Sailor Spotlight: Roy Wilkins
Roy Wilkins is one of those names that everybody on the bay knows. Roy has been an active sailor for over 60 years, racing so many different types of boats. "Coach" -- as he is endearingly called by so many because he has coached so many -- was integral in the start of the OCC sailing program that has lead to thousands of sailors experiencing college and high school sailing on Barnegat Bay. He is a father and a grandfather, he is passionate about his own sailing, and he is genuinely interested in who's doing what on the bay; he follows so many sailors and wants to hear about all the regattas they are going to as if each sailor was his student. We are lucky to have Roy on the bay making everybody better!
Name: Roy Wilkins
School: Ocean County College
Yacht Clubs: OCC, Island Heights YC, Toms River YC
1) Roy, you've been sailing on Barnegat Bay for such a long time. How did you get involved in the sport and what was it like growing up on the bay? I started sailing in 1955 at the Island Heights Yacht Club. It had a junior sailing program that was created by Dr.Slack and Don Horter. I began my career by crewing for Bill Warner in a Diamond Duck Boat for a few years, and then I crewed for his brother Marshall Warner for a few years. Then I skippered a Diamond Duck when I was 12, but I actually stopped sailing when I was 14 to get a job. It was a fun time as a junior sailor; I was able to crew on Comets, Jet14s, E-Scows and Wooden auxiliaries. Racing in the BBYRA as a junior was a big deal, and I looked forward to our Saturday races. On Sundays we all raced on the big boats on the Cedar Creek course.
2) You were instrumental in starting the OCC sailing team more than 15 years ago. What was the process like to start the team? Did the school need a lot of convincing? Developing an Intercollegiate sailing team was a community effort. In 2002 Don Doran, the Vice President and Student Life director at OCC approached me about creating a sailing team. He said he had the support of President Jon Larson. At the time I was approached I was the head women’s soccer coach at Stockton College (ranked 12th in the nation). At the time I tried to coach soccer and sailing at the same time, and it was very difficult.
The college purchased six 420s. Dr. Drew Seibert, who is a pillar of the community, came on board to support the program and helped me acquire an additional twelve 420s through private and service club donations, and our fleet was completed. We were a little unsure at first, but Gary Jobson, who's from Toms River, convinced me that we could race against all the 4-year schools. In the first year of the program we were fortunate to have Matt Goetting sail for us. We won the Henry Luce trophy at the Naval Academy, and I'll never forget the headlines in the local paper “OCC sinks Navy”. From that point on the program was on the rise. Because we had 18 boats, we were big enough to host major regattas for high schools and colleges. As the program got larger we hired a full-time coach in Billy Warner who has done an outstanding job developing so many sailors. After years of use, the boats started to break so we hired Mike Spark to keep them floating. All the boats are still floating today thanks to Mike's hard work. As more and more high schools came to Toms River Yacht Club to use the OCC boats, Dr.Randy Nunn got involved to organize the high school scene. Dr. Nunn has done an outstanding job with the high school programs.
Since then, the program has acquired eight FJs, a Sandpiper catboat and a Sanderling catboat to train the new OCC Students. All boats were donated by local sailors.
3) It's incredible to see the residual effects of starting the OCC sailing team. Other local colleges have started teams after seeing your blueprint, and there are so many high school teams that are in existence mostly because of their access to the water with OCC boats. How does it feel to know you are the driving force behind so many kids getting on the water? I get excited every time I go out on the river on a fall day with the sun setting, and I see close to 24 boats-- all of which were donated by local sailors-- being used by the college and the local high schools. I really enjoy the Wednesday High School regattas where there are high schools from all over the state of New Jersey competing. Another thing that I’m excited about is that the Ocean County College Sailing Club is now part of the BBYRA. All the student athletes can sail in the BBYRA in the Saturday races, just like I did as a teenager.
