If you build it…

When it comes to marketing sailing to African-Americans, Paul Mixon says the sailing industry missed the boat. “The sailing industry targets middle-aged white men,” he explains, “but I know everyone can enjoy a sailing vacation, so I market a dream to African-Americans that just happens to involve a chartered sailboat.”

Mixon’s dream, known as Black Boaters Summit (BBS), has attracted African-Americans, many of them first-time sailors, to the BVI since 1997 to sail and socialize on a weeklong flotilla. Since its humble beginnings, the summit has grown to a 250-person annual event. As they say: if you build it, they will come.

Black Boaters Summit was born in 1996 at Black Expo in Oakland, California, when Sunsail asked Mixon to help sell charters to members of the National Brotherhood of Skiers. The NBS was—and still is—the largest ski club in the United States, and Sunsail wondered if NBS skiers could become BBS sailors. “Sunsail gave me five boats to fill with black skiers,” Mixon recalls. “I filled 10 and a business was born.”

Shortly after, Mixon met another sailor who shared his enthusiasm: Capt. Bill Pinkney, the only African-American to sail solo around the five capes. With Mixon’s marketing prowess and Pinkney’s celebrity, BBS had what it took succeed. With an affordable pricetag of just $350 for the week (food included), they had no trouble finding participants and the Summit took off.

These days 95 percent of BBS guests are repeat customers or referrals, and the BBS family continues to grow in other ways as well. “Eighty-five percent of guests come single, and we’ve had dozens of marriages arise through BBS, including my own,” Mixon grins.

Though the BBS itinerary has remained largely the same through the years, the boats keep getting bigger. The BBS started sailing on Norseman 44s and now sails Moorings 50.5s, Moorings 4600s, the Voyage 580 and, new this year, an 82-foot crewed catamaran from Dream Yacht Charters. This luxurious flagship will accompany Mixon and Pinckney this August for the 14th running of the BBS. For more visit bbs2011.blogspot.com.

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