JSA Optimist Championship
Aug 15-16, 2016
JSA Opti Champs. Sure, it may sound like just another regatta. The WFC generally hosts about six to eight regattas a year. But this is the big one – not just in quantities of numbers of competitors and support resources, but in lasting impact on a young sailor’s summer, and even their overall experience in junior sailing. Some racers have just squeaked in a qualification and it is their first time at a championship level event. For others, it is their fourth year vying for silver, hoping to earn their name engraved on the 2-foot tall Leo M. Cardillo Trophy cup for all of junior sailing perpetuity (and when you’re 12, that’s a really long time!). In the end, for all 126 competitors from as far east on Long Island as Shelter Island and west as Douglaston Bay, and running up the coast from Mamaroneck to Milford Harbors, the 2-day event is a testament to hard work and long practice days on the water. For the WFC as host, it was a major coming together of all that community sailing in Oyster Bay has to offer.
Traditionally in JSA, the host site for a championship is the home club of the previous year’s winner. As the event has grown, the host is now selected by application. The bidding process began in fall 2015. As one of the more complex regattas to host, special attention is paid to a host-facility’s ability to deliver not only great racing, but also quality race management, regatta logistics and the highest level of hospitality. 40 member programs comprise the Junior Sailing Association of Long Island Sound (JSALIS). Only a handful of yacht clubs have hosted the prestigious JSA Optimist Championship. The WFC is the first community sailing to host the coveted event. All eyes were on us!
The Optimist is the most ubiquitous sailboat worldwide. Here on Long Island Sound, there are close to 500 sailors, ages 8-15 learning to sail and race the 8-foot prams. Regional area qualifiers throughout the summer provide age-based racing competition. The top 30% of the fleet may qualify for“Champs.” For many, qualifying is what the summer sailing season is all about. While the sailors had been practicing and competing hoping to add their name to the skipper qualification list, the WFC was busy planning for their arrival, for the pinnacle event of the JSA racing season.
126 boats… can the WFC even accommodate an event that size? Is West Harbor big enough for a championship race course? Will the starting line be long enough? Where will we put all the boats on shore? Do we have enough dock space? What happens if there is a storm? In typical WFC fashion, we rose to the challenge, pulled together all the resources we had, developed new ones, and tapped unsurpassed volunteer support to make it happen. It started with questions – lots of them – and then it came down to details. As a JSA veteran and an Opti Champs alum myself (no, my name is not on the big trophy!), I knew what we had to do. The question was how we would do it. For Program Director, Margaret Reddington, this was her first big regatta, and she found it difficult to even imagine how we would pull it off, especially mid-August when regular WFC programming is running full-throttle.
So, where do you put all those sailors? The first step in planning an event is to fully understand all of the working pieces. 126 youth sailors come with not just their boats, but gear, trailers and a small entourage – parents, siblings, coaches, coach boats, spectator boats… A clear plan must be laid out for each component. The Town of Oyster Bay granted the WFC a permit for the use of Beekman Beach and adjacent lot and that was where we created the “Regatta Village.” A massive tent, generators, flood lights, air-conditioned mobile bathrooms and evening security transformed Beekman lot into a sprawling shore-side Opti city, complete with loading/unloading lanes, assigned boat and trailer parking, and transportation to and from the event parking lot at the Oyster Bay train station. Beautiful signage hand-painted by Front Desk staff and JSP alum Nadia Lubrano directed competitors and visitors throughout the Western Waterfront.
Support and coach boats were assigned designated moorings and dock spaces, choreographed by JSP Head Instructor, Alec Basilion, Dockmaster for the event. If you had a boat, Alec knew where it belonged! And with 60 visiting coach and spectator boats –in addition to the 126 sailboats – every bit of WFC waterfront access was put to use.
As soon as final sailor ID numbers and parking spots were assigned, boats begin to arrive Sunday afternoon, and families were eager to unload, register and scope out the race area. Competitors were greeted by our friendly “registration ladies,” completed safety inspections and picked up their swag bags – complete with regatta branding, goodies from sponsor Hint Water and of course, the coveted regatta t-shirt. So much excitement, and the racing hadn’t even begun!
Monday morning began with bagels, fruit, yogurt and final registration and sail number changes. Regatta Ambassadors Pam Martocci and Jenn Scheblein provided a warm welcome to visitors. The registration tent was abuzz with questions and procedures while the registration ladies quelled the nerves of sailors and eager parents. The Dinghy Shop support van outfitted last minute rigging upgrades and forgotten sunscreen. Instructors and coaches were gathered for a comprehensive safety briefing followed by a competitors meeting led by PRO Dave Waldo. Chief Judge Dave Perry added his signature flare to the morning’s preparations, sending the sailors off in anticipation of fast, fun and fair racing. Everything was in order: sailors, RC and volunteers ready to go. Everything was just right… except… the wind. Or, lack thereof. And then, two sound signals and the hoisting of the AP flag – sailors were postponed on shore.
