Young Scot is victorious in his first distance race…and first doublehanded race!

By Fergus Wilson

Editor’s note: The 46th Around Long Island Regatta, hosted by the Sea Cliff Yacht Club in Sea Cliff, NY in July, was first run in 1977. The race covers a 205 nautical mile course combining ocean, harbor and sound racing. Open to all sailboats 24 feet and larger, the race is designed for sailors at all levels, running in as many as ten divisions and typically finishing in one to three days. This unique race is for everyone from weekend cruisers to serious blue-water competitors, double-handers, service academy teams and juniors. Racing yachtsmen earn points for the Northern Ocean Racing Trophy and other IRC distance trophies.

Considered Long Island’s premier sailing race, the Around Long Island Regatta starts annually at the end of July, beginning on Thursday afternoon starting in New York Harbor in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. The challenging harbor start, with commercial traffic and crisscrossing ferries, sends the boats out for the Verrazano Narrows, and out into the Atlantic. The Ocean leg runs along Long Island’s south shore to Montauk and Orient Points. Entering Long Island Sound, some boats choose the shortest distance, due east, hugging the Long Island shore, while others opt for deeper water and possibly better wind in the center of the Sound. The race ends in beautiful Hempstead Harbor at the end of the Glen Cove breakwater. The weekend concludes with the ALIR Awards Ceremony and Beach Party hosted by Sea Cliff Yacht Club, with trophies presented to the first three finishers in each division along with many additional awards for various categories.

Powering past The Battery © Henriette Rohl


I recently had the chance to sail the Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty 46th Around the Long Island Regatta. Not only was this my first distance race it was also my first doublehanded race. I had come to the U.S. to work as a windsurf instructor at American Yacht Club, after being a Laser sailor for much of my sailing career, at American Yacht Club in Rye, NY, where I bumped into Peter Becker. I noticed his J/105 – Young American 146 – was setup for shorthanded sailing. Peter e invited me aboard to take a look, and I knew then that I had to find a way to race with him.


The 46th ALIR was the author’s first distance and first doublehanded race. © Henriette Rohl


When Peter asked me to race with him I was quite frankly surprised. I was thinking, ‘A young Scot, far from home, sailing doublehanded with Peter?! Surely I’m dreaming.’ I said yes, of course.

On the day of the start I was eager to get going and my stomach was in my throat. We waited a few hours until 12:40 came – 5 minutes to go. As we rigged the sails, my mind clicked into gear and I was as mentally prepared for the next two days as I could be. At 1 minute to go we were setting up to hit the line with full speed. I realized for a brief moment that I was actually getting to do this race. With that short moment of pride passing, I snapped back to the race and we crossed the startline in first position.

The prizegiving at Sea Cliff Yacht Club

Going along the Atlantic side of Long Island was fast, wet and tiring. I loved every second of it. From the exhilaration of flying down a wave, listening to the boat sing, to forcing myself up to the foredeck to change a sail, it was an experience I will never forget.

As we sailed on through the night, the lack of sleep and the intensity of doublehanded sailing started to catch up with me and from Thursday night until Saturday morning I slept for 50 minutes…pity I missed out on the sailing time.

As we edged closer to the finish line in light winds, it was hard to stay focussed after sailing with very little sleep for almost two days. The lights of buildings in Connecticut seemed to taunt me, morphing into barges motoring straight towards us at full speed; my mind was enjoying watching my confusion. It took us several hours in zero wind to move only a couple miles, but we had made it. We crossed the line having won our division, leaving me with an experience I will never forget, new friends, as well as a new addiction: shorthanded distance racing. I have also made a friend in Peter who has taught me so much about my self and sailing. He truly is a sailing legend.

From a young age I dreamed of racing offshore, but never expected it to be a reality for me.  So, when the opportunity came up with Peter, I jumped. My goal is to show my self that I can do whatever sailing challenge I set my sights on, and enjoy my self while doing it. ■

Hailing from a small town in Scotland called Dunblane, Fergus Wilson’s sailing journey started at 4 years old with his dad standing on the shoreline teaching me the basics in Optimists at Loch Venachar Sailing Club. Working his way up the fleets in Optis, Toppers and Lasers, he raced for Scotland and the UK in national and international competitions. He moved into keelboat racing at The University of Dundee where he has placed in national competitions. He spends a lot of time coaching keelboat sailors, Laser sailors and windsurfers.