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Newport’s Newest Destination

The Sailing Museum has officIally opened in the Ocean State
Gary Jobson in 1991

Gary Jobson in 1991

It was all clear skies, fair winds and administrative camaraderie for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the old Armory on Thames Street in downtown Newport, Rhode Island, this past May. The Sailing Museum—a nonprofit, educational showplace—was ready for the public. Many of those who donated to make this building a reality were in attendance.

The location was 20 years in the making, an effort spearheaded by sailing legend Gary Jobson. As museum President Gus Carlson said, “This is the culmination of the hard work Gary put in, and here we are about to enter a fantastic museum dedicated to the sport we all love.”

Museum exhibit

Museum exhibit

At the ceremony, Jobson didn’t acknowledge the ups and downs and the twists and turns that had to be overcome, but city officials recognized the benefits of having the sailing museum in Newport. “Rhode Island is the Ocean State, and sailing is a sport of enormous social and economic importance to us,” said Lt. Gov. Sabrina Matos.

“I have wanted to honor sailing’s greats since 1998, so I shopped the idea to several cities,” Jobson said. “I had a lot of time to think while I was fighting cancer, and became determined to make this happen. However, there was not much traction until 2017, when I got a call from Harry Winthrop, then-mayor of Newport, offering me the Armory. In 2019, we bought part of the building and started massive renovations.”

Jobson’s ties to Newport run strong and deep. They include three America’s Cup campaigns aboard the 12-metre Courageous, membership in the New York Yacht Club, and leadership positions at the Herreshoff Museum and IYRS School of Technology and Trade. “Newport is ingrained in me,” he said.

Exhibits at The Sailing Museum in Newport, Rhode Island, combine traditional displays with high-tech, digital-based experiences.

Exhibits at The Sailing Museum in Newport, Rhode Island, combine traditional displays with high-tech, digital-based experiences.

Inside the fortress-like stone armory built in 1894 is an interactive museum with 8,500 square feet of exhibits that chronicle the history of sailing as a sport, along with galleries that honor the America’s Cup Hall of Fame and the National Sailing Hall of Fame. As with most things in life these days, technology rules. Once inside, visitors get a wristband that unlocks the museum’s many interactive exhibits. For example, utilizing a tiller, visitors can steer a replica sailboat through all the different points of wind. Visitors also can design their own burgees and boats, and work together as a team to “race” a boat.

On view is an iconic, full-size J/24 sailboat, one side of which has been removed to reveal the interior. Standing beside it with a beaming smile was Stuart Johnstone, chief of marketing and business development for J/Boats. He described the meticulous reconditioning that was necessary to honor hull number one of this design, Ragtime. Even the most experienced sailor has not seen anything like this.

Another cool exhibit is a domelike viewing area that re-creates the experience aboard SailGP’s 50-foot foiling catamaran as it flies around a course. Museum visitors can experience the speed and fury of a 40-knot turn and watch the daredevil crew scramble from one side of the boat to the other. Anyone who thinks sailboat racing is like watching paint dry will be disabused of that notion.

For those interested in a more personal go-fast craft, there is a full-size Moth foiling sailboat hanging from the ceiling. You can imagine a few teens asking their parents if they can have one. Yes, the museum showcases a lot of half hull models, along with photos and videos of magnificent yachts from the past, but even these are displayed in a nonstatic manner.

The museum will be open year-round, although there could be closings in January and February so staff can refresh exhibits. If you plan to arrive by boat, take advantage of the Newport Harbor Shuttle and dinghy dockage at the Ann Street Pier, which is available to the public.

“It’s a good start, and it’s going to keep getting better,” Jobson said. On the water, anyone would be shortsighted to ignore his observations. A visit to The Sailing Museum proves him to be accurate on land too. 

This article was originally published in the August 2022 issue.

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