by: Lucas Masiello ’24
GEORGETOWN, BAHAMAS- Gap years are often spent working, living at home or backpacking, but freshman Cooper Newton ’26 had far more lofty goals. A lifelong sailor, Newton spent 265 days solo at sea sailing 5,500 miles to the Caribbean and back from his home in Mattapoisett, Mass.
Hundreds of cruising yachts make the annual trip from the Northeast to the Caribbean, equipped with autopilot, advanced AIS and radar systems, full kitchens and paid crews, but Newton decided to forego the luxuries of cruising. Equipped with a 27 ft. Bristol, an outboard motor, a basic GPS system and minimal offshore experience, Newton departed Mattapoisett on Sept. 3, 2022, with the intention of reaching Antigua.
After a quick sail to Montauk, the realities of life at sea became apparent as hurricane winds brought 8 ft. seas and Southern Ocean-style gusts. “Everything that could go wrong went wrong. I woke up the next day and thought ‘there’s nothing left for me to mess up, I messed up everything already on the first sail’,” said Newton when talking about having to sail an extra nine hours through the night to find a safe harbor in Atlantic City, NJ to ride out the storm.
Storms became a theme throughout Newton’s voyage, recording 85 kts. of breeze and dragging an anchor in similar conditions south of Hatteras, NC and another sustained 40 kts. and 14 ft. seas for four days on his return home near Jacksonville. “I’ve gotta do this or I’m gonna die,” said Newton when talking about sailing through a sustained 65 kts. with gusts above 80 on the same leg of his journey. During the storm, Newton set the speed record for the Bristol 27, averaging 7.82 kts and reaching a top speed of 16.4kts in a boat with a hull speed of 5.5 kts.
However, storms and heavy wind were not the most memorable part of Newton’s journey. Upon reaching the Bahamas, Newton was treated to 70 feet of water visibility, champagne sailing conditions and the company of other cruisers that made the venture down to the Caribbean. “The coolest part, other than the sailing, was definitely the people. The people down there have all decided to leave their comfy homes in America and go see stuff. Everyone’s down there for the same reasons and there’s not a boring person there. Making friends there is trivial and they’re friends for life. I still stay in touch with 50 people there and they’re friends for life.”
Newton’s experience at sea has made him a valuable asset to the URI Sailing Team. Boat intuition, problem solving and environmental awareness can only be learned by experience and hours at sea- something Newton has a plethora of. “I’ve seen more things than I though I’d ever see and I hopefully have a lot of time left.”