Their first date was on a J/24. “Our dads raced against and with each other on Little Neck Bay on Long Island Sound,” says Annapolis sailor Kristen Robinson as she sits next to her husband Brian on the deck of Eastport YC (EYC). “We joke that we never had a chance.” Since Brian was six years older than she, they knew each other growing up, but not well before Kristen turned 19 and the J/24 date. That was that.
When they were first married 12 years ago, the couple owned a Ranger 33 and sailed her only a few times before deciding their preference was for racing. They found a J/29 out of the Twin Cities and named her Wallbanger. Wrecking their J/29 on the road to Key West Race Week in 2005 was a “blessing in disguise,” says Kristen. “We walked the docks trying to make something good of a bad thing. We found a J/80, fell in love, and bought that very boat two months later.” They picked her up in Oklahoma around the same time they were preparing to move to Annapolis.
After their move that spring, their first regatta in their new boat, Angry Chameleon – named for a drink made with rum, Mountain Dew, and red Kool-Aide mix—was the Annapolis NOOD Regatta. The goal: to not finish last. The outcome: they finished fifth of six. They immediately packed up and headed to Seabrook, TX, for the J/80 National Championships. The goal: to not finish last. The outcome: they finished 27th of 28. The couple says they used to “go down to Texas to get our butts kicked and come back and kick butt.” And so it went.
Unless you have some time on your hands, don’t ask Kristen, who was the national J/80 class president for two years, the secretary for two years, and now the treasurer, what’s so great about the J/80. She says, “You can sail the boat at 90 percent by just knowing how to sail. It’s tweaky, too.” (“That’s the other 10 percent,” adds Brian). Kristen says, “This class is the best in the world! It’s unique in that no one holds secrets. They vomit information. They’ll tell you anything. You can’t tell who are the pros and who are the Joes in this class. We also throw really great parties.”
The Robinsons’ favorite regattas are Key West Race Week, the J/80 North American Championships, and Block Island Race Week (in which they sail on the J/109 Caminos with a crew of J/80 sailors). On the Bay, they relish in fun, relaxing Thursday night races out of J/World Annapolis. Last month, they took top honors convincingly, by finishing 12 points above the second-place boat, in the J/80 division at CBYRA Annapolis Race Week. The next weekend, they posted four bullets in six races and won the 17-boat J/Jamboree at Lake Winnipesaukee, NH.
Do you have a good crash story?
Kristen: At the J/29 North Americans, I was in the back of the pack on port tack coming into the guys rounding in first. I “T-boned” them, ripped our #3 in half like a piece of butter, broke the lifelines, and launched my 65-year-old father-inlaw overboard. After that, I was fired as driver.
When was the last time you fell overboard?
Brian: I fell in at the dock three years ago after frostbite racing. The next week, there was a blow-up inner tube and swim arms on the dock with a sign that said, “Brian Robinson must wear these on the docks.” I wore them for the race.
Who are your favorite people to sail with?
Tim Borland, Ben Fransen, Jesse McKnight, Chris Chadwick, and the J/109 Caminos crew.
What’s on your road trip playlist?
We have completely different taste in music [he likes death metal, she likes pop]. The rule on road trips is that you can play your iPod when you’re the one driving.
What three pieces of sailing gear could you not live without?
Kristen: My Ronstan three-finger sailing gloves, my Teva sandals, and my Astral lifejacket.
Brian: A dark, comfortable hat with a good brim, UV 30 sunglasses,and Coppertone 50 Sport.
What is your advice for young racing sailors?
Kristen: Find someone to teach you and give you hands-on experience. Go on different boats so that you know what you like.
Brian: If you show up with beer, someone will take you sailing.
What brought you to Annapolis?
Kristen: We were ready to move out of Queens and had a map of the East Coast… Brian had heard Annapolis was cool. We moved here to be near sailing, even before we had jobs here. We showed up at EYC, and you wouldn’t believe how they welcomed us.
Brian: It was the best decision we have ever made.