Our friends at Oakcliff Sailing in Oyster Bay, NY have taken another large step in “Building American Leaders Through Sailing.” On Friday, May 27 at 1400h, 70 sailors from Oakcliff were aboard five of the 86 boats competing in the Storm Trysail Club’s 75th Block Island Race. Amongst the race’s largest fleet in over a decade were eleven young women of Team Bitter End, sailing Oakcliff Farr 40 Blue.

For Team Bitter End, the Block Island Race was a large part of nearly 2,000 nautical miles the team will have covered by the end of June. Over the past two months, Oakcliff has provided on-site training and coaching for Team Bitter End, the youngest female team in sailing history to compete in the Newport Bermuda Race.

The Block Island Race tested the team’s leadership and ability in trying conditions throughout the 186-nautical mile race. From the start off Stamford, CT around Block Island and back, competitors experienced all weather conditions: thunderstorms, hail, fog, and sun with winds ranging from below 5 knots to 50+ knot squalls. “It was a challenge, but a critical step in testing the limits of people and equipment before we head to Bermuda,” commented Dawn Riley, Executive Director at Oakcliff Sailing.


Team Bitter End skipper Sophia Comiskey at the helm. Team Bitter End has been training with Oakcliff Sailing and recently secured the Bitter End Yacht Club as title sponsor.   © Oakcliff Sailing/Becca Hassel


As a part of Oakcliff’s training programs, Dawn works with the team to secure and manage sponsorship and fundraising. This spring, Oakcliff was proud to announce that the all-women team had secured the Bitter End Yacht Club as title sponsor.

Bitter End Yacht Club is dedicated to introducing sailing to youth from all over the world. Located in the British Virgin Islands right at the “end of the line” before Caribbean waters meet the Atlantic, Bitter End Yacht Club has witnessed rough conditions, but thanks to the support of the local community, this unique family-owned outpost continues to serve as a lively sailing destination.

Team Bitter End continues to embrace this spirit of their sponsor even during the roughest conditions on the water. “Right before the start of the Block Island Race, a rivet on our vang strut pulled out and we had no boom support,” said Sarah Wilme, Team Bitter End’s navigator. “Thankfully, we were able to find a quick solution to the problem and have a strong start.”


As this issue went to press, the all-women Team Bitter End was taking the starting gun in the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse division of the 52nd Newport Bermuda Race.   © Rick Bannerot/OntheFlyPhoto.net

A Rhode Island native, Sarah Wilme is currently pursuing studies in marine trades at the IYRS School of Technology & Trades and building her sailing career by gaining more offshore racing experience. “The Block Island Race was really good practice for living offshore while pushing the boat and racing at our best,” she said. “The Bermuda Race will only be my second time out of the country, and I am very excited to sail in the region.” As the oldest on the team, Sarah brings valued leadership, wisdom and care. “All of us learned a lot about self-care during the race, particularly those of us who didn’t sleep early on,” she observed. “Crew needs and organization are critical to a fast race.”

© Rick Bannerot/On the FlyPhoto.net

The girls, primarily between the ages of 16 and 19, are incredibly thankful to receive coaching from an outstanding professional and world-renowned sailor, Libby Greenhalgh, the navigator for the all-womenTeam SCA in the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15.

“Libby took the time to get to know each and every one one of us,” said Sarah. “During the race, she was extremely encouraging and pushed us to work hard. During scary moments, she was able to keep her cool, making the rest of the boat feel more confident and safe.”


How many future ‘round-the-world racers can you spot in this photo?   © Ethan Johnson/Oakcliff Sailing



The challenges throughout the Block Island Race led to opportunities for growth, development and success on both an individual and team level. Elizabeth, another Team Bitter End member, noted that seeing dolphins guide their boat as they rounded Block Island was a highlight. “It gave me hope and appreciation for this amazing offshore racing experience.” ■