May 23, 2023

A Block Island Race Week Proposal

To celebrate the 30th Block Island Race Week, we have asked participants to send us their favorite memories. If you have one to share, please email it to media[at]

By Brendan Childs

It was BIRW XXII, and I had the brilliant idea to propose to my wife sometime during the week, but I did not know exactly how. At the dock and being around all the beautiful boats, the idea came to me. "How about I make a flag that spells out my proposal and fly it somehow for my soon-to-be wife to see?"  I finally had the idea, but no materials to create. Luckily, earlier in the week we had a shortened sailing day due to light winds and I was able to sneak away without anyone knowing. On my bicycle, I steadily searched the island for materials to create this "proposal flag". Mind you there were not as many opportunities to find these items on the island in June 2007. After striking out on finding anything at the local stores, I found a hardware store off the beaten path. Upon entering the establishment, I was immediately greeted by an employee and told them of my idea. I was pressed for time and becoming desperate. We brainstormed and ended up with a few cans of spray paint and a piece of scrap canvas that they received in a previous shipment. I purchased the spray paint and hightailed it back to the house. It is not until later that night, while people were preparing to go to bed, that I sprayed the proposal onto the canvas. 

June 22, 2007, the last day of BIRW XXII and my life as a single man. I snuck both the proposal flag and engagement ring in my sail bag and boarded the vessel. While sailing out to sea for the final day of races, I informed the Skipper and crew of my plan, and asked for their help. They were thrilled to assist. After the final race concluded, it was time to head into Great Salt Pond but the preceding events will forever be ingrained in my memories. Our strategy for each race was to remove the engine from the stern and tie it down below deck. By the end of the day, the wind was steadily blowing 15 knots, gusting 20, and the sea swells were larger than expected. These types of conditions required us to carefully carry and attach our engine to the stern. A crew member retrieved the engine from below and handed it off to our mighty Skipper to complete the task at hand. The angle we sailed towards the canal that leads into Great Salt Pond, made the boat rock side to side from the waves. The Skipper successfully tight-roped his way to the back of the boat and was preparing to lower the unit onto the stern, when all of the sudden, simultaneously a wave and gust of wind gust made the Skipper lose his footing. As I was steering the boat with the tiller, all of this happened right in front of me. My instincts kicked in grabbing the skipper by his waist belt and holding on while both of them fell into the water. Now I am holding both the tiller and my Skipper (who is still holding onto the engine). I have a crew member grab the tiller, while I focus on getting the skipper back. After a few seconds underwater, the Skipper decides to ditch the engine and allow me to pull him in. I get him back onboard and settled, and he immediately says, "Do you still want to do the proposal?" I was stunned. This guy is dripping wet, we have no engine, and his first thought is to continue with the proposal. 

Earlier that day, I asked my fellow crew members' wives to bring my soon-to-be wife to Coast Guard Beach to view us coming in from the races. With that in the back of my mind, I acted fast and prepared the proposal flag by taping it to the starboard stay.  The angle of the wind allowed us to sail perfectly into Great Salt Pond without the aid of an engine. There were many groups welcoming the variety of boats returning from sea making it difficult to locate our group, but I found them and clench the proposal flag stiff to ensure that she can clearly read my proposal message through a pair of binoculars. On the beach, my soon-to-be wife spots us through her binoculars and is overwhelmed with emotions. She informs the other wives what has happened and they all cheer! They race back to greet us at Chaplin's. Once on the dock, I present the ring and ask my wonderful wife her hand in marriage. The whole dock witnessed the proposal and all cheered in unison when she said, "Yes."