By Dave White
“If you don’t like the weather in New England, wait a few minutes.” Do you know who said that? Was it Mark Twain, or someone named Samuel L. Clemens? Yes, it’s the same guy, but did you know he also had other pseudonyms including Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, W. Epaminondas Adrastus Blab, Sergeant Fathom, and Rambler?
Sail Black Rock at Captain’s Cove Seaport in Bridgeport, CT, the home of the intercollegiate sailing teams of Fairfield University and Sacred Heart University, hosted two back-to-back high school regattas on Saturday, April 27 and Sunday, April 28. That weekend brought a huge weather change, albeit in hours, not minutes. Sailors competing in the Connecticut State Championship raced in near gale force winds on Saturday, while the Rebecca Herreshoff Qualifier on Sunday started out in dead calm conditions – a true dichotomy for the many sailors who raced in both events.
Saturday’s pre-race presentation, from Sail Black Rock Head Race Coach Peter Coleman, was excellent and inspiring. Coach Coleman discussed his training to try to gain a spot in the Olympics (1st alternate twice) and his time on two America’s Cup campaigns. After the presentation, Sail Black Rock Program Director Dave White raffled off a New York Yacht Club American Magic cap signed by Team Skipper and CEO Terry Hutchinson.
Although the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London is the usual venue for the Connecticut State Championship, Sail Black Rock agreed to host this prestigious regatta due to dock repairs taking place at the academy. Most Sail Black Rock regattas are held on Long Island Sound, off St. Mary’s-by-the-Sea, but the high winds forced the race committee to set up in Black Rock Harbor, with courses in the vicinity of Fayerweather Yacht Club and Black Rock Yacht Club.
With a dozen high school teams racing 14-foot FJs in A and B divisions, sailors performed admirably despite gnarly puffs exceeding 30 knots. The FJs’ rudders were humming and tillers vibrating. Crews had to sit aft to keep bows up and hulls planning, and bow spray was a frothy eight feet, port and starboard. There were dozens of capsizes, sometimes multiple times in the same race for the lighter teams. Four powerboats stood by, one with a dedicated rescue swimmer who entered the water five times to help with righting and one man overboard pick up. Several sailors were heard yelling “Yahoo!” or something similar, in happy exhilaration. There were many, many smiles on faces of skippers and crews. It was a thrilling day that few will forget.
Race Management was a bit nervous, concerned about potential injuries and boat damage, knowing the next day they were hosting a Rebecca Herreshoff Qualifier, but the only issues were one minor head bump, a dozen blown out sail windows, and one bent mast. All in all, not much damage for the challenging conditions. Interestingly, racing at a keelboat regatta further west on the Sound was cancelled due to the high winds.
Early afternoon found the wind strength building to unsafe parameters. After five boats flipped at the same time, RC called a postponement until after lunch. Competitors were treated to a delicious pizza party (including white clam and shrimp pies!) sponsored by Regatta Craft Mixers. Straw polling at the party determined that competitors were exhausted and not thrilled about going back out. RC decided to put returning to racing to a vote by the teams’ coaches. It was explained the race course could be set up in the sheltered cove off the docks, where the wind strength was much less and spectating and rotations would be easy, but the coaches voted to not continue racing. Awards for the top three placing teams (for all four sailors on each team) were Mystic Knotworks sailors’ bracelets in gold, silver and bronze. The overall winner for 2019 was Brunswick.
Sunday morning arrived with no wind, chilly temperature and light rain for the girls-only Rebecca Herreshoff Qualifier. The pre-race presentation by Dawn Riley, the Executive Director of Oakcliff Sailing in Oyster Bay, NY, was enlightening for the young female sailors. Dawn spoke about women in sports and female equality, along with fascinating stories of her two Whitbread Round the World Races and four America’s Cup campaigns. In 1995, she was the Team Captain of America3, the all-women team that lost the right to defend the Cup by one race to Dennis Conner.
A book entitled SuperWomen: 100 Women-100 Sports, which features two pages on Dawn, was raffled and personalized by her to the winner. Also discussed was the youth essay contest sponsored by WindCheck, Sail Black Rock and Oakcliff, “Why I Want to Fly, In Sailing and in Life,” in which one lucky sailor will win a week at Oakcliff Foiling Camp in July.
Racing began a little after 11:00 am with very little wind out of the northwest, a strong ebbing tide, flat seas and light rain off St. Mary’s. The Sail Black Rock race committee led by Jamie Fales did a fantastic job with race management, providing the right length courses (short) and mostly square starting lines. Winds built slowly throughout late morning to a gentle breeze and went westerly after the first few races. By afternoon, the breeze was moderate out of the west, which caused a couple of teams to capsize. Except for the below average temperatures, the competitors had wonderful sailing conditions against strong competition. Racing was called in the late afternoon, after the A and B divisions each completed seven races.
Upon returning to shore, competitors enjoyed a Regatta Ginger Beer and pizza party, again generously sponsored by Regatta Craft Mixers. Awards of Mystic Knotworks sailors’ bracelets were given for the top three teams, and the the top five teams (Greenwich Academy, Hotchkiss, Darien, Prout, and Newton Country Day) qualified for the Rebecca Herreshoff Trophy finals at Bowdoin.
Sail Black Rock hosted two fun, competitive and social days on the water that were enjoyed by all, and Mr. Twain certainly would have approved.
“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
– Mark Twain (1835-1910) ■