Editor’s note: With each season, more and more young sailors are getting aboard big boats for overnight races. WindCheck applauds the owners giving these capable, enthusiastic racers a berth, and we’re pleased to share some of their stories from the Storm Trysail Club’s 74th Annual Block Island Race.
Forever a Child at Sea
By Marisa DeCollibus
In my almost quarter century of life, I have met a lot of sailors. It’s easiest to categorize a sailor by what draws them to the sea. Some are lured for cruising/leisure, careers, sentimentality, thrill seeking, nature loving, competitiveness and more. For myself, sailing has always fulfilled a primal hunger for the rawness of life. I can remember the first time I felt this way as a 12-year-old sailing a Club 420 from Sail Newport to Beavertail. I was soaring. In true childhood form, I let my head fling back to watch the sky pass as ground and the ocean as sky. In an instant, I was entirely whole. It is my experience that sailing is like being held by the earth. I feel a return to myself and become a mere trajectory sent forth by wind and sea.
I am unsure if many college sailors feel quite this poetic about their sailing. There is not much time for it. It’s all, “flatter, flatter, flatter” and “faster, faster, faster!” On my high school team, fun was always creeping in with an occasional game of sponge tag or a day of intentional capsizing. Not to say college sailing isn’t thrilling and fulfilling, but I felt distracted by the learning curve and by the constant competition. It became easy to forget to stop and smell the salt spray.
Having started late compared to my friends who were racing with their parents while still in diapers, I became used to being the underdog. In this was the magic of college sailing though – getting better faster. College taught me how to sail as a competitor. I was always on my toes and always focused. It was a constant wrestling with my brain to ignore discomfort and hike harder, ignore distraction and see more puffs. Every now and then, especially in regattas with Z-420s, my skipper and I would start to plane and I’d feel like that 12-year-old kid again. Much to my partner’s chagrin I’d let out a shrill “Whoohoooo” clearly audible to our competitors. I apologized, but I couldn’t help it. How could I possibly contain the joy?
Now here I am, a 2017 graduate of URI’s sailing team, a former All-American Honorable Mention, and have returned a little fish in a big ocean. What do sailors do in the big ocean? They sail keelboats. It should be known that getting a ride on a keelboat, even when willing, fast learning and experienced, is hard for a female sailor. Nevertheless, I’ve been “thrown some bones” with a few near shore races. I’d like to share with you a quote from my 16-year-old self, made possible by a habit of journaling, “Toothface was some of the most fun I’ve had ever and I learned so much and felt so good…I can’t handle all the good stuff!” (I went on to describe each crew member of that Class40, both in awe and impeccable detail).
This year, starting the Block Island Race downwind off of Stamford Connecticut in a 2013 Class40 named Marauder, the same exact model I’d sailed my second distance race in, I felt it all rush back. On Marauder I saw the great orange half-moon rise over the ocean. I felt the comradeship only made possible by the humility of dumping your own bucket of pee over the rail. Most of all, I felt an overwhelming sense of connection to the people on board and to the power of nature we were engulfed in.
Whether you sail for leisure or work, for your love of nature or competition, us sailors all have in common an insatiable will to be connected to something greater than ourselves. I hope to continue to return home to myself at sea for as long as there is water to sail.
An Amazing Introduction
By Tyler Miller
The Block Island Race was my introduction to distance racing. It was a very friendly introduction with long reaches, (mostly) flat seas, and beautiful weather. It was way different than anything that I was used to. I have done a lot of around the buoys sailing in the harbor on many different class boats, as well as high school racing. Joe Cooper, the sailing coach of The Prout School, put me in touch with the crew of the IMX-40 Resolute, and I was aboard for the race.
Overall, we were satisfied with our results. The owner just bought the boat, so it was a learning curve for all of us. We were hoping to be competitive and have a fun time. We did just that. The first day we maintained a steady nine knots for about eight hours. However, the first night the wind died. We drifted around going less than one knot for about six hours. But as the sun came up, we raised a spinnaker and rounded the island. We then began our beat back into the Sound. After a full day, we made it back to Stamford at about 2 am the next morning. I learned a lot, made some great memories, and met a bunch of great guys. I plan on sailing with them again this summer, and hopefully for more distance racing in the future.
This introduction to overnight sailing was a great experience for me. It was something I really enjoyed, and hope to do more of as I get older. It was so different from the racing that I was used to. I am used to constant high intensity, unforgiving races. In this race, the speed of maneuvers was not as crucial as they are in dinghy racing. It was a race of miles instead of inches. The race was very long, and we had to adapt in order to do well. As the wind fluctuated in strength, we would change sails. It was so odd having to change sails mid-race. Other than raising a spinnaker and dropping the jib, I have never needed to swap jibs during the middle of a race. Going to sleep in the middle of a race, and letting the other watch do everything, was also was foreign to me. This opportunity was really fun, and an amazing introduction into an entirely different type of sailing that I am looking forward to getting more into.
By Annika Kaelin
I was extremely excited when Peter Becker asked if I’d like to sail the Block Island Race on the J/105 Young American. I am 13 years old and started sailing Young American just this spring. I have been sailing for six seasons, five of which I was racing an Opti. I knew it would be a long race, but I was completely up for the challenge.
Being it was 30-plus hours out on the water, with crew I had just met, my family was admittedly nervous. I on the other hand was not, since I am always up for a challenge. Having sailed on Young American before, I knew safety was the crew’s top priority, so I could easily trust them. For me, it was a great opportunity to sail a long distance, overnight race.
We started the race at around 14:20, the Friday before Memorial Day. Unfortunately, it was a slightly slower start than we would’ve liked, though faster than most. The spinnaker was packed wrong, resulting in a minor setback. It wasn’t too much of a problem, as there was a decent 14 knots of wind. Although it’s not my favorite, it was the wind we work best in. We had a decent pace for a while, until the sun set and the wind died down. Luckily for us, we were in Plum Gut with the current on our side.
We sailed through the night and it was pretty cold. I for one appreciated the warm food and drink. I’m fortunate I can function without much sleep, so I was awake most of the night and up by sunrise. Sunrise on the water was beautiful while nearing Block Island. The view of the cliffs and the windmills just a little farther off was spectacular. We even saw a cute seal for a short while – an added perk. We passed the time rounding the island talking, and by then everyone was up. I was on the rail, as usual, with Maddie, Mary, and Kit. As we finished rounding we could see the wind not so far in the distance. It was a huge relief after the little wind we were dealt all night. But then it died once again.
As we talked, I watched the horizon line of Long Island, looking for anything I might recognize in hopes that we would make it back in good time. While we made our way into the Sound, Coop, our coach, let me take the helm for some time. Soon enough it became night, and the wind came back. This time it was much less cold. By then I’d adjusted to the cold waves splashing on my face. They even dragged my warm hat right off. I was glad to have the PowerBars that I’d brought that night and the last…the freeze-dried food we had wasn’t the best.
Then we made it back to the dock at American Yacht Club. As we got off, my parents were waiting for me. Thank goodness they were, because at that point all I wanted was to go home to my bed and get warm, and so I did.
Special thanks to Contributing Editor Joe Cooper for encouraging these young sailors to share their stories.