Shaded by Beekman Beach trees, parents settled into a relaxing morning as sailors swam and explored the marsh and creek. A WFC signature touch tank and old-fashioned playing cards kept sailors occupied in the regatta tent. Finally, it seemed the breeze might cooperate, AP was lowered, and the fleet raced towards the safety gate into West Harbor. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough, and racing was abandoned for the day. Back ashore, sailors enjoyed snacks by event sponsors Deep River chips and Hubert’s Lemonade. Who needs a clubhouse facility when you can have a gourmet food truck?! The dinner line snaked through the regatta village but Grill Boys was worth the wait. (Yes, I will have seconds, thank you!) Competitors traveling a long distance were picked up by their gracious hosts, coordinated by Housing Chair, Jamie Deming. All in all, while there was no racing, it was still a busy day and sailors departed with fierce anticipation of the racing to come.
Day 2 of racing began in a similar fashion – calm waters and still breeze. But as all LIS sailors know, the southerly will fill in, eventually, and it did. Under the direction of stand-in PRO John Storck III, the course was set and races were off. George Ellis on Mark 1 shifted and lengthened the course as the breeze began to build. His reliable wind readings kept the signal boat team on their game, adapting to the changing conditions. Sailing a USODA-style outside-trapezoid course, the fleet sprawled across the harbor. Finding lifts off the land, relief from the current and seeking a clean lane downwind, sailors hiked, trimmed and bailed their way around the course. Watched closely by US Sailing judges Dave Perry and John Fryer, the champions found their way to the front of the pack. The fleet was divided into four divisions, with round robin style flights. The wind continued to build from 8kts at the onset to 12-14 kts. As some sailors began to struggle, others found their groove on the waves. Four flights (eight total races) were completed as the breeze built to over 16kts. The scribes on the finish boat found their pencils racing through numbers as the fleets reached in to finish line. After the final race, sailors beat their way back to the beach, exhausted and proud, some laid out in their cockpits as their coaches gave them a well-deserved tow-in.
Sails were rolled, boats were loaded onto car tops and trailers, and the ice cream truck provisioned the fleet as sailors eagerly awaited the final scores. At last, the winners were decided and the trophy presentation began. Special recognition was awarded to those who won a race in their respective fleets as well as to those sailors who, despite the challenging conditions, never gave up. Prizes were awarded to the top ten finishers in each fleet, Red, White and Blue. Tori Chisari from Sea Cliff YC claimed the championship trophy by just 1 point over Vanessa Lahrkamp from American YC and 2 points ahead of Frederik Parkin, a stand-out White fleeter from Riverside YC. Tori graciously accepted her award and offered thanks to the race committee and volunteers in her acceptance speech.
Tori was right to thank the volunteers – this regatta was really all about them. The event would not have been possible without the leadership of a talented WFC team at the helm, but more importantly, our crew of volunteers. From registration to housing, mark boats to safety teams, timers, line callers, finishers, course marshalls, shuttle drivers, bagel picker-uppers, water cooler fillers, boat loaders, green team members, safety inspectors, traffic directors… 65 volunteers rallied behind the WFC for this event! The WFC ran a top-notch regatta, with talented race officials, world class judges, gracious hospitality, solid racecourse management and finely executed logistics. The safety team, led by WFC instructors and EMTs Michael Donato and Katie Mooney, was assisted by the WFC’s partner organization, SailAhead. Additionally, many thanks are owed to Friends of the Bay who partnered with the WFC under the leadership of Paul D’Orsay to help earn Sailors for the Sea Clean Regattas Silver Certification. With attentive waste management and recycling, near paperless regatta administration, and even a shuttle into town, our footprint on the beach and most importantly our impact on the bay could mostly be measured in sailors’ smiles, parents’ cheers, coaches’ kudos and the occasional capsize, not trash. Even when executing high-level youth racing, the WFC makes the connection between sailing, environmental stewardship and the responsible enjoyment of Oyster Bay and all waterways a priority.
While I have helped administer countless youth regattas, this one was certainly a stand-out event, one to make the WFC and the entire Oyster Bay community proud. Again, I cannot thank enough all the volunteers, WFC staff and my regatta co-chair, Margaret Reddington. Congrats to all!