4th grade sailing program at Sail Newport, Rhode Island

From boat hoists to transformative school programs – celebrating 11 years of 11th Hour Racing’s partnership with Sail Newport

11th Hour Racing’s impressive portfolio of grants offered to projects that improve ocean health currently stands at 266, a continually rising number. The first ever beneficiary of a grant all the way back in 2013 was Sail Newport, a leading local community sailing center hoping to replace an aging three-ton boat hoist with a much cleaner, vegetable oil-powered one.

Now 11 years on, and with the hoist still “running like a champ,” we caught up with Sail Newport Program Director Kim Hapgood to look back on how the special relationship has developed through a mutual passion for sailing, sustainability, and providing opportunities for the local community in Rhode Island.


On the scene since 1983


In 1983, something unimaginable happened on Newport’s waters: The Americans were defeated by Australia in the America’s Cup, a seismic shock that ended 132 years of American dominance and their lifting of the ‘Auld Mug’ trophy. With the race heading Down Under in 1987, it meant that Newport, often referred to as ‘the sailing capital of the world,’ would no longer host the iconic race that it had put on for every edition since 1930. What would fill the void and ensure Newport remained a hotbed for sailing?

11th Hour Racing Team, Newport, RI, Fort Adams, homecoming event, sail newport, newportFILM. Credit: Sean McVeigh | 11th Hour Racing
Sail Newport’s highly sustainable and efficient solar panel-powered base was opened in 2017. @ Sean McVeigh | 11th Hour Racing

The answer was to create the largest public sailing center in New England. And so, Sail Newport was founded in 1983 with an office on Bowen’s Wharf. Several years later, Sail Newport merged with the then Fort Adams Sailing Association and was invited to use land for public recreation by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

The primary mission was to recruit and host local, regional, national, and international regattas, all while offering local sailors easy and affordable access to the water and providing opportunities for new participants of all ages to get involved in the sport.

“It started with a small fleet of Optimist dinghies and Lasers,” Program Director Kim Hapgood remembers. “It quickly grew as interest picked up, and fast forward four decades later to today, our new educational and recreational headquarters built in 2017 enables us to provide many opportunities to the local community.”


Transformative school programs


The importance of these opportunities is hard to put into words. By teaching the next generation how to sail, Sail Newport and 11th Hour Racing are allowing students to fall in love with their city, their community, and, most importantly, the ocean. Only through building a meaningful connection – learning and experiencing time on and around the water – will kids be inspired and committed to advocating for the ocean’s protection.

One such initiative where the next generation is falling in love with the ocean is the Pell 4th Grade Science and Sailing Program, an inspiring project that 11th Hour Racing has proudly been the primary support of since its inception in 2017.

For eight weeks in the fall and eight weeks in the spring, kids from Pell Elementary School jump on a bus and head for Sail Newport, where they’ll learn how to sail on the water alongside studying marine and environmental topics in the classroom, which overlooks Narragansett Bay.

“We know the value of sailing and how it can help create good human beings.”

Smiling back at the ocean, Pell Elementary School’s 4th-grade students connect with the sea through sailing lessons that blend STEM educational principles. © Maaike Bernstrom | 11th Hour Racing


Students work together to drop the mainsail. © Maaike Bernstrom
On the Newport Harbor, Pell Elementary School students learn more than just dropping a mainsail. It’s a lesson of teamwork and commitment. © Maaike Bernstrom | 11th Hour Racing

In a state where nearly 70% of students in public school qualify to receive a free or reduced-cost school lunch, the instructors, equipment, and tuition are provided for free through this program supported by 11th Hour Racing.

“It continues to be a bedrock program for us, and 11th Hour Racing’s support is so important,” Kim says. “Their partnership has been instrumental in providing people in the Community with accessibility to sailing regardless of their financial position.

“A handful of kids might have experienced the ocean before, but the vast majority have never been near the harbor despite living within a couple of miles.

