Like that of many freshmen at St. Mary's College in Southern Maryland, Ryan Breymaier's dream of becoming a world-class sailor began at the mouth of the Potomac River, near where it empties into the Chesapeake Bay.
It is there that the kid from Damascus who came to play lacrosse transformed into a man who dreamed of traversing the world's seas and breaking records.
But Breymaier, a 1997 graduate with a degree in economics, paused his whirlwind life — now based in northern France — to return to the school that gave him his career, helping the Offshore Team of St.Mary's students race in this weekend's 40th Governor's Cup aboard the Yellow Jacket.
“I was just there to make sure everything goes well, to make sure we get down the bay safely and everybody has 10 fingers and 10 toes,” Breymaier said. “I wasn't going to do very much. They sailed the boat and I just offered helpful suggestions and let them do their thing. It was really nice, actually.”
The Governor's Cup is a shining tradition for the liberal arts school of 2,000 students.
The overnight race, which started near Annapolis on Friday and ended at St. Mary's College on Saturday, is the oldest and longest overnight race on the Chesapeake Bay, according to the college. This year's race included 129 boats from 11 classes. The St. Mary's team finished first in the Performance Handicap Racing Fleet A0 class.
Breymaier, 38, has fond memories of the Governor's Cup from when he was a student, especially the postrace on-campus party. But after he graduated, life took him in a different direction.
From 1999 to 2008, he worked on a variety of rebuilding and replacement sailing projects in the United States and the Mediterranean to learn the finer details of racing and cruising boats.
When he had free time, he would participate in whatever races he could, taking minor roles just to gain experience. By 2008, he relocated to France to pursue his career on the professional short-handed circuits in the top level of ocean racing.
In 2010, he and a partner completed the Barcelona World Race, a trip around the world, with no stops. His team finished fifth overall and second of those who did not make any stops. A year later, he finished sixth in the International Monohull Open Class Association World Championship — the best finish for an American ever.
And recently, aboard the VOR70 “Maserati,” he and eight other crew members smashed the New York-to-San Francisco sailing record by rounding Cape Horn and arriving in San Francisco on Feb. 16, 2013, just 47 days, 42 minutes, 29 seconds after their departure. The previous record was 57 days, 3 hours.
“I went sailing at St. Mary's for the first time, and I loved it then and I still do now,” Breymaier said. “I just was really fortunate to discover something about life that I had no idea about to begin with.”
Amid Breymaier's world endeavors, he is also building a family in France. His wife is five months' pregnant, and he is planning to return home Monday.
But St. Mary's officials caught wind that Breymaier was in the United States after he completed the Los Angeles-to-Hawaii Transpac race in late July and inquired through one of his college friends, Jake Weir, whether he would like to oversee operations on a student-led boat in the Governor's Cup.
“I realize exactly how fortunate I am to have had the opportunity at St. Mary's,” Breymaier said. “I had some really good mentors who were involved in the sailing program when I was there, so if I could be the same to somebody else, that's great.”
“We didn't tell the students that it was happening until right before the race, and they were excited to sail like this with him,” said Bill Ward, St. Mary's director of sailing. “We let them know through an email” earlier in the week.
One of those students was the boat's skipper, junior Jake Wolf (Calvert Hall). He couldn't believe one of the school's most distinguished alumni would be returning to help his boat compete.
“We were all absolutely thrilled,” Wolf said. “There's just so many things that he taught us that I don't know how we would have otherwise learned.”
Wolf likened his story about how he came to excel at St. Mary's to how Breymaier became involved in sailing.
When Breymaier was a freshman, planning to be on the school's lacrosse team that spring, he saw a flier on a soda machine in his dorm advertising a sailing club. Curious, he went one day and, well, the rest is history.
Wolf, though, grew up around boats; his grandfather owned a powerboat. But he had no intention of sailing at St. Mary's — until he got on campus. Now he hopes to one day share the successes Breymaier had at St. Mary's and beyond.
“I just liked the school and saw pictures of big sailboats at the college, so I was like, ‘Oh, hey, I could do that,'” Wolf said. “[Breymaier] came to St. Mary's and learned how to sail, which is pretty close to what I did, and it's pretty amazing that after four years, he got out there and did some pretty awesome stuff.
“That's something I'd love to do myself, down the line.”
As Breymaier and Wolf’s crew sailed down the Chesapeake and into the Potomac late Friday night, Breymaier recalled his first days as a sailor at St. Mary’s.
And then he realized — though he doesn’t like to think he’s old — that he has made a living of his freshman endeavor.
Breymaier said being around students who share the passion he had about 20 years ago legitimizes his career, he says. He is doing what he loves, and it was made possible on the shores of St. Mary's City.
“It's cool for everybody: They learn something from me, and I get to go back to my roots,” Breymaier said. “I owe all my success to St. Mary's College. I managed to get myself into an incredible lifestyle through what I did there. Not many people get to say that 20 years later, they're doing what they love.”
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