SAN DIEGO — Sailor and businessman Troy Sears is heading out on an epic nautical road trip that might not end until he's circled the globe with America, a replica of the schooner that gave the America's Cup its name.
Sears will leave San Diego on Tuesday evening on a tour that will take him to yacht clubs and races up and down the East Coast and then to the Caribbean. His calendar is largely booked through the final race of the America's Cup in late June 2017 in Bermuda.
From there, he plans to head to Europe and points beyond.
"I'm hoping the tour will take me all the way around the world," Sears said. "If I go all the way around the world, I'd end up in San Diego."
At the very least, it'll be a voyage of a lifetime for Sears, 53, whose company, Next Level Sailing, has operated America's Cup boats for charters and whale watching trips since 2003.
"This is the only time in my life I will be doing it," he said. "If you only go once in your life, you want to touch as many clubs and organizations as possible."
Sears, an America's Cup aficionado who has had a relationship with two-time defending cup champion Oracle Team USA, visited 34 yacht clubs with his 139-foot America on a West Coast tour last fall.
The purpose of the tours is to generate awareness of the 35th defense of the America's Cup. While the cup is still held by San Francisco's Golden Gate Yacht Club, the racing will be in Bermuda.
America is scheduled to make more than 100 stops along the East and Gulf coasts between May 7 and just before Thanksgiving. After traversing the Panama Canal, Sears will arrive in New York just in time for the America's Cup World Series regatta. His 2016 schedule will end with a stop at the Ernest Hemingway Marina in Havana. Then it's on to the Caribbean and finally Bermuda for the America's Cup.
"I have come to learn there is a millennial generation which does not know about the event at all, and a baby-boomer generation that has a huge variety of emotions," Sears said. "They range from being super excited about the catamarans that are used today, to wanting to see the cup remain exactly the way it's been since they've been alive. They love the boats that have been sailed in the cup, the monohulls, since World War II."
The original America was built to showcase the superiority of American naval architecture at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. It beat a fleet of British ships around the Isle of Wight in 1851 to win the trophy that became the America's Cup.
"We have always maintained that living history with the boat," Sears said. "We've never tried to be a classic tall ship. We have always conducted ourselves exactly the way we feel. We're a racing boat. Just a replica of a 166-year-old racing boat, and we will be racing this summer."
America, with its crew of nine, will race in the Figawi off Cape Cod and then in the Newport Bermuda Race, in which Sears hopes to begin classic matchups with the Spirit of Bermuda.
Sears considers this to be the largest and most comprehensive tour of clubs and sailing organizations in U.S. history.
"This far-ranging tour of many sailing clubs will introduce thousands of Americans to one of the most exciting stories in the history of sports," America's Cup historian John Rousamaniere said. "That's the decisive victory of the underdog schooner America over the English fleet in 1851, when the U.S. was just beginning to be noticed as an international power."
Sears has entered into a partnership with North Sails, which makes the jibs for the catamarans used in the America's Cup. Just before the Newport Bermuda Race, America will be outfitted with 6,000 square feet of new sails in Mystic, Connecticut. They'll be made of modern Dacron with a traditional look, said North Sails executive Kimo Worthington, a veteran of several America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race campaigns.
"He's doing a great thing for sailing," Worthington said. "He's getting people excited about sailing. We think it's a great thing. He's going to have more than 100,000 people sailing on his boat. I don't think that's hot air. Holy smokes. And he's just a good guy. We want to help him."
Sears and his wife, Kathy, a doctor, are about to become empty-nesters. While San Diego will remain their home, they're selling their house and she plans to leave her job and join him on tour.
"It will be nice to have a doctor on board," he said. "This is a big life change for us. We're fully committed to the tour."
After the America's Cup in June 2017, Sears plans to head to Europe. He knows there are possible destinations elsewhere in the world, including Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand.
Eventually he'll return to San Diego. He just doesn't know when.
"That's the unique part of this," Sears said. "My vision is, is as long as there is a group of junior sailors who are interested, and adults who want to have this conversation, we're going to keep going. Hopefully it will take us around the world."
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