Preparing Gentian for the Thrash to the Onion Patch

By Jesse Terry

I recently caught up with Ben Sperry to discuss his preparations to sail his 1936 built NY32 hull #18, Gentian, in the 2024 Newport to Bermuda Race. Most CYOA members are familiar with Ben’s company, Sperry Sails, as you see the distinct logo across New England, and certainly amongst the Massachusetts based classics fleet. Enclosed are some notes from the discussion in March (2024).

 JT: Is Gentian (S&S design, LOA 45’s, Fractional Sloop) ready to race to Bermuda?

BS: She is getting closer. Gentian spent a week in the fall at Gannon & Benjamin to get some work done including some frame repair, rudder work, and prop/shaft work. Getting the remaining prep work done is my second full time job. I think it will all happen in time (note the boat will pass a race inspection).

JT: Can you tell us about some of your history with Gentian?

BS: I first saw her in York ME around 2001 where she was going through a major restoration, when we were hired to build a new suit of sails for her.  At the same time I was sailing with Peter Cassidy on his NY32 hull #20, Siren. I sailed on Siren for fifteen or so years. We did three Bermuda races on her and I did one on NY32 hull #10, Isla as well. Gentian was brought down to Buzzard’s Bay Yacht Service (near Siren). I started sailing her in 2013 and took her over in 2015.

JT: What motivated you to do this year’s Bermuda race?

BS: I have done seven Bermuda races, but never as a Skipper/Owner so that has been a long-term goal.

JT: As a wood boat owner and first-time owner/skipper in the 2022 Bermuda race, I found getting Abigail simply to the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club dock, given the time spent on preparations, was one of the most fulfilling parts of the race.

BS: I believe it. I also wanted to make sure I do it while Gentian is in good, ocean ready shape. My good racing buddy has not done the race and has provided a lot of enthusiasm to do it. Also one of my New Bedford Yacht Club friends (owner of Concordia Snowy Owls) has provided a lot of motivation as he advances in age.

JT: What kind of conditions is NY32 looking for in the race? Seeing you and Siren match race through Nantucket Sound chop at last year’s Opera House Cup was certainly impressive.

BS: We are hoping for 12knt at a close reach. I have had some chances at success previously in Newport to Bermuda experiences on a NY32.

JT: As a sailmaker, what are you thinking about for the race?

BS: My philosophy on prep for sails is to make sure we do not have big holes in the inventory. You and I discussed sails for coastal racing vs ocean racing and I covered that with some higher cut sails like a jib-top in our inventory.  I wanted to keep the inventory simple to keep the decisions simple. We are a small company allowing us to work closely with our customers, partnering with owners, going through the sail decision process. Sperry Sails has been around for near 50 years and I have been fortunate to be doing this for almost 25 years.

JT: What are some of your other summer plans?

BS: I am trying to make it up to the Corinthian Classic Yacht Regatta for the 25th Anniversary in Marblehead. I will also do the Opera House Cup and hopefully some of the other regional parts of the Classic Yacht Challenge Series.

Ben at work in the loft. Courtesy Sperry Facebook page:

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