ANNAPOLIS — U.S. Marine Captain Peter Gibbons-Neff, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Class of 2011, recently spoke to members of the Kent Island High School Sailing Team, informing them about his upcoming sailing adventure of 4,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean.
Gibbons-Neff departed the states April 30, flying to France to prepare for four lengthy qualifying races using his 21 foot, one person sailing boat. The culminating 4,000 mile voyage will begin September 26; Gibbons-Neff leaving France among as many as 84 other like sailing boats. The first leg of the voyage will arrive in the Canary Islands, taking eight to 12-days. There will be a two-week break from the race at that point, and then for the final leg— covering 3,000 miles — racers will head out to their destination of Guadalupe Island in the very southern portion of the Caribbean Sea.
Gibbons-Neff is leaving full-time enlistment with the Marine Corps and transitioning to Marine Reserves at this time. He will be representing himself as an individual and is sponsored by Fawcett Boat Supplies, out of Annapolis.
Gibbons-Neff talked about the details of preparation and the challenges of sailing alone for such a journey. Number one, it’s during the height of hurricane season in the Atlantic. He said, “This annual race has been going on since 1977, and the organizers keep a sharp eye on weather conditions. The race has been postponed before, but not more than a week. One of the skills you learn as a avid sailor is to study weather patterns.”
The students had a number of questions, which he answered. “Sailing alone”, he said, “this is a true test of seamanship skills. No one is permitted to have a cell phone on their boat or other electronic devices. All we are permitted to have is a common compass. I have to pack all my food inside the boat, almost all of it freeze-dried, which can be simply prepared. And we have to bring lots of water to stay hydrated! In preparation for this competition, I’ve talked to other people who have successfully competed within the past two-years, getting advice.”
Another major obstacle during the race is sleep! He added, “You have to learn to live on taking naps, not more than four hours at a time. It’s learning about time management, when to take the naps and how to set your boat in a direction not to collide with another boat while sleeping.”
Fawcett Boat Supplies has provided significant much needed safety equipment for his sail boat, including; an inflatable life-raft, and a life-preserver, that must be worn at all-times during the race, as well as advanced funding for costs of being in the race.
Gibbons-Neff was a member of a crew team when in high school, growing up in Philadelphia. He took his first sailing lessons during summers while living in Annapolis, and was a member of the Naval Academy’s Sailing Team while a midshipman. Over the years, he developed a passion for the sport that continues.
KIHS Sailing Teach Head Coach Amanda Shepard said, “I got some really positive feedback from the students, sparking their interest in sailing beyond high school and college in many different ways, even at international levels.”
KIHS Sailing Team is financed through private donations, outside the school. All of the team’s sailboats were paid for, and continue to be maintained by private donations and fundraising efforts. KIHS is truly unique as one of very few public schools that have a sailing team. The majority of their competitions are against private schools.
Fawcett Boat Supplies owner Bernard Jammet recently made a private donation to the KIHS sailing team to assist in maintaining their aging fleet of sailboats.