On a clear Saturday morning with just enough breeze, skipper Collin Linehan sits at the stern of his J22, listening to the calls of his crew. Water splashes against the hull of the racer, Funhouse Mirror, and the cool moisture from the Chesapeake relieves the temperatures of the crew on board. Linehan and his crew are competing for the J22 East Coast championship title in Annapolis, and as the sailors trim and hike, sweat beads across their foreheads.
An avid sailor from Manchester, Massachusetts, the 38-year-old has called Annapolis home for seven years. Many of the competitors on the course push workday worries out of their minds. Not Linehan.
As his crew spots puffs of wind and shouts the news back, Linehan eases the tiller leeward, smoothly trimming the main and letting the boat turn through the wind in one fluid movement.
Sailing is Linehan’s sport. Since he bought Chesapeake Rigging, it’s also his career.
Intensity brews as other boats edge forward, daring the Funhouse crew to work harder, faster, without error. Toward the bow, Chris Junge trims the jib to help the boat forward, and Aaron Moeller rolls the racer through the tack.
Collin pulls the traveler up into place and looks to fetch the windward mark as the boat picks up speed.
When the racer reaches the mark, Linehan eases the main sheet and drives the boat downwind, hunting a lead on the race’s final leg. On the bow, working speed is crucial as Moeller pulls the spinnaker up and Junge trims the sheets, all in an instant — a crucial time when seconds count by the fraction.
Excitement peaks as the racer screams downwind, edging past the competition and moving into first place on the race course. As the boat glides across the finish line, Linehan revels in the victory, savoring the reward of the day’s hard work.
After three races, Linehan and his crew secure first place overall for day one. On day two, windlessness shortens the regatta — and the trophy is theirs.
Now that Linehan has had his fun, it’s crunch time. With the U.S. Sailboat Show only weeks away, Linehan gets moving.
Back to Business
In Chesapeake Rigging, deep down Edgewood Road and a few miles across town from the Annapolis Yacht Club, sanders squeal as skilled riggers prime and prepare a line of masts that rest against aluminum sawhorses outside an open shop. Inside the shop, the tall boat masts are painted in a rare indoor paint booth that protects the tall metal structures from dust and moisture.
In the upstairs office, Linehan answers one phone call after another. It’s his busiest time of the year, the lead up to Sailboat Show. At his feet, his black lab Bo watches patiently for any indication that it’s time to go outside and stroll the grounds.
“I’m excited,” says Linehan, who bought Chesapeake Rigging in May after working closely with previous owner Tom Wohlgemuth for the last seven years. “This is the time of year when things start cranking, especially with the boat show. It’s our opportunity to enhance this company’s image.”
Linehan says that buying the company was a natural fit, despite an unstable economy.
“Chesapeake Rigging has been here more than 30 years,” reports Linehan, who moved to Annapolis for a rigging job in 2003. “It’s a very well-respected name in the marine industry, especially here in Annapolis, and I wanted to preserve that. My partner — Clay Bartel — and I wanted to put a new energy into it, and when Tom said he wanted to phase out of the business, we were ready.”
Since the acquisition, Linehan has grown the business with new clients, with the United States Naval Academy the biggest among them. Chesapeake Rigging will build and rig all of the masts for the academy’s new fleet of 44-foot training sailboats.
Despite Linehan’s interest in all things sailing, he curbs the temptation to expand the business into a one-stop shop. Instead, he focuses his energy and his team on their specialty: rigging and spars. In that trade, Linehan says, the crew at Chesapeake Rigging can hone their talent and work to be the best in the industry.
“We have a very high-quality staff of guys who have been doing this, and doing it well, for a long time,” Linehan says. “We do masts and rigging. We have the equipment and the people to do anything related to either of those things right here.”
It’s a business whose every detail — from the work to the clientele — the sailor loves.
“It’s neat because there is always something different,” he says. “Each boat is different, each has a different story, different owner, different needs,” Linehan says. “It’s about learning what they do with their boat and what they want to do, so we can figure out what they need.”
The Boat Show and Beyond
As a new sailing business owner, Linehan especially looks forward to this year’s boat show. Part of his enthusiasm is renewing old connections.
“It’s sailboat madness, and it’s a lot of fun,” he says. “Sometimes, you go to these things and you see people whose boats you worked on five years ago, and they tell you all the places they’ve taken the boat since then.”
More than anything else, however, this year’s show is the new owners’ debut on the scene, where they’ll spread the news of the new directions the old business is taking.
“We’ve got a lot of new ideas we’re excited to share,” Linehan says. “We’ve got a new membership service program where for a flat rate you can make sure your boat is good to go.
“We’re also offering free rigging inspections in the Annapolis area. That’s a really big new thing we’re promoting at the show. Not everyone goes to the top of their mast to check it out each year, and it’s important to stay safe.”
Sailing safety is more a concern now than ever for Linehan, who, in addition to Thursday night races with his crew, sails Wednesday night races on a Melges 24 with his 10-year-old son Aidan. He’s looking forward to the day when younger son Foster, who turned one last week, joins them.
Linehan took his first ride on a sailboat at just three weeks old, and sailing has stayed a major part of his life.
“Both of my parents sailed,” he recalls. “We used to go cruising for months at a time during the summer. I raced for junior sailing, high school and then college at Salem State.” Linehan and wife Ellie met at a sailing regatta on Bald Head Island in North Carolina.
“I love sailing,” Linehan says. “This business just puts me that much closer to it.”