By Joe Cooper

The CJ Buckley Regatta (you’ll find my article about this brave young man at is a team race event, but not for high school teams, rather for either yacht club teams or whatever team name six high school sailors want to jig up for themselves. Grapes of Wrath and Ship Happens, for instance.

But for the primo names of this year’s event (see page 19), complete with costumes, Revenge of the Sith took the cake, and third place overall (in Gold Fleet) with a 16-3 record. They also won the Sportsmanship Award and the Spirit Award. And they sailed in Jedi and Storm Trooper costumes. Yup, a Jedi and a Storm Trooper in each boat. Tactical decisions musta been hell. Not to be outdone, a team from the USVI represented Harry Potter as Team Gryffendor, and yes, they sailed in capes and ties and one of the boys had The Scar.

I was around Sail Newport during this year’s Clagett Regatta ( and missed this episode, but it was reported to me that one young sailor, from Canada I recall, arrived at the dock in her 2.4mR and hollered to the general multitude, “Has anyone seen my leg?”

Apart from having eight Rhode Island high school sailors rotate through two days of sailing in The Candy Store Cup on Zenji, a 56-meter Perini Navi ketch, I reckon that only in Newport would a high school sailor pass on that opportunity one day because she was at IYRS working on her summer kayak project…

And finally, literally and very sadly, Sandra G. Tartaglino, a popular sailor from Tiverton, RI, died when her F18 cat was run over by a powerboat during the New England 100 – a regatta she’d organized – on Sunday, 11 August. Across the Atlantic, Stéphane Thomas, 57, was lost off the coast of Finnisterre on a passage from Ireland to Lorient in his Mini 6.50. His boat was found with no one aboard.

I did not mean for this to go on so long or conclude with two deaths. It started off as an idea for a few chuckles with the CJ Buckley kids sailing in their costumes – exactly the kind of Kaper CJ would appreciate, I reckon. Then really, who can resist an adaptive sailor with such a sense of humor?

The Only in Newport piece really is just that. Where else in the world would a teenager care so much about building her kayak that she’d forgo racing a 180-foot yacht? Well, in the interests of full disclosure, she ended up coming with us for both days of racing, as did eight other high school sailors. My plan with these things is to circulate the email with the Kaper, then see who washes in. Four of this eight also did the Junior Safety-at-Sea Seminar and the Farr 40 Kaper, and I’ve introduced three of them to ongoing sailing programs.

In thinking about the lost Mini sailor, I think the last lost overboard sailor I know of was the fellow in last year’s Chicago Mac Race. I’ve been washed off (NOT fallen off) two different 12 Metres in my day, and know how quickly a boat traveling at 8 or so knots can get small. And just how fast a human gets small. One of my drills at the Junior SAS is the following.

As we’re sliding into the MOB portion of the day, I find a student who “fesses up” to being a runner. I ask them to jog, at warm-up pace (roughly 6 knots) along the promenade at Fort Adams. This ends up, if done to perfect time, being 528 feet, roughly the length of a Russian Oligarch’s private yacht, or if you prefer, an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer.

I start the watch when they start running and stop it when I blow a whistle a minute later. I ask the students to contemplate just how far he has travelled in 60 seconds. I ask just how hard they think it would be to find his head in any kind of a chop, let alone waves, strong winds or at night. “What do you think?” I ask. They are soberingly quiet.

I contemplate this subject, perhaps more often today than I did at their age. I did my Sydney Hobart Race at 18, well before the ill-fated Fastnet Race. There was NO safety-at-sea preparation. Zero, zip, zilch, nada. I cannot remember where the raft was, and this is interesting coz the boat was a half-tonner, 30 feet LOA, so a six-man (man, in those days) raft would’ve been pretty hard to hide. No discussion of flares. I would have had NO IDEA how to use one. There was no plan taped to the bulkhead indicating where the flares, thru-hulls, fire extinguishers, toolboxes were stowed. No plan for dealing with any of the Eight Things.

The memorable aspects of that race were coming third in fleet and winning everything in the 30-foot size. But mostly my first exposure to really big seas and wind. We were off Gabo Island, leading into Bass Strait. I’d gone off watch in the middle of the night. We were sailing fast in light air and flat water with the Star Cut kite up. I was woken about 0540 to prep for going on deck. I looked around at the disposition of the sails on the floor. The Kite was back in its bag, but the Four was missing. I climbed out of the rack, munched on something that was passed to me and kitted up. I noticed the boat was moving around a lot more than when I went off watch. The boat, a Currawong, a neat production boat designed by a guy named Peter Joubert, had a keyhole hatch, like today’s VOR and IMOCA boats. Closing the hatch made the interior watertight. No water sluicing through washboards for us, bucko.

I glanced out the hatch and saw bright blue skies and seas and white breakers on top. “Huh,” I thought, “guess it’s blowing.” I thought it was blowing 35 or so. OK, I’d sailed my Laser in that much wind. As I was getting ready to swing myself out the hatch, one of the guys handed me a harness. “Better put this on, mate,” says he. I don’t think I’d ever put a harness on, let alone worn one in anger. “OK,” says I, figuring out how to do as instructed. Once dressed, one of the blokes on deck took the business end and clipped me to the lifelines. I swung out, ended up facing the bow, and the seas.

My stomach fell as I looked out over the view. The sky was that perfect kids’ pencil color blue, and cloudless. The sea was that deep Gulfstream-like indigo blue…what you could see of it. Stretching to the horizon were streaks of white, both of the breaking waves, about 6-12 foot each on top of what was about, by consensus, a 25-30-foot ground swell. We would get on the top of a swell and the view was the same, stretching off onto the distance, untouched nor deflected probably until one reached Heard Island a couple thousand miles to the sou’west.

I’d been in big seas crossing Sydney Heads in the ferries, but nothing like this. I’m pretty sure I was terrified. But since I was the nipper and these guys had invited me, somehow I got my act together. It was my turn to steer. The helmsman I was replacing was the owner, a tough, scrawny, not-so-old coot with a zillion miles under his belt. Ando looked at me out of a corner of his spray hood, and there was just the hint of a gleam in there. The bugger was enjoying himself.

I worked my way aft of him and sat down, feet braced on the leeward seat. One of the other guys lashed me to the lifeline, so when we were hit by a big breaking wave, a pretty common occurrence, I wouldn’t get knocked off the seat…or into somewhere else. Ando was a canny bloke, and had to know I was scared like stink. But, as we do, I got less uncomfortable and about 10-15 minutes later he handed the tiller to me.

I’d been glancing at the windspeed meter. It was, and had been, pegged at max, 55 knots for the whole time covered by the foregoing, 15-20 minutes or so. I just ignored it after a while, thinking it was broken. Several hours later, it started bumping against the stops and finally showing 50-55 knots, then 45-50 and so on down the scale. Just imagine sailing in those conditions and not knowing where the raft or flares were stowed. ν

Australian born, Joe ‘Coop’ Cooper stayed in the U.S. after the 1980 America’s Cup where he was the boat captain and sailed as Grinder/Sewer-man on Australia. His whole career has focused on sailing, especially the short-handed aspects of it. He lives in Middletown, RI where he coaches, consults and writes on his blog,

Previous Article


Next Article