On Watch - Ray Cullum

Ray and Wendy CullumThe 20th running of the Marion-Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race is this month, and among the competitors is the event’s Marketing Chair and Trustee, Ray Cullum of Marion, Massachusetts.

“I grew up in Salem, New Jersey,” says Ray. “My grandparents had a home in St. Michaels, Maryland, and I started sailing at the community boating program and the Miles River Yacht Club when I was 12. The community program used 8-foot prams, and my parents noticed that they couldn’t get me off the water. My father said, ‘Why don’t we build a pram?’ He found a set of plans and we built it in our basement.”

“I sailed the pram for a couple seasons, and at 15 I started sailing with my friend Butch King, who had a Flying Scot. Butch’s parents had a ’46 Ford pickup, and we trailered the Scot to regattas as far away as Virginia and Massachusetts. We weren’t Olympic hopefuls, but we took home a little silver here and there. Our parents would give us each five dollars, which was enough for gas, food and the entry fee. We’d typically turn the boat over and sleep under it, and get into regatta food lines at least twice!”

“Butch’s parents had a 26-foot wooden Dickerson centerboard sloop that had been on the hard for some time. It was solid, so one summer we recaulked the seams and redid the rigging and sailed it 300 miles around the Delmarva Peninsula. We sailed south out through the mouth of the bay, up the Atlantic shore of Maryland and Delaware, into the Delaware River, through the canal and back to St. Michaels. It was quite an adventure, and I fell in love with ocean sailing.”

“Another neighbor, Gary Wright, had a 100-year-old skipjack. Gary was a terrific teacher who taught me much about boat handling, seamanship, how to fix things, and how to go to sea safely. Squalls come up very quickly on the Chesapeake, and that body of water can really throw up bricks. One time we got fogged in, and Gary pulled out a tiny transistor radio and tuned it into WBAL in Baltimore. He found a strong signal, and using his compass he turned the boat and got us back. That was my first experience with electronic navigation!”

“My wife Wendy and I moved from Connecticut to Massachusetts in 1998. We moved into Marion because it has a terrific sailing heritage, and Sippican Harbor is protected by an island so it’s fairly calm when the rest of the bay is raucous. The town is also home to the Beverly Yacht Club. The club has a real sailing focus and it’s a co-sponsor of the Marion Bermuda Race, along with the Blue Water Sailing Club and the Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club. We became members and started getting involved. Wendy and I are primarily cruising sailors, but I started doing some PHRF racing around the bay and eventually moved into one-design racing on Shields.”

“I was elected to the Beverly Yacht Club Council as a Member at Large,” says Ray, who’s also served as the club’s Secretary, Rear Commodore, Vice Commodore and Commodore. “The Member at Large’s responsibilities include serving as Chairman of the Buzzards Bay Regatta in even-numbered years (it’s hosted by New Bedford Yacht Club in odd years), and as liaison to the Marion Bermuda Race. The Buzzards Bay Regatta is the largest all-volunteer regatta in North America. We typically have over 400 boats, 1,200 competitors, and approximately 250 volunteers. I chaired it in 2004 and it was the first major regatta I’d ever run. It was a management challenge, but worth every minute.”

“This year’s Marion Bermuda Race will be my fifth, and my third as navigator. I’m sailing on Tom Bowler’s Morris 46 Escapade II. Tom’s a very competent sailor and we’ve got a very good, experienced crew. A couple young guys from the Naval Academy will be on board, and a couple old guys like me. I enjoy electronic navigation – looking at the Gulf Stream, the weather and the rest of the fleet – and building strategies out of those pieces. Marion Bermuda is the only major North American ocean race with a Celestial division. Ron Wisner, a committee member, has presented several celestial courses recently, and we have 15 Celestial boats in this year’s race.”

The 2015 Marion Bermuda Race is also the first USSER (U.S. Safety Equipment Requirements) Oceans sanctioned event to offer a prize for crews from 16 to 23 years old. “The Marion Bermuda Race has supported youth sailing in Bermuda and North America for over a decade, with financial support for Courageous Sailing in Boston, Community Boating Center in New Bedford, and the Bermuda Sloop Foundation in Hamilton,” Ray explains. “We decided to take the next step, and created the Offshore Youth Challenge Trophy as a mentoring opportunity. The Naval Academy and maritime academies are involved, we have a boat from MIT, and another skipper whose daughter is a sail trainer. I wish I’d had the chance to race offshore with experienced mentors when I was that age. I’m proud and very happy that other races are following suit, because this is the future of ocean racing.”

“The next Marion Bermuda Race, in 2017, will be my first on my Dixon 44 Frolic,” says Ray, who’s also a member of the Cruising Club of America and the Ocean Cruising Club. “The Bermuda Tourism Authority has named the race a Signature Event, and it arrives in Bermuda just prior to the America’s Cup Finals. Skippers participating in the 2015 race will have priority dock space at the Dinghy Club in 2017. I’ve also been selected to be part of the Mayor of New Bedford’s Olympic committee. Our focus is to be part of the Boston 2024 Olympic bid by bringing the sailing events to Buzzards Bay.”

“Wendy and I [pictured aboard Frolic] are planning a cruise to Europe in the next two or three years,” says Ray, who relishes the sport’s comradeship. “You gain a lot of friends very quickly on a midnight watch,” he enthuses. “People make sailing!”

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