“It’s hugely transformative. We hear that as a result of their participation, the kids’ behavior at school, commitment to studying, and communication with each other all improve.

“And it can be instantaneous. All it takes is one experience sometimes, a lightbulb goes on, and they’re committed. It’s pretty remarkable.”

The success of the public elementary school program inspired Sail Newport and 11th Hour Racing to launch a new Marine Exploration Program, a free after-school program for middle school students to explore careers in the marine industry through sailing, powerboating, and spending time understanding the environment on Narragansett Bay.

Everybody who attends one of these programs develops essential life skills like teamwork, trust, responsibility, and how to overcome adversity. All qualities that are fundamental to thriving in mother nature.

“We know the value of sailing and how it can help create good human beings on many levels,” Kim says.

“We train the students in how to handle a boat and a tiller and say ‘go for it’. To give that freedom and trust to get out on the water helps with the growth of the individual.”


The Ocean Race


“11th Hour Racing has been involved since the very start and has been such a big support.”


Putting a total number on how many people pass through Sail Newport every year isn’t easy, but thanks to their sustained programming, regattas, and the two public boat hoists at their highly sustainable and efficient solar panel-powered base, Kim knows it’s in the “tens of thousands.”

On the occasions when The Ocean Race comes to town, this number multiplies into the hundreds of thousands as Newport becomes a vibrant hub of activity when sports fans from across the globe descend en masse to witness the race firsthand.

During the last three editions of the around-the-world sailing race, 11th Hour Racing was excited to participate in Sail Newport’s Exploration Zone, which featured activities and exhibits focused on sailing, marine science, and the environment.

“A thousand school children a day came last May during the race,” Kim remembers. “They came down and had a meaningful experience, learning new things that tied in with the curriculum they were learning at school.

“11th Hour Racing has been involved since the very start and has been such a big support.”

Last year was extra special and a “full circle moment” as the 11th Hour Racing Team, skippered by Charlie Enright, who had raced at Sail Newport in his youth, won the leg into their home waters en route to becoming the first American team to ever win The Ocean Race.


Promoting sustainability


Another early example of the two organizations collaborating to promote a cleaner sport and a healthier future for our planet came more than a decade ago when 11th Hour Racing supplied branded reusable water bottles to all participants of the Brooke E. Gonzalez Advanced Racing Clinic, a high-performance training opportunity for young sailors held at Sail Newport every year.

“At the time, water bottles and limiting the amount of plastic wasn’t something everybody was committed to yet,” Kim remembers. “Together with 11th Hour Racing, we did everything we could to try to be environmentally conscious, and that push has continued.

“Environmental sensitivity and education is something that is integrated into every program that we do.”

And as for the vegetable oil-powered boat hoist that kickstarted both the grant program and this special relationship all those years ago?

“It still runs like a champ,” Kim says. “It gets used multiple times every single day, so a lot of people wouldn’t be sailing if they didn’t have this affordable and easy access.”

The 11th Hour Racing trash skimmer is emptied by youth sailors. Located at Sail Newport's piers on Fort Adams, (Newport, Rhode Island) the skimmer helps to collect plastic and other garbage floating in the ocean.
The Marina Trash Skimmer, supported by 11th Hour Racing and Sail Newport, is a permanent commitment to sustainability. © Amory Ross


A bright future 


Now in its 41st year, Sail Newport is more determined than ever to offer affordable public sailing to all and use the sport and its links to the environment to help create good human beings.

Kim says: “We want to help not only give kids the experience of the water but also help them see the bigger picture in terms of what opportunities are available to them in their lives, whatever direction they choose to go in.”


STEM education fun in the Sail Newport classroom. © Maaike Bernstrom
STEM education fun in the Sail Newport classroom. © Maaike Bernstrom


Keep up to date with Sail Newport’s daily adventures as an innovative, sustainable, and accessible sailing hub for the whole community on social media.






Header image credit: Maaike Bernstrom / 11th Hour Racing