Afloat: Not so old man and the sea

COURTESY PHOTO |  At the start of the big boat racing season, Sedge Ward with trophies he’s won in past years by his boats Mambo and Bravo.

At the start of the big boat racing season, Sedge Ward with trophies he’s won in past years by his boats Mambo and Bravo.

Understatement of the week: Sedge Ward sails a lot.

Afloat sat down with Sedge — at age 82 he still races Bravo, a trim 36 footer — at the Shelter Island Yacht Club the other day to find out more about his love of sailing and racing.

Sedge actually started out in the horse world of Virginia. His grandfather, with whom he was very close, did a lot of show jumping and hunter trials. Sedge was happy enough riding for his granddad but somehow boating had a mysterious, deeper appeal. Maybe his uncle’s cabin cruiser had stirred his imagination at an impressionable age.

His first chance at sailing came in 1955 when he was at Harvard Law School, sailing dinghies on the Charles River. After Navy Officers Candidate School, he was stationed for three years at the Pentagon. He had a one-half interest in a Chesapeake 20, cedar planking over steam bent oak frames, cotton canvas sails, manilla rope rigging and spruce spars. “We were hopelessly out matched racing one design out of Galesville, Maryland,” Sedge remembered.

He then got a job on Wall Street and bought a Pearson Triton which he kept at Oyster Bay. This now iconic boat was a proper yacht for cruising, which Sedge and his wife, Barbara, did with enthusiasm. The urge to sail faster brought forth two more boats, a Cal 34 and then a real “go fast” boat, a Tartan Ten. There were also cruising charters in Southern New England and the Caribbean.

Being out on the water resulted in some great anecdotes. In one, he and a friend were blown out to sea in an inflatable dinghy from Anegada Island in the British Virgins. They were storm driven throughout a long night and slammed into the cliffs of Guana Island 20 miles to the Southwest: a close call with Davy Jones’ locker.

The switch from cruising back to racing occurred in 2001 when Sedge on impulse purchased Mambo, a J-105. She was bright red and fast.

Here is where his son Andrew comes in, he said, when he and Sedge entered Mambo in the Maycroft Cup in Sag Harbor. The result was “putrid,” but Andrew and Sedge continued gamely on in local races. At one point they were ready to give up and sell Mambo, but were talked out of it by Erik and Christian Langendal. The Wednesday night races were, “a great training ground.” Sedge, Andrew and daughter, Mary (“probably the best natural helmsperson of the three of us”), attended J-World courses in Key West and San Diego. “Every year we have, I think, improved at least a little.”

Now Andrew has taken over at the helm. Sedge finds it necessary to repeatedly issue three bits of advice. “One. Stop pinching (sailing too close to the wind). Two. Watch it you’re overstanding (sailing past the race mark), and three, don’t ground my boat, all cheerfully ignored by the recipient.”

Building a steady crew is a prime objective. The core includes Matt and Josh Kapell, Keith Scala, and of course, Andrew. Notice to would be racing sailors: Sedge and Andrew are always on the lookout for new crew members experienced or not “as long as they are willing to learn along with us.”

Sedge has been a member of the SIYC since 1973. He loves the club and is now an active member of the “big boat” effort. This is the effort to get non-one design boats of all sizes into PHRF (handicapped) racing. The club puts on three major races and there are maybe a dozen races sponsored by the other East End clubs. This active effort promoted by club Commodore Jeff Pribor, Brendan Brownyard, Ed Carey and others has been very supportive of Sedge and his campaigns.

J Boats, the nation’s most prominent builders of sailboats, is constantly innovating and about four years ago unveiled a new improved racing boat, the J-111. Good by Mambo. Sedge’s Bravo was the ninth J-111 off the production line.

In addition to the local venues, Bravo races at American Yacht Club in Rye, where Sedge has been an active member, the Off Soundings spring and fall races, the New York Yacht Club Newport regattas and the Buzzards Bay regatta. Block Island Race Week is “the high point of the year, hog heaven for me,” Sedge said.

Then there’s the Greenport Ocean Race, a cold and windy gear-busting marathon sailed at night from Greenport around Block Island and back. Bravo never misses the Whitebread, a fall fixture with a huge turn out. His won/lost record in all these races is “respectable but not brilliant.”

Sedge, now a member of the old guard at the club, is viewed with astonishment that he’s sailing at such an advanced age. Past club commodore and very active racing sailor Larry Landry told us, “When I grow up I want to be Sedge Ward.”

Sedge this year bought a powerboat, a lobster boat style Backcove 37, with her transom reading Summertime. His plan is to use her for cruising and to accompany Bravo to the regattas.

To round out the fleet he has a 14-foot rowing and sailing dinghy to putter around Coecles Harbor.

Sedge says he cannot explain his obsession with sailing and boating, saying a bit ruefully, “Of course I love the competition but basically sailing and boating just seem like what I ought to be doing.”

On land Sedge is, of all things, a breeder of rare chickens. He specializes in Dorkings, an old English breed which he first encountered on his grandfather’s farm in Virginia about 75 years ago.

If you’re are on the water and see a sleek, dark blue J-111 named Bravo, wave to Sedge, Andrew and the rest of the team. It’s guaranteed you’ll get a wave back.