By Jim Arnemann
Each year, the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) in Kings Point, NY and the United States Naval Academy (USNA) in Annapolis, MD enter boats in the Around Long Island Regatta (ALIR) and similar races in order to train their midshipmen in the challenges of the sea. The USMMA has been participating in the ALIR for close to 30 years and the USNA is just slightly behind them with about 20 races.
These service academies prepare men and women to be leaders on the seas, perhaps some day commanding mighty naval ships and massive freighters. The skills they develop in long distance races like the ALIR give them on-the-water experiences with tides, currents, wind conditions and decision making. The ALIR has a 205-nautical mile course and its four distinctive legs (maneuvering though the traffic of New York Harbor, avoiding ferries, tugs, tankers and water taxis out through the Verrazano Narrows; ocean racing off the south shore of Long Island; rounding Montauk Point and the decisions of sailing through Plum Gut’s strong currents and finally; the strategies of sailing in Long Island Sound – sail on the Connecticut side, down the middle, or close to the North Shore of Long Island?) are an excellent opportunity to hone future mariner skills.
Rick Dominique, Director of Waterfront Varsity Programs at the USMMA, stated that sailing in the ALIR teaches skills such as “navigation, watch standing, weather observation and leadership…it’s great support of what the USMMA is training the midshipmen to do for a living.” He further stated one of the challenges the midshipmen enjoy is “facing the elements.”
Jahn Tihansky, Director of Varsity Offshore Sailing Team of the USNA, agreed. “The ALIR offers great training, in preparation for long distance sailing and decision making,” he said. “It’s a great challenge for the team.” Both academies enjoy the natural rivalry of racing against each other. Although not always on similar size and rated boats, who wins is very important for annual bragging rights. When asked if it’s important to beat Navy, Dominique stated, “We love it! Sailing is a social sport, and we enjoy the camaraderie.” Tihansky concurred. “It is absolutely a rivalry and we enjoy it very much. We want to beat them as much as they want to beat us!”
On the Tuesday evening before the race, both teams are invited to a pig roast and barbeque dinner at the Sea Cliff Yacht Club in Sea Cliff, NY, host for the ALIR. To up ante on the rivalry, the teams play an “unofficial” beach volleyball game after dinner. The winner receives The Sweet Sow Award, a trophy best described as “a pink pig on a pedestal.” Tihansky noted that Navy plans on getting their “vengeance this year.”
Tuesday’s night event is only one of a week full of ALIR events at Sea Cliff Yacht Club. Throughout ALIR Week, Navy Midshipmen enjoy the club’s hospitality. Sailors are hosted in the homes of members, and invite the SCYC junior sailors to sail on their boats. “The team is treated well wherever they visit, but the hospitality of the Sea Cliff Yacht Club is unparalleled,” said Tihansky. “They really roll out the red carpet.” Both teams are guests of the Club for the Sunday afternoon awards ceremony and beach party. “ALIR Week is always a highlight of the summer for the members of Sea Cliff Yacht Club,” said ALIR Co-Chairman Doug Wefer. Tuesday’s Academy Pig Roast and volleyball game really gets everyone excited for the actual race.”
Both schools are planning to enter two boats in this year’s ALIR. Navy will sail their Reichel-Pugh 66 Zaraffa and Ker 50 Wahoo. Skippering Zaraffa will be Midshipman Sean Caraher from Sayville, NY, and Wahoo will be skippered by Midshipman Matt McClelland from Atlanta, GA. Both skippers and boats are veterans of the ALIR. Returning sailors from the USNA include Maddie Arbogast (Sahaurita, AZ), Brett Eckert (Saugus, CA) and JP Post (Altus, AR), who were all aboard Hooligan last year. Caraher also sailed the race in 2017 aboard Wahoo. Coach Tihansky will accompany one boat and his Assistant Head Coach Pete Carrico will sail with the second boat, although the midshipmen make all the decisions and operate the boats.
The USMMA is entering their J/111 Black Diamond, skippered by Midshipman Neeko Helbich and A MAT 1180 Matador, skippered by Midshipman Cooper Siepert. Additional midshipmen returning for this year’s race are Alexander Mueller, Andrew Perry, Noah Bruner, Nick Becker, Alex Bonney, Tristan Boro, Easton Hazim, and Mitchell Weller.
“Having the Naval Academy and the Merchant Marine teams participate in the race is hallmark,” said ALIR Co-Chairman Jim Aikman. “Every year the bar is set high by them, creating excitement that spreads through the entire fleet. We are honored to have them sail the ALIR.”
The 43rd Around Long Island is scheduled for July 25 – 27, once again starting in New York Harbor under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. The Awards Ceremony and Beach Party will be on July 28 at the Sea Cliff Yacht Club. For more information, visit alir.org or YachtScoring.com. ■
Jim Arnemann is a Past Commodore of Sea Cliff Yacht Club.