Ben Bardwell ’00 started racing sailboats at age 15, and he didn’t come to it via a yacht club. His dad was a commercial fisherman, and both his parents imparted a love of the ocean to their children.
Out of Hamilton, Bardwell, a geology major, had readied himself for a career in state government, but a budget freeze killed the job he’d prepared for. It vanished just before Key West Race Week, and Bardwell snatched a spot on a team, which became his serendipitous entrée into a career. His focus now is racing with the U.S. SailGP Team, which competes in the SailGP, a global sports championship. Bardwell is a “grinder,” having the grueling task of turning a grinding pedistal at maximum effort for some 15 minutes at a stretch. It's tough work that requires him to stay in top phsycial shape, but he wouldn’t change a thing about what he does for a living.
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The team races foiling 50-foot catamarans, newly modified this year for greater speed. As soon as the boat starts moving, Bardwell explains, it lifts out of the water and flies on two rudders and one foil. In March, just back from a regatta in Sydney, Bardwell was pleased with the team’s performance. It didn’t win, but members learned a lot. And the exhilaration is its own reward.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to do a lot of sailing, and I’ve been fortunate enough to sail on a lot of quite cutting-edge and exciting boats. I’ve never done anything like this or as exciting or as amazing a feeling,” Bardwell says. “In the first race, we had the fastest top speed — we went 47.9 knots, which is 55 miles an hour. And that was a peak of speed, but we were routinely sailing at 35 to 40 knots. Even to me, who’s done a lot of this, that’s mind-blowing.”