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A Tale of Two Ships

X meets Next in odds- defying summer encounter.
February 18, 2015

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. In a 24-week season, what are the odds that the two boats will ever drop anchor off the same island?

David Collins ’59 estimates them at a million to one. But he had a serendipitous moment last August when his stately sail­boat, Next Dimension, pulled into Camp Island, near Stonington, Maine. Soon after, an old friend pulled up beside him.

The old friend was X Dimension, a 43-foot ocean racing yacht that Collins donated to MIT in 2011.

Collins, best known for his pioneer­ing work on bar-code technology, has a good eye for detail. First he spotted X Dimension’s unmistakable red hue, then 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, two students, 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.”

“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,” Collins says. “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.”

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 satisfies that craving.

Sailing master Fran Charles, who first raced against Collins in the 1970s as a teenager in Scituate, estimates that more than 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 blue-water sailing.”

Collins learned those skills on the 1957 version of Tech Dinghies, the first built of fiberglass. “They were rug­ged and tough—and they had to be,” he says. “You didn’t want to flip over in the Charles back then. You didn’t know what was in the water.”

Collins bought his first boat in 1966, and has upgraded several times. He bought X Dimension in 1991 after his previous boat sank in Marion Harbor during Hurricane Bob. He loved racing with it, and won both the 2002 Edgartown Yacht Club race and the 2011 Vineyard Cup Regatta.

Collins was pleased to find such variety in X Dimension’s crew at Camp Island. “That’s one of the great things about sailing,” he says. “It cuts across every demographic group.”

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