Ted Jennings’ legacy sails on Long Island Sound

By Terri Jennings

Ted JenningsThe concept of one-design sailing hinges on the idea of honing a sailor’s skills right next to his or her opponent’s. Is there a better way for a sailor to improve and stay motivated? This story of one-design sailing on Long Island Sound begins with a testimony to the dedication and contributions of Edward Austin “Ted” Jennings II (1929 – 2016) of Southport, Connecticut.

A young Ted Jennings at the helm of an Atlantic on Long Island Sound, just outside Southport Harbor.

It began with Atlantics in the 1940s and 1950s; that concept of one-design competition where you could test your sailing skills on a level playing field. Then Dyer Dhows opened the door for pitting sailor against sailor at Pequot Yacht Club, right in Southport Harbor, all winter long. And the Solings made an entrance in the late 1960s and endured into the 1970s.

Then Thistles made their notorious debut in the 1980s. Longtime Pequot Yacht Club member Ann Watkins recalls, “John and I were newlyweds when Ted Jennings began the process of convincing every sailor on Long Island Sound that the Thistle should be the next one-design boat. He enthusiastically took us under his wing and announced that he had found the perfect boat for us to sail. He even drove us in his car, which had a trailer hitch, to Staten Island to negotiate the purchase. Our future first ‘yacht’ was sunk into the grass and full of leaves in the previous owner’s backyard. Yes, we were proud owners of a Thistle!”

The big game changer arrived in 1992, when Ted, a lifelong PYC member and sometimes-daunting competitor, pushed for the introduction of the Ideal 18s. “The Ideal 18 fleet at Pequot was a game changer for me,” recalls Dave Perry, PYC member, champion sailor and author of the book, Winning in One-Designs. “Not having a boat of my own, it allowed me to take my two young kids out sailing whenever they wanted to go, which was huge. I have also enjoyed racing with my wife, Betsy, in the Ideals, as well as doing some high-level team and match racing in them. Ted’s insight and persuasive persistence were significant in causing this to happen at Pequot. And as a result, over a dozen clubs around Long Island Sound soon followed suit with their own fleets of Ideal 18s. This has kept one-design racing alive on the Sound, and drawn countless new members to these clubs.”

Ted Jennings

Ted Jennings and his son Ward on the Pequot YC race committee boat   © Chris Jennings

From Indian Harbor Port Jefferson, Ideal 18 programs took off. PYC Manager Jeff Engborg observes, “The Ideal 18 and one-design program on Long Island Sound continues to be a success, and Ted Jennings is the reason. Ted was instrumental in his leading role of introducing other clubs to Pequot’s successful one-design model.” “Ted was so supportive his of father’s (Arthur O. Jennings) tradition of the Jennings Cup, says Pam Toner, who headed the PYC Junior Program. “He was very proud of this event, for both his own memories as a child sailing with his father and as a father sailing with each of his five children. He was instrumental in fostering a love of sailing at a young age.”

Past Commodore Hugh Smith remembers, “Ted was a strong competitor out on the water, and his very positive presence will be fondly remembered by those who served with him as Elected Governor or as a member of his One-Design Committee. Ted was also one of the inventors of the Special Activities Membership idea, which made the whole Ideal 18 program work and allowed the club to prosper. Another one of his accomplishments was bringing (along with Clark duBois) the Community Sailing of Fairfield program to fruition.” Clearly, Ted had a passion for sailing, and a calling for sharing that passion with others.

Terri Jennings is a freelance writer/editor living in Easton, CT. She is the daughter-in-law of the late Ted Jennings. Her husband, Ward Jennings, is a lifelong member of Pequot Yacht Club in Southport, and currently serves as Vice Commodore. Their two children, Austin and Kate, are proud graduates of the Junior Program at Pequot.