That is why I became the co-owner of J/80 USA 003 THE PARTY TREE.
I sailed in college at the University of Rhode Island; while I was there, I lived in a house with several other sailors.
We all graduated at different years and the last year one of us was in college, he was the last one in the house while still on the sailing team.
One night we were sitting at the table after an alumni sailing event talking about how much we missed sailing. We were talking about ways we could keep sailing after watching all our friends and teammates who had devoted their lives to the sport STOP sailing after college.
We always had a fake tree with Christmas lights on it in the living room that turned on at 5:00 pm and turned off at 2:00 am. We called it "The Party Tree" in the spirit of Jimmy Buffet's "It's 5 o'clock Somewhere" song. We were discussing this when the lights both literally and figuratively turned on and Party Tree Racing was born. We decided that night to form our own race team with the intent of buying a boat. So, as engineers/ geeks we are, we first we bought the domain name partytreeracing.com, as well as created the Instagram account- "partytreeracing".
After college, we all got adult jobs and moved to Newport and joined Sail Newport. We chartered the J/22 for a season and raced together...it was fun! We were really competitive (second in both series) and had a great time. We knew at this point we could be a race team. We also had lived together, so we knew we could handle paying bills together.
We had liked the idea of a J/70, since that was the hot fleet and a boat that took 4 people to sail. We started looking at the market and quickly realized a J/80 was twice as much boat for half as much money and there were already two of them in Newport. All four of us are engineers, so we set out to develop a plan for the hard work of boat ownership.
We made a budget that included all the operational costs. We determined we could dry sail the boat at Sail Newport and store it there for the winter. We got insurance quotes and went as far as making a race schedule and checking entry fees. We budgeted for one new sail a year. We realized; split four-ways we could make this work.
To ease the finances, we went to a bank, and they looked at the four of us and said, "you are renting a house?" NOT! And, we said "no, we are buying a boat". They looked confused and said they couldn't help us. We explained we needed a joint checking account, not a loan, and they said that they could do that for us. We drafted a boat agreement with rules governing usage and we all agreed to deposit the same amount per month in the boat account. We also agreed what expenses are personal and what are boat account.
Now, the problem with the J/80 over the J/70 was that none of us had a car that could tow it!! Thankfully, one of us was thinking about trading in his old college beater. He bought a new pickup truck that could tow a J/80, so thankfully that solved that problem!
Around this time, I was out sailing on a C&C 35 with my Dad and all of his friends. They were complaining about how there aren't enough young people in sailing and not enough boats on the line anymore. I told them as a millennial we can't afford it. One of them owned a J/29 I had raced on and was moving. He said, "I would sell you my boat for $10 grand". I told him “That is not the issue, I can write you a check for $10,000 right now, but there is a 20 year wait for moorings in Newport."
So, I need to rent a private mooring which costs thousands a season. I don't own a house, so I need to pay someone to haul it and store it for the winter. That is going to cost a lot more. I explained we need a J/80 because we can launch, tow, and store it ourselves. The owner looked at me and said, "wow you put a lot of thought into this..." I responded with "well we kind of have to".
We started scouring the market for a J/80 that fit our needs and found one in Wickford for the right price. It was even sail number 3 (number tree) so at that point it was fate. We put in an introductory offer because it didn't have a set of sails that would be competitive, and it was accepted. We bought it Wednesday, sailed it across the bay Sunday, and raced the Jamestown PHRF Fleet Tuesday. We didn't really have kite, or kite sheets, but we were out there.
That summer we raced the PHRF Fleet in Jamestown and had a great time doing it. Anytime not racing, we spent daysailing, or rafting up with friends.
We got an email from the J/80 fleet captain for the Marion J/80 fleet. He explained that J/80 North Americans were happening in Marion, MA and they were trying to get as many boats as possible. We explained that we were not going to be able to attend because our boat only came with its original 1993 kite, which was cut as a reacher, and would not be competitive. He decided to talk to the fleet and help us. One senior member had purchased a new kite for the J/80 NA's and decided to give us his old kite in return for our participation. Another fleet member agreed to lend us a jib. We raced with a 13-year-old mainsail made by Vermont sailing partners. In the end, we raced and had a great time.
We learned a lot along the way that other people can hopefully use to run successful programs. We decided that we would make a better team than individuals. We knew we would be each other's crew and after living together knew we could handle it. Pooling our resources let us afford it and we also split the work.
I once had someone ask me, "How do you share a boat and not get in fights over who gets to use it?"
My answer is "we don't co-own the boat; the boat co-owns us". LOFL! The work list is beyond us individually!
We split the work as a team, which is the only way it works! And, when one of us wants to take the boat out, we all get to go and enjoy it together.
Our usual response is that boats are so much work, how do you own them by yourself?
We are also still roommates, but have split from one house to two apartments. I have a detached garage at my apartment that is our sail loft, and the other apartment has a basement storage unit that stores the outboard, bottom paint and epoxy supplies all winter.
We each have our defined roles, Will is tech support, Sam drives the bus, I get us to the starting line and Conor gets us over the finish line.
We also could not pull this off without fleet support. The J/80 fleet in Marion, MA and around the USA had been great and welcomed us with open arms.
We have so far received 3 hand-me-down sails from other boats who were happy to help because they wanted to see us on the water with them.
We have even agreed someday, when we are older, and in a position to do so, we have to pay it forward to the next generation after us, because we owe that debt to the sailing community.
The active J/80 fleets have been a friendly group of great sailors who are always happy to lend a hand to what it takes to get another J/80 out there with them. I even managed to hop on a boat in Seattle for West Coast Championships during a business trip and found friends on both coasts!
We now run an active program and are gearing up for our second Block Island Race Week...hahaha, we may be the boat to beat this time!!
Last year, not only did I win the family rivalry and leave my Dad in my wake, but we also ruffled a few feathers when we were crossing gybes with a Swan 42, who were shocked we were so hard to pass. We are a steady fixture at J/80 one-design events and have friends in other fleets.
The J/80 one design events are always well-run and feel like a reunion as we get to meet old friends and make new ones.
We typically trailer to a few one-design events and then fill in the schedule with local events in and around Newport. The J/80 has been not only affordable, but let us do everything we could ever want in a boat. Whether it's spending the night on Block Island or top level one-design racing, our J/80 has served us so well we have even convinced another college friend to buy one for his young family.
This all started to happen in the summer of 2018. We have come a long way since then and have a trophy collection to prove it. We even did a FIGAWI and were known as the people crazy enough to race such a small boat and even crazier to sleep on it.
When we aren't racing, we are out sailing every weekend. To the point that Tim Kohl, the local J/Boat dealer in Newport, saw us once on the water and said, "you guys don't stop"!!
Two years later, doing the Storm Trysail Club Vineyard Race on the same C&C 35 with my Dad (after we had beaten them at Block Island Race Week the first time) the owner said, "well you guys all make good money, you could buy a bigger boat". Laughing, I said "yes, we could buy a bigger boat, but that wouldn't mean we have any more fun!!"
We may not be the fastest boat in the fleet, and we are definitely not the best funded, but if you see a J/80 with four guys wearing green hats, we are definitely having the most fun on the water!! GUARANTEED!! PARTY TREED!! Fair Winds- Mike Filimon"
Sailing photo credits- John Lincourt.