Self-described ‘goal-oriented, independent and take-charge’ Sheila McCurdy is the skipper/navigator of McCurdy & Rhodes 38, Selkie.
She’s sailing in the Bermuda Race’s St. David’s Lighthouse Division (SDL) with six crew, including watch officer/tactician husband, Dave Brown.
Ms McCurdy’s father, the late Jim McCurdy, designed Selkie in 1985 in an office attached to the family home on Long Island’s North Shore.
Ms McCurdy said: “Dad rarely discussed his work outside his office. Occasionally, one of us would be enlisted to accompany him to a boatyard to hold the end of a tape measure in an unheated shed in the middle of winter.”
She sailed Blue Jays and Lightnings as a child and cruised in her father’s 37ft sloop.
“I had a very fortunate upbringing where I got to explore first the harbour, then the sound and, ultimately, oceans and foreign shores.”
Ms McCurdy majored in biology, taught sailing during summer breaks, raced one-designs and worked in New England as a boat builder and loftsman.
“I do not have my father’s artistic eye… Dad had the rare combination of an artist’s eye and an engineer’s mind. He also had a sailor’s feel for driving a boat effectively.
“Some of my fondest memories were from the three Newport-Bermuda Races we sailed together.”
That first one they shared followed Selkie’s 1986 launch, when Mr McCurdy asked her to navigate.
Sheila McCurdy talked her way onto a boat as cook in the mid-1970s.
“In the 13 months after graduation, I sailed transatlantic three times, raced the Fastnet Race and Newport-Bermuda Race, and did a few other offshore deliveries. I had learned a lot about boats and how to sail and navigate from some of the best sailors in America.”
She did one transatlantic passage with Dick Nye on Carina — a 48ft sloop her father had designed for him — and regularly crewed Carina in 1979 and 1980.
“Carina and Selkie are in the same family. Both are very seaworthy and sea-kindly. They are responsive, but also steady.
“Carina has had keel and rig modifications that have modernized the boat… Both boats can take the punishment of wind and sea while minimizing stress and fatigue to the crew.
“No boat is perfect. Many boats are special.”
Ms McCurdy has skippered and/or navigated Selkie in eight Bermuda Races, the boat finishing second overall, SDL, in 1994 and 2008.
“I trust my life and the lives of my crew to the boat. The boat brings great pleasure whether at sea or in a quiet anchorage.”
She has sailed about 100,000 offshore miles, was Cruising Club of America’s (CCA) first female Commodore and has served on the Bermuda Race Organizing Committee (BROC) for 13 years. In 2006, she ran the Newport-based Bermuda Race Centennial events.
“The Newport Bermuda Race has been a tradition in my family since the early 1950s. The race requires excellent preparation. Experience is rewarded more often than not.”
“The race is difficult to win because of the superior level of competitiveness in all the classes.
“Sailing is also weather-dependent, and changing weather is out of our control. Luck plays a role as well.”
“The crew needs to be multi-functional with deck skills, sail trim, steering and all the other roles required, like cooking and maintaining systems and equipment in good working order.”
Ms McCurdy intends to: “Sail our own race seeking wind that is favourable and current that is advantageous.”