Pink Boat founder walks away, but regatta continues

Ashley Bell steers Darwind during last year's Pink Boat Regatta in Seattle. Photo by Jan Anderson

Ashley Bell helms Darwind during last year’s Pink Boat Regatta in Seattle. Photo by Jan Anderson

Last summer’s inaugural Seattle Pink Boat Regatta, held on Shilshole Bay, drew around 50 boats and raised $36,000 for breast cancer research.

At the heart of the effort was a man named Thomas Watson, who planned to sail solo and non-stop around the world in his distinctive pink sailboat with the goal of raising $1 million for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Watson formed a nonprofit organization, The Pink Boat, and helped organize three Pink Boat regattas, two in San Francisco in and one in Seattle last September.

But now, Watson has reportedly decamped to the U.S. Virgin Islands with his new wife and the Pink Boat website has been taken down. Watson’s 28-foot 1960 Pearson Triton, Darwind, has been seized by the King County sheriff’s office and is sitting at a Seattle dock, slated for auction to pay off a former girlfriend who has sued him.

The former girlfriend, Holly, who asked that her last name not be used, said she is suing Watson for $8,500 that he owes her from the time they were a couple. She described Watson as a charming and impulsive person who jumps headlong into projects but doesn’t follow through.

“People said don’t get involved with him, but I just didn’t listen,” she said. “I don’t hate him. I just want my money back.”

Watson declined a telephone interview, but said via a Facebook message that while his organization was able to donate about $53,000 for breast cancer research, the Pink Boat initiative was “a total disaster” for him personally.

“I was admittedly too optimistic in my hope that if you believe in something enough and try hard enough, you can do anything,” he wrote. “I can no longer financially donate my time and efforts to this project and am actively trying to dig myself out of the financial crisis I have suffered in the wake of these efforts.”

The boat belonging to Pink Boat founder Thomas Watson has been seized and is awaiting auction.

The boat belonging to Pink Boat founder Thomas Watson has been seized and is awaiting auction.

Though Watson has stepped away from Pink Boat, plans are moving ahead for Seattle’s second Seattle Pink Boat Regatta on Saturday, Aug. 17. Last year’s event was largely organized by Sloop Tavern Yacht Club member Ashley Bell and a team of volunteers while Watson was competing in the solo TransPac race and sailing his boat from Hawaii to Seattle.

Bell, now vice-commodore of the STYC, has parted ways with Watson, but said the club has decided to take on the project for a second year, given the success of last year’s regatta.

“We’re owning it as a yacht club,” Bell said. “I want people to know that we’re moving on with the regatta.”

This year’s regatta, like last year’s, will be a buoy race on Shilshole Bay. Boats will have three hours to round the buoys as many times as possible and can “earn” additional buoy roundings for $100 each by purchasing them or asking people to donate. Participants will be encouraged to decorate their boats pink and don pink gear, and money raised will go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Bell is seeking auction prizes and cash donations, and hopes to line up a title sponsor for the event. Anyone interested in becoming a sponsor can contact her at 206.473.1905 or by email at

The cause has a personal resonance for Bell: her mother, who lives in Ontario, Canada, had breast cancer and is now in remission after a double mastectomy and several rounds of chemotherapy.

Breast cancer was brought into the spotlight this week with actress Angelina Jolie’s revelation in a New York Times op-ed piece that she recently underwent a preventive double mastectomy. Despite high levels of funding and awareness, breast cancer remains the second most deadly cancer for women after lung cancer.

About one in eight women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetimes, according to the American Cancer Society, and around 39,600 women will die from it this year alone.

Bell attributes the success of last year’s event to both the cause and the nature of the regatta, which she said is competitive but not too challenging to discourage casual racers. She believe this year’s regatta can be even more successful than the first.

“The event was spectacular. This community came together to support a cause that is worthwhile, whether Pink Boat is involved or not,” she said

“That’s why we want to continue it. It worked.”

4 Responses to Pink Boat founder walks away, but regatta continues

  1. SeattleFreeze June 6, 2013 at 11:05 pm #

    Its still a great cause. I am sorry for Watson and his troubles – but his personal struggles are not a reflection on the efforts he started, and his issues in his relationships are none of our business. In the meantime we are all still sailors, we know how to round buoys and it is up to us to work with the wonderful volunteers for this initiative to put our money where our sailor-mouths are and RACE for PURPOSE!
    Lets pink this out!

  2. boatsforsalephilippines May 21, 2013 at 11:32 pm #

    Mr. Thomas Watson’s idea of helping the Breast Cancer Research Foundation is a fantastic idea, but it really isn’t about starting well, it’s about finishing well that’s why I was truly amazed with Ms. Ashley Bell’s consistency and her decision to continue what they’ve started. Her dedication is indeed amazing.

  3. Kim May 20, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

    Last year’s Pink Boat success can almost entirely be attributed to Ashley. Her dedication to this cause, and the racing community here is amazing.

  4. mikey bamboo May 15, 2013 at 10:29 am #

    Awesome that PBR will continue. Ashley you are a mad woman to run this again but fer sure …good on ya!

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