One of the biggest achievements that I’ve accomplished was the development of the Phil Citta Sailing Center in Mill Creek. This is the program that I’ve been trying to develop for 10 years and now it is fully operational. It is a program that allows sailing for everyone. It's called the SAFE sailing program and sailors with all type of disabilities can sail. Paul Coward had developed the SAFE program in NJ, but he didn't have a home so Mill Creek has been perfect for his operation. We operate out of Mill Creek Park on a floating dock that was built with donations by over a hundred people in the community. A large contribution came from the Citta Foundation. We have a full-time director in Rachel Goetting and many volunteers like Russell Lucas. We have boats that were specially developed for the disabled and a facility that can put a disabled person in a boat. What a thrill it is for me to see a person get out of their wheelchair, get into a boat, and have the freedom to sail all over the Toms River.
4) You've been very involved with the A-Cat "Spy" in years past. How has that been part of your life and tell me a bit about the A-Cat scene. My wife, Jane, and I bought the Spy in 1978 when there were only four boats in the world and they all need to be repaired. The reason behind me buying an ACat was it was a great platform to take my disabled students that I worked with in the Toms River Schools out sailing. I could actually put a wheelchair in the cockpit of Spy. All the boats at one time were owned by Nelson Hartranft. A good friend named Charlie Cox agreed to be my partner in Spy. I encouragde my friends to fix up the other boats: Steven Brick with Lotus , Mike Frankovich with Bat, and Marshall Warner with Maryann. The fleet became fun because our friends were all involved. In 1985 I did a complete restoration of Spy at Beaton’s Boat yard. It was a two-year project, and I acquired new partners in Jim Reynolds and Maggie Groff. I was Fleet Captain of the A-Cat fleet for 10 years. Spy has been a fantastic boat for my family . It was fun to race with my children Alyssa and RJ and Jane. In fact, our daughter Alyssa got married on the Spy at a dock in Island Heights - that's how important she was to her. In the year 2000 we donated Spy to the Toms River Seaport Society, where she is on now on display. Spy 2 was built in 2001 at the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia by John Brady. My partners in the boat where Maggie Groff, Gary Stewart, and Richard Yetman. In 2014 the Spy crew won the BBYRA championship in the BBYRA One Hundredth Anniversary Year. All together we've won eight Bay championships.
I'm one of the few skippers that I know that sail with his wife. Jane has been a fantastic crew. We had a lot of fun in every race. I could go on and on about this, but I already wrote a book about A Cats. It's called A Cat’s. A Century of Tradition. I collected all the pictures, and Gary Jobson did all the writing. I retired from racing A Cat's in 2014, and now I race a Marshall B Cat with my grandson and his buddies. The boat was donated to the college by Bob Adams.
5) You're a coach at heart, and while you're known around our bay as a sailing coach, most people don't know how good of a soccer coach you are too. Tell me about your soccer coaching career. Finally, what are the characteristics you look for in a soccer player or a sailor that make them enjoyable to coach? I started coaching soccer at Toms River South in 1969 as the Freshman coach, and in 1972 I became the head coach and finished my career there in 1989. Something I'm very proud about is that I helped with the development of the girls team which began in 1976. I coached boys and girls soccer from 1976 to 1989 at Toms River South. 1989 I became the head women's soccer coach at Richard Stockton College. They did not have a program at the time so I was starting from scratch. I recruited a lot of local shore girls. In 1995 we were ranked number 2 in the nation and hosted the NCAA Final Four. For the next six years we were ranked top 10 in the nation. In 1995 I was voted Division Three College Women's Soccer Coach of the Year and 4 years ago the 95 team was inducted into the Stockton Hall of Fame. I had the privilege of coaching two NCAA division 3 All Americans: Andrea Tilley and Shannon Keelan.
The number one characteristic I look for is an athlete that's willing to train hard, get dirty and sweaty and become exhausted when no one's looking (without a coach looking over your shoulder). Doing it on your own,with your friends or by yourself to become better is so important for development. Sadly it seems to be a trait that's disappearing. With soccer it is time with the ball, and with sailing it is time with the tiller. It's a pretty simple formula: spend more time developing your skills.