Growing up under a mast

Andrew Nutton, SailMV director of programs. —Gabrielle Mannino

Some of Andrew Nutton’s earliest memories are sailing at the age of 3 with his dad and a buoyancy aid 10 sizes too big. “Back in the ’80s they didn’t make any sailing kits for kids,” Nutton said when he spoke to The Times recently.

Nutton began sailing in several dinghies, starting with the “bathtub” Optimist and then moving into small racing boats like Toppers and Lasers.

Nutton was born near Newcastle in the Northeastern part of England before his family moved down to Southampton. Nutton spent most of his sailing life around the Solent, a strait that separates the Isle of Wight from the mainland of England. He spent every summer sailing and racing, and eventually moved up to sailing small racing boats in high school.

After graduating, Nutton became a chef for a couple of years. “But I figured the anti-social hours were affecting my social life. So, my stepdad saw an advert for a job working abroad for a sailing instructor, and off I went and here I am,” Nutton said. “That was 22 years ago, which makes you feel old.”

The advertisement his stepdad found was for a watersports instructor in Southern France. For the next two years Nutton ran a water sports program, teaching 150 to 200 kids per week over 16 weeks. From there he moved to the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain to spend another two summers running the asymmetric and Laser sailing program for Minorca Sailing, a sailboat and windsurfing center in Fornells Bay, Minorca.

Nutton returned to England to run the professional instructor training program in Cowes on the north part of the Isle of Wight. “It was the first time I had been dealing with teaching people how to teach,” he said.

He would later go on winter training trips with a high school sailing team in several warmer places like Egypt, Turkey, and Greece. “It’s great to see how these people whom I taught were progressing through the industry,” Nutton said.

In 2005, Nutton shipped out to become a trainer at the Abu Dhabi National Training Center in the United Arab Emirates, where he trained the national Laser squad for national and international regattas while updating their syllabus. He also ran the training center’s dinghy and windsurfing program and started getting more involved with J-22 racing in the Persian Gulf.

While in Abu Dhabi, Nutton was contacted by an old colleague, Andrew Budgen from Minorca Sailing, who was the skipper of a racing yacht looking for crewmembers to enter into the biennial Fastnet Race. Nutton took up the offer and moved back to England in 2006, spending about eight months preparing and passing through qualifiers for the Fastnet Race on a Volvo 60 race boat.

Andrew Nutton sailing in 2002. Courtesy Andrew Nutton.

The Fastnet Race is a biennial yacht race that began in 1925; the starting line begins in Cowes, crossing the Celtic Sea, and looping around Fastnet Rock in Ireland, with the finish line ending back in the U.K. in Plymouth. The 2007 Fastnet Race began in the second week in August, but was postponed for 25 hours due to severe weather. “The average breeze was like 38 knots for the entire weekend,” Nutton said, recalling how soaked he got while keeping the sails tight against the howling wind with the crew. Nutton was the main tactician and would rotate to other positions on the yacht with around 16 crewmembers, an owner, and a skipper. Nutton remembers their spinnakers (a larger version of a jib) blowing out while “grinding on the kite,” with the sail trimmed for about three to four hours. Nutton and a few crewmembers had to repair the spinnaker below deck, which took them an hour and a half.

“The original record was broken, I think, by a day and a half, and we came in three hours after the original record,” he said.

After the Fastnet, Nutton would go on to sail across the Atlantic from Bermuda to the city of Palma on the Spanish island of Mallorca, which took roughly 18 days; the yacht was 68 feet and custom designed, and had more space than the Volvo 60, with a captain’s room, televisions, and showers. He remembers how calm the sea was for his voyage — despite getting ahead of a hurricane by three days — with the ocean water looking like glass underneath the boat.

In 2011, Nutton became engaged to Becky, whom he met while working as the director of sailing at the Royal Hospital School. Becky was from Pennsylvania, and one day wanted to return to the U.S. Nutton said he knew about Martha’s Vineyard through the controversial Kennedy Dike Bridge incident on Chappaquiddick and the movie “Jaws.” “The link between the east coast of England, where I used to live, and here is quite strong,” Nutton said. “The father of Martha, that this place is named after, actually came 10 miles down the road from where I used to live.”

In 2017, Nutton moved to the Vineyard with his family after getting hired by SailMV to update the organization’s syllabus, which needed a modern refresher. One significant change was the focus of SailMV’s syllabus. Before Nutton arrived, the syllabus was structured to age and size; now it’s a more skills-based syllabus.

This year SailMV replaced their Optimists with RS Teras; these boats are a bit slower to turn and make teaching easier. “We’re reaping the rewards of that now, our numbers are going back up because we’ve changed everything,” Nutton said.

Nutton has two sons, Beau and Griffin, who have both been out on the water with their dad. “If [my children] don’t want to sail that’s fine, but if they do, they’re in a great location,” Nutton said. “Living on an island, everybody needs to know how to behave on the water.”