Can't keep this Jersey girl down
After Hurricane Sandy destroyed the Raritan Yacht Club fleet, Jersey sailors rallied to rebuild the Cal 40 Sinn Fein
When the Cal 40 Sinn Fein hit the water at New Jersey’s Raritan Yacht Club this spring, a crowd of onlookers gave the boat and her crew a standing ovation that had been two years in the making.
The boat, along with 57 others at Raritan Y.C. in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, was destroyed when Hurricane Sandy made a direct hit on the harbor in fall 2012. What followed for Sinn Fein was an outpouring of support from the club’s members, the boat’s owners and her crew, who rallied to ensure that Sinn Fein would sail again in the Newport Bermuda Race.
Throughout its long history, the 635-nautical-mile race has become a rite of passage for sailors. The race’s tough conditions test sailors and their boats, and crewmates and their families often forge lifelong friendships. For the Rebovich family from Metuchen, New Jersey, their Cal 40 Sinn Fein started out as a family boat sailed by Peter Sr., and his two sons Mark and Pete Jr.. Over the decades, Sinn Fein became a Newport Bermuda Race regular and has won the coveted St. David’s Lighthouse Trophy twice. The family has brought home seven trophies in as many years. This year, they finished third in their class and third in the St. David’s Division under ORR and second in their class and seventh in division under IRC. That result was made more remarkable by the fact that Sinn Fein was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy nearly two years ago.
During their long sailing careers, the Rebovich family as well as crewmembers Foster Tallman, Kelly Robinson, Henry Hennings, Gary Gochal and others have been congratulated by English royalty, have learned about the tricky eddies and currents of the Gulf Stream and shared that unique experience of bonding as sailors over the long ocean miles to and from Bermuda. They are also, by their own admission, devoted to their skipper, whom they said is “made of different stuff.”
Peter Sr. is a retired school teacher in his 70s, who is coping with some major health issues. But he has had the unique opportunity to race and work with his two grown sons and a tight crew of men and women, who not only love sailing, but they love him and prove that they would go the extra mile for him any day. Although Peter Sr. is an active and energetic man, a difficult heart surgery and subsequent infection and a debilitating muscle disease makes life that much more poignant for the crew of Sinn Fein who sail with an appreciation of every day they have together. They share that philosophy with others.
“I’ve had the good fortune to sail with Peter in Sinn Fein on his home waters of Raritan Bay, and I enjoyed every minute, and learned something along the way. He and his boys are devoted sailors, with an enviable record,” said yachting historian and sailor John Rousmaniere. “Not many crews win trophies in seven straight Newport Bermuda races. None that I know has done so well after literally rebuilding their boat, as they did post-Hurricane Sandy.”
After finishing the 2012 Newport Bermuda race, it was assumed that Sinn Fein would race the next one in 2014. But then Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast and destroyed much of the Jersey Shore. When Hurricane Sandy hit the Raritan Y.C., Rebovich was nearby in the hospital suffering from a serious infection after heart surgery.
“Sandy hit, the lights went out in the hospital, and I didn’t know what was going on,” Rebovich said. “I have been a member of the Raritan Y.C. for 50 years and from what I have heard, I can say the water had never been that high. The boats just simply rose off their jack stands and floated.”
As the storm surge added at least 10 feet to the sea level, boats at the club were smashed and compressed against a wall in the boatyard and ground to a pulp. What remained when the waters receded was a twisted mess. The yacht club lost every single boat in its fleet—58 in total—and all were deemed a total loss.
Sinn Fein was farther away from the pile up, but she had a hole driven through her hull by a jack stand. She sustained cracks in the hull from stem to stern. Fiberglass was ground off her as the boat chafed on the gravel and mud filled the boat. The rudder and mast were destroyed. The engine and most of the boat’s electrical systems were ruined. The interior of the boat, including navigation station and galley area, was ravaged and the keel was damaged. All of the stanchions and pulpits were destroyed.
“My dad was pretty ill at that time and after the storm we had no plan at first to rebuild Sinn Fein,” Mark Rebovich said. “Although my dad was weak, it began to look like he might recover. That was the turning point when we made the decision to rebuild Sinn Fein. We had been offered about $50,000 in insurance money, but we needed double that figure to fix it.
“My father rallied and got his strength back, and as much as we told him to take it easy, we could not get him away from the boat. That has been the case pretty much ever since.”
The project to rebuild Sinn Fein became a rallying point for members of the Raritan Y.C., many of whom lost their own boats during the storm. Watching the historic racing boat return to a recognizable form was therapeutic. There was a constant stream of visitors, including young, summer-program sailors, stopping to ask questions about the work.
“Kids in the program were fascinated by the work and often chatted with Peter,” said Gary Myer, director of the summer sailing school.
The Sinn Fein restoration continued a long tradition at Raritan Y.C. of bouncing back from adversity with grassroots volunteerism.
“I think we really needed thousands of dollars more than we had but we received so much help and support from the people of the Raritan Y.C. and volunteers,” Peter Sr. said. “We found an engine to replace the existing one, my son did the fiberglass work, we had a guy volunteer who was an expert in marine electronics, the friends and family members shoveled mud and muck out of the boat for weeks.”
“While we rebuilt Sinn Fein for my father, the effect of the rebuild became a source of community pride,” Mark said.
“Raritan Y.C. is kind of a working-class club and we are a bunch of Jersey guys,” said Sinn Fein crewmember Kelly Robinson. “The club just let us stay there and work on the boat. A lot of members began to take a real interest in what we were doing. By the time we launched the boat this spring, Sinn Fein received a huge standing ovation, a blessing from a local priest and lots of cheers. It was great. Bermuda was always the great motivating factor. Our reward was Bermuda, and as hard as we race, we also laugh and joke together all the way there.”