Project Cheers Book Review

In 1967, Dick Newick was intrigued by an idea for an unusual boat. Perhaps too unusual. The boat would be a modern “proa”, a complete reworking of the traditional Polynesian two-way sailing canoe into a modern single-handed offshore racing boat. But would it work? Could it be built? Convinced it could, he faced bigger questions. Who would sail it in a race across the Atlantic? Who would provide the funds for such an adventure?

How Dick found and convinced Tom Follet to sail and Jim Morris to act as financier is the beginning of the story. The 1968 OSTAR race was only 16 months away. If Team 68 (their temporarily adopted name) could build a modern ocean-going proa, shake it down, fix its problems and learn to sail it, they would face a still greater challenge. They would have to convince the Race Committee their craft was suitable to sail in the most dangerous sailing race on earth.

Team 68 did not have time for mistakes, but they went ahead and made them anyway, and learned and corrected, faster than most of us would take to get it wrong and leave it that way. How did they get it so right, so fast?

Fifty-three years later, I read this book in the midst of a heated debate over all things proa and over the propriety of single handed passage making. That same debate runs all through this book, but the answer is there, too. The debate is actually about all things not proa … the mistakes and misunderstandings that did not make the cut in the final design.

Cheers, the boat, and Project Cheers, the book, are all things proa … simple, elegant, economical, surprising, and above all inspiring. -John York
– – – – – –  –
 – John York was fortunate to witness the design, construction and testing of revolutionary boats from Dick Newick, Damian McLaughlin and Jerome Milgram, and to learn from and occasionally sail with OSTAR sailors in the 1970s and 80s. John currently coaches young sailors and presents hands-on programs for K-12 students on history, technology and boat building. When he is not on the water or teaching kids how to make sea salt, you can find him reading first person accounts of sailors, farmers and innovators.

John York and Russell Brown- Catoumet in 2010

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