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Charter option far from the Caribbean

Newport firm offers relaxing voyages with backyard-style convenience and no passport required

Newport firm offers relaxing voyages with backyard-style convenience and no passport required

Flipping between marine charts and scouring over guide books, Brian Blank sits at his office desk on a teak-and-holly floor in Old Saybrook, Conn., taking notes. For a brief moment, his head rises to steal a gaze out a window that looks out on the calm dark waters of Long Island Sound. Even on a gray, blustery March afternoon, Blank’s mind is fixed on sailing.

“I’ve spent practically all winter fine-tuning my itineraries,” says Blank. “It’s something I do every year. I want everything to be perfect. Idiot-proof, even.”

For nearly a decade Blank has owned and managed Bareboat Sailing Charters, one of the few bareboat charter companies operating in New England. On his Web site ( Blank outlines four-week cruises and lists 75 destinations within 75 miles of Newport. Having grown up in Newport, R.I. — where he still owns a home with his wife, Lisa, a real estate appraiser — Blank says there’s no better place to spend two weeks sailing.

“These days, who needs the hassle of traveling to the Caribbean to charter a boat?” asks Blank, who is 50. “Customs takes forever, you lose your bags and, essentially, you wind up losing time on the boat. Here, we have Narragansett Bay, Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Mamaroneck, N.Y. There are countless New England destinations to discover, and rediscover.”

Sailors from all over the country are booking time on Blank’s boats, he says. Most call ahead by about a year to book their cruises, usually for one to three weeks. Depending on the size of the boat, a seven-day cruise costs between $3,300 and $6,000.

Blank manages a fleet of 10 boats between 42 and 54 feet. Of those, he owns five Beneteau 423s. Blank manages a Beneteau 46, a Jeanneau 45 and a 49-foot Hinckley ketch for other owners. Blank also manages a Beneteau 50 and a Jeanneau 54, which are captained. He keeps the boats moored off Oldport Launch at Alofsin Dock in Newport.

“I always say my boats are like my little girls,” says Blank, a former car importer who has an extensive marine background. The boats are fitted with electronic GPS, chart plotter and autopilot. Blank says he makes sure his boats have a life raft, radar reflector, VHF, EPIRB, flares, a spare tiller, a first aid kit and plenty of PFDs.

“If the engine goes out and there’s no wind, then what do you do?” Blank asks. “Easy. You call me. I have access to a chase boat and two sea planes. You can get me on my cell phone 24 hours a day. I’ll come and fix your starter. No problem.”

John W. Howard, a retired attorney and sailor for more than 40 years, calls Blank “a real class act.” Howard has been chartering Blank’s boats since the late 1980s.

“He offers the best-equipped charter boats I’ve ever experienced,” adds Howard, who is 91 and lives in Tulsa, Okla. “They have the top navigational equipment,” and the convenience of a repeater station at the helm, he adds.

“The boats are completely ready to go,” says Marianne Groszko, a 27-year-old photographer from Rhode Island who has chartered two boats through Blank. “One night … we realized we might need a flashlight,” she continues. “We had forgotten one, but knew that Bareboat would have put one on somewhere. They were easy to find right at the nav station, with batteries.”

Blank takes a certain amount of pride in knowing the waters off Rhode Island, southern Massachusetts and northern Connecticut “like the back of my hand,” he says. He also enjoys sharing his insider knowledge with his customers.

“[Blank] is very passionate about his business,” says Mike Lee, who is 44. Lee is Groszko’s boyfriend.

“Brian treats you as if you are the only customer he has had all year, and makes certain all the little details are taken care of,” he says. “For example, even the cruise book was highlighted and marked with suggestions of things to do and see. If you are unfamiliar with the boat, all the important systems are labeled so there is no question what something does.”

Blank began chartering boats more than two decades ago in Newport. “I started sailing at age 16 but discovered, on the boats, that I was a better mechanic than sailor,” explains Blank. “If something was broken on someone’s boat, they’d come to me to fix it.”

At age 27, Blank owned a C&C 38 named Black Sheep, and let people take the boat out for cruises. Word eventually spread and Blank had more customers than he could manage with one boat. A business was born.

“I never thought I’d get into the charter business,” Blank admits. “I guess I sort of fell into it.”

Over the years Blank has expanded the business to include the 11 sailboats he currently manages. His goal, he says, is to own 10 boats by the age of 60. “To own all my own boats and have them all the same, that’s what I want,” Blank says. “That way, if something goes wrong on one of the boats they can call me up and I can walk them through what to do step-by-step. I won’t even have to leave the house.”

Blank says he plans to stay in the charter boat business for many more years. “This really is a labor of love,” he says. “It’s tough to make money doing this; you’re lucky if you break even. But, when I see people, I see the kid in their eyes. Even my older customers. Even if it’s raining. People keep coming back happy. That makes me happy.”