Sailing For the Koch Cup

By Deb Geigis Berry
Photographs By Tom Sobolik

An international group of Sea Scouts competes for Scouting's most prestigious sailing trophy.

All week long, Sea Scouts from Newport Beach, Calif., and New Zealand had been jockeying for first place at the second William I. Koch International Sea Scout Cup. At stake was the distinction of being recognized as the Scouting world's top competitive racers in what some describe as the "junior version of America's Cup."

Ship 1996 Sea Scouts Andrew Steely and Brett Upchurch of Houston, Tex., sail toward the finish at the 2004 Koch International Sea Scout Cup competition.

Like the wind on the unpredictable waters of Great Herring Pond just west of Cape Cod Bay near Bourne, Mass., rankings could quickly change. Trevor Gurley, 16, the California skipper, wasn't taking anything for granted.

"We've been sparring with the Kiwis the whole week," said Gurley, as he and his crew mate, Corey Kemp, prepared for the sixth and final race of the regatta. "They're extremely good sailors. They grew up with it. The pressure's on. We're just going to stick to the basics and do what's worked before."

Minutes later, the Californians, the New Zealanders, and 12 other teams from around the globe climbed aboard 420's, the two-person collegiate sailboats lent to the Sea Scouts by the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. The final challenge was a windward-leeward course, requiring sailors to swiftly sail around two points twice.

Though Gurley and Kemp got off to a rough start, they found their rhythm at the halfway point and finished first, scoring well enough overall in the week's series of races to clinch the cup, as well as the prize awarded the top U.S. Sea Scout team, the Richard Schwartz BoatUS Trophy. Instead of basking in victory, they joined the other teams on the dock to mark the end of a whirlwind week.

Koch revives regattas

"Thank you, Mr. Koch" (pronounced Coke), the Scouts called in unison to a tall man standing nearby. William Koch, the man responsible for the return of competitive racing to Sea Scouting, smiled.

Though Koch hadn't been a Sea Scout himself, he attended Culver Military Academy, modeled after the Sea Scout program. Like the Scouts, he believes sailing builds character and confidence.

"If you're on a boat and a storm comes up and you don't work as a team, the boat will sink," said Koch, winner of the 1992 America's Cup and president of the privately held Oxbow Group. "It's a wonderful metaphor for the teamwork required on shore."

Sailing champs Corey Kemp and Trevor Gurley of Sea Scout Ship 711, Newport Beach, Calif., hoist the prized Koch Cup.

Though the Koch Cup had only been held once before—in Chicago in 2002—it had already developed a cachet.

In 2004, Russell Coutts, three-time winner of America's Cup, Tom and Roberta Dougherty of the United States Power Squadrons, John Smith of General Motors, Richard Schwartz of BoatUS, and Sea Scouting National Commodore Jimmie Homburg, cheered on the Sea Scouts.

"All of these top people have come out because this event is worth doing," said Roy L. Williams, BSA's Chief Scout Executive, as he watched the final race from the dock. "There's the hope the kids will enjoy themselves so much, they'll make sailing a lifetime hobby."

Sea Scouting is part of Venturing, the BSA program for young men and women ages 14 through 20. There are 572 units, called ships, and 7,000 Sea Scouts. While individual ships have held area competitions, there wasn't an international regatta until Koch created one. To qualify, ships from around the world competed in area races, with 28 teams qualifying to compete for the Koch Cup.

An international camaraderie

After preliminary races, teams were split into two fleets. The 14 teams with the top times vied for the Koch Cup, while the rest competed in a concurrent competition, the Kiwi Cup. Between races, the fleets enjoyed sightseeing, playing ultimate Frisbee, and singing.

"If you take this too seriously, you'll get depressed because there's only one winner," says Patrick Murphy, 17, of Ireland, who competed for the Koch Cup with his teammate James Martin, 20. "We tried to keep things light by singing Irish folk songs like 'Molly Malone.'"

Award banquet attendees included (from left ) Roy Williams, Chief Scout Executive; John Smith, BSA executive board member and General Motors group vice president; Russell Coutts, three-time America's Cup champion; Nancy (Mrs. John) Smith; and William Koch.
Photograph by Michael Roytek

The camaraderie between Scouts from Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Denmark, England, and the United States was noticeable.

"Sailors are some of the coolest people I know. It's like a brotherhood," explained James Houghton, the Koch Cup's boatswain.

The silver cup

William Koch is so committed to the event, he personally designed the namesake trophy, an elegant silver claret cup inscribed with the Scout insignia and the words of the Boy Scout Law.

Custom-made by Garrard's of London, the firm that crafted the first America's Cup, the Koch Cup remains on display year-round at the National Scouting Museum in Irving, Tex. But for the victory celebration at Koch's waterfront Cape Cod estate, it belonged to Trevor Gurley and Corey Kemp.

Norwegians Erling Guderud and Siri Neslein clinched the Kiwi Cup, a Maori carving donated by New Zealand.

"I've never sailed on a lake before, so that was new," Erling said. "We just sailed as fast as we could."

Held in a large white tent on a balmy summer night, the awards banquet embodied the Koch Cup's friendly, international spirit.

"When I see these young sailors sharing stories, meeting people from other countries, and sharing the values of Sea Scouting, that, to me, is the magic of the sport," said veteran America's Cup competitor Russell Coutts.

"Have the ability to aim high," he told the audience. "As a student growing up in a small town in New Zealand, I said I wanted to win America's Cup. Some people tried to discourage me. But if you chase your goals with a passion, you never know what you might achieve."

Freelance writer Deborah Geigis Berry lives in Windsor, Conn.

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