Team Barbarossa

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Team members: Ben Kershner, Rob Comfort
Hometown: Seattle, Washington, USA
Race vessel: Melges 24
LOA: 24′
Human propulsion: Pedal drive and paddles
Connect: facebook, instagram

Talk to anyone from the Middle of the country about anything for long enough and eventually you’re going to hear about it; especially during the fall, and especially during March. Without fail they are going to tell you that they are either fans of the college team named after their state, or are they fans of the college team named after their state but with the word ‘State’ tacked-on at the end. Not just a passing interest, they are Fans, with a capital F, and capital F that other team.


This dynamic exists in most of the lower 48, but it’s different in the Middle. Way different. In the Middle the topic of ‘State vs Not State’ rises to somewhere between Irish and Israeli in stature as a dividing line of conflict that unites the populations in the Kansases, Ohios, and Iowas of the world… but especially Michigan.

Michigan vs Michigan State is a sorting hat of social order in the land where pasties are a G-rated food (and not whatever thing you were just thinking of). What is known is that you are destined by birth to mature only to shout your throat to ribbons in subzero weather wearing nothing more than team colored body paint and the thermal layer of all the PBR. You will do that, it is written, but the difference is whether your shirtless hypothermia is Jumbotronned underneath a smeared coat of Blue or a smeared coat of Green.

This isn’t important, it’s beyond that. Words have yet to be invented that convey the existential weight of Michigan vs Michigan State. That’s why there’s beer and body paint.

Team Barbarossa’s story is born of the Michigan cleaved in two by the conflict between the Blue and Green. Rob and Ben’s Sorting Hat moment bathed them in Green, then sent them dinghy sailing in the greatest non-Great lakes Michigan had to offer, then to Spartan School, then to the fanatical pursuit of adventure as close to and as far away from sea level as possible—which takes some doing coming from a place that has a lot of neither. Team Barbarossa won races skiing ‘faster than you,’ they mountaineered in both hemispheres, Macchu Picchu’d, Boundary Watered, professional and semi-pro cycled, and then moved as far west as they could without catching a ferry, bought a sailboat, then moved aboard the very moment their Seattle marina neighbor was teed up to win the first R2AK—they’ve been body painted R2AK super fans ever since. For five years they’ve sailed their house to every R2AK start, blazered up for every party, insomnia-d for every twitch of the tracker. They know the stats, chants, and songs, and this year they scanned the crowd in R2AK’s virtual stadium and out of all our worldwide fans looked themselves in the eye and tapped themselves to suit up for 2019’s game day.


Team Barbarossa’s Melges 24 vessel choice bleeds Spartan Green with its regional allegiance. (True, the boats are built in Wisconsin so technically it would bleed Badger Red, but for the sake of the analogy we’re going to say Wisconsin is part of East Lansing. Wisconsin, Michigan: your wrath is noted.) The M24 rolled forth off the heels of the legendary Buddy Melges driving the America3 to an America’s Cup win in 1992, the last America’s Cup that didn’t involve a lawsuit (totally kidding, ‘92 had plenty). Basking in his own glorious opportunity, Melges seemingly changed meters to feet and used the same designers to crank out the 24-foot buoy racer inspired by his A/C winner. Planing hull, modern keel, carbon sticks—this modest Midwestern monorocket is designed for a crew of 2-5 and even boasts a Spartan cabin where only the tiredest sailors and/or the body painted hypothermic could find sleep in a pile of wet sails. Perfect, pass the PBR.

Welcome to the R2AK, Team Barbarossa. Make the Middle Coast proud.