Newport native and Rocky Hill School graduate Rome Kirby was crowned the 2014 John H. Chafee Boater of the Year by the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association (RIMTA) Friday at the opening of the Providence Boat Show.
And as Kirby was being honored, Marine Trades students from the Warwick Area and Chariho Career and Technical Centers were taking the first steps to build a boat. Using a technique known as stitch and glue, the students built a lightweight wooden canoe during the course of the show.
As students took measurements, Warwick teacher Chris Bianco observed the process not only requires boat-building skills, but also mathematics. But then, too, the students were a part of the show that has been revived by the Marine Trades Association.
Kirby was one of the highlights and his presence brought a turnout of admiring sailors Friday evening.
Kirby, who at age 24 has already been an America’s Cup winner with Oracle Team USA and has competed in the grueling Volvo Ocean Race, is recognized for the talent and focus that have made him a world-class champion at a young age. He is also recognized as an inspirational figure to all the young Rhode Island sailors who will come in his wake. Kirby started racing at age 7 at his local public-access sailing facility, Sail Newport.
“We are thrilled to present Rome Kirby with our annual Boater of the Year award,” said RIMTA CEO Wendy Mackie. “He has brought the limelight of the America’s Cup back to the Ocean State, and he reminds all of us – especially other young people – that we live in a unique state with the facilities and expertise to help young sailors reach their world-class potential.”
In accepting the award, Kirby thanked his parents, who were in the audience, and he also thanked Brad Read, executive director of Sail Newport, and the Sail Newport team.
“A huge thanks to Brad and everyone at Sail Newport,” said Kirby. “Without them, I can honestly say that I would not be up here right now.”
Kirby talked of how he spent his youth at their facility, and joked that the Sail Newport staff was probably sick of him by the time he reached 18.
With the help of TV sailing commentator Andy Green, who emceed the presentation, Kirby fielded questions from the audience, especially those about the amazing turnaround performance of the Oracle Team in last year’s America’s Cup when they won eight straight races to defend the Cup.
“To sail on those boats and not make a mistake from 8-1 down, that is impressive … It was a pretty cool thing to be a part of,” said Kirby.
Janet Coit, the 2013 recipient of the Boater of the Year Award, was on hand to present the award to Kirby. As director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), Coit spoke of the strong partnership she has enjoyed with Rhode Island’s marine trades and their shared passion of preserving the quality of Rhode Island’s waters.
Kirby’s honor comes on the heels of other big Rhode Island sailing news: The announcement of Volvo Ocean Race entry Team Alvimedica with a hometown skipper, Charlie Enright of Bristol. Brad Read came up to the podium to reiterate to the crowd the recent sailing news, which was released on the eve of the boat show.
The Volvo Ocean Race will stop at Newport in the spring of 2015. The Newport stopover is the only U.S. stop on this 39,000-mile round-the-world odyssey.