Solve for x: two sailboats cruise up and down the New England coast all summer, spending one night each at any of the region’s approximately 3,900 islands. The odds that the two boats, in a 24-week season, will drop anchor off the same island are 1 in x.
David Collins ’59 estimated the odds at a million to one. But he had a serendipitous moment in the middle of August when his stately sailboat, Next Dimension, pulled into Camp Island, near Stonington, Maine. Soon after, an old friend came along and dropped anchor for the night alongside him.
The old friend was Collins’s former sailboat: X Dimension, a 43-foot ocean racing yacht that he gifted to MIT in 2011.
Collins, best known for his pioneering work on barcode technology, has a good eye for detail. As he approached Camp Island that afternoon, he spotted X Dimension’s unmistakable red hue, then spied its familiar sail number. It was uncanny.
“It’s not exactly Times Square up there,” Collins says. “It was highly coincidental.”
After both boats anchored, Collins boarded a skiff and motored over to greet the crew of his former yacht. On board X Dimension, three MIT alumni and a former MIT staff member were relaxing after the day’s sail. Captain Eric Brown ’81 and Bonny Kellermann ’72 welcomed Collins aboard.
“Of all the harbors in the world!” says Kellermann, who was sailing on a three-day leg of a two-week long excursion offered to all MIT students, alumni, and staff. “It was a fabulous experience. On that leg, there were the three of us who were alums, one current grad student, one current undergrad, one staff member, and one guest.”
The mix of students, alumni, staff, and friends of MIT on board suited Collins’s vision perfectly in making his 2011 gift.
“I learned to sail at MIT and I wanted to give back to this community an experience that had been a benefit to me there. Sailing’s ability to clear your mind over a short period of time when you have a lot of stuff to think about gives you some balance as a student. There has to be a balance.”
While thousands of MIT students have taken to the six generations of Tech Dinghies since the Jack Wood Sailing Pavilion was built in 1935, for some the lure of deeper water beckons. X Dimension, at 43-feet long, satisfies that craving.
Sailing Master Fran Charles, who first raced against Collins in the 1970s as a teenager in Scituate, estimates that over a thousand students and at least 20 alumni have sailed on X Dimension in its first three years as a vessel in MIT’s 100-boat fleet. “It’s essentially booked for all trips we offer, just about every weekend from spring till November,” Charles says.
“It’s a different style of sailing than what we can teach students in the Charles River,” he says. “They learn navigation, teamwork, responsibility, all of which are important in bluewater sailing.”
Collins learned those skills on the 1957 version of Tech Dinghies, the first ones built of fiberglass. “They were rugged and tough, and they had to be. You didn’t want to flip over in the Charles back then. You didn’t know what was in the water.”
Collins went on to buy his first boat in 1966, and he has upgraded several times. He bought X Dimension in 1991, sight unseen, after his previous boat sank in Marion Harbor during Hurricane Bob. Collins loved racing the boat—with it he earned first place in the 2002 Edgartown Yacht Club race and the 2011 Vineyard Cup Regatta.
When he came across X Dimension at Camp Island, Collins was pleased to find such variety in its crew.
“That’s one of the great things about sailing,” he says. “It cuts across every demographic group. To see seven people on board with such different relationships to MIT isn’t unusual at all.”