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04/02/14 5:00pm
PETER NEEDHAM PHOTO | Cold? What cold? Drew Garrison and Macklin Lang  preparing to roll tack this week after the start of a practice race.

PETER NEEDHAM PHOTO | Cold? What cold? Drew Garrison and Macklin Lang preparing to roll tack this week after the start of a practice race.

Between the snowstorms and gale force winds, the Shelter Island School sailing team has managed to get  only a few practices in during the month of March for the upcoming school regattas held in April and early May. (more…)

11/25/12 7:14am

PETER NEEDHAM PHOTO | Mackenzie Needham and teammate Courtney Bombardier racing at MIT.

Mackenzie Needham is no stranger to qualifying for and competing at a high level of competition. As a member of the Shelter Island High School Sailing Club, she and her teammates not only won the league championship once, they also competed at three district championships in two years.

While a freshman at Washington College in Maryland, Mackenzie along with three of her teammates out sailed 11 other mid-Atlantic colleges, helping Washington earn its first-ever berth at the Women’s National Semifinals held in Austin, Texas this past June. Although Washington College sailed well at the semifinals they didn’t place high enough to make it into the finals. All in all it was incredible they made it that far.

For her sophomore and current year, Mackenzie transferred to the University of Rhode Island. Although now in a much tougher league, the close proximity to many of the best collegiate sailors and venues in the country has been a welcome change from the sometimes seven or more hour drives each way to compete on the weekends while in Maryland a year ago. URI has a very active women’s sailing team; they won the National Championship two years ago.

As with all school or collegiate sports programs, athletes graduate and move on, leaving openings for incoming athletes to fill their vacated places. A week before Mackenzie started classes at URI, the sailing coach contacted her to say she was skippering the first weekend at a women’s race and asked if she was up for it. For those of you who know Mackenzie and how she would never back down from a challenge, of course she was ready. She sailed for URI at a number of races this past fall, mostly at women’s events, which helped to earn her school a 10th place national ranking for women’s teams.

Towards the end of the season most sports begin holding qualifiers for championships and women’s sailing is no exception. On the East Coast the Intercollegiate Sailing Association holds the Women’s Atlantic Coast Championship as their grand finale, with colleges from Maine to Florida vying for a chance to compete. There are only 18 spots available, with those spots allocated during semifinal qualifiers. For URI the qualifier was held two weeks ago at Connecticut College, the weekend just before the arrival of Hurricane Sandy. Against powerhouse sailing colleges such as Dartmouth, Yale, Boston College, Coast Guard, Harvard, Tufts and Brown, Mackenzie and her URI teammates raced for one of the seven spots that the New England colleges could fill based on their results.

While Saturday was light with fluky winds, on Sunday the approaching hurricane brought strong northerly winds that made for some exciting racing. Sailing B division with freshman teammate Courtney Bombardier, Mackenzie found her mojo and sailed her personal best with finishes of sixth or better in six of the nine races including two second-place finishes. The stellar performance earned the pair a third-place finish for the event out of the 18 colleges in attendance, and along with the A division of URI, they placed eighth overall and seventh for the New England teams, securing them a spot at the upcoming championship.

This past weekend URI along with 17 other colleges raced in the Women’s Championship on the Thames River in Connecticut. The first race on Saturday had to be called as a submarine made its way down the river with the Coast Guard chasing away any and all boats in the sub’s path.

Once the submarine cleared out, a weak northerly ensued, sending endless ribbons of teasing puffs down the river. Those lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time fared well. The race committee managed to get off four A division races and only two B divisions, for the day. Sunday was entirely different, a strong southerly filled in with a fairly consistent 10- to 12-knot breeze present throughout the day. Racing was close all day with packed mark roundings and many lead changes on both the upwind and downwind legs.

Mackenzie and her teammate had an up and down day, with best finishes of 3rd, 6th and 9th. It was good enough to help URI finish in 13th place at the event. Were they pleased with their results? Not really, but considering that they were sailing against the best collegiate women sailors in the country and many more didn’t even qualify for this event, they did just fine.

04/07/12 12:00pm

Jill Calabro and Melissa Ames in boat #3 after they had just rounded the leeward mark. They were in fifth at this point, and both sailors have their eyes trained on the finish line with one final tack left to make. The picture was taken by me. Best regards, Peter Needham

What a day on the water! Our first regatta of the spring season and the weather couldn’t have been any nicer.

Shelter Island’s High School sailors traveled to Port Jeff on St. Paddy’s Day to participate in the New York League’s spring warm-up regatta. Making the trip were juniors Melissa Ames, Jill Calabro, Alexis Gibbs and Morgan McCarthy, sophomores Drew Garrison and Macklin Lang and freshman sailor Olivia Garrison.

Shelter Island had only two days of practice before the regatta, the cobwebs and rust from the long winter showed in their racing for the first couple of rotations. Little by little, each Islander began to remember the important components they needed to be competitive and by the fourth or fifth race they were well up with the leaders going around the course. Of the 17 teams racing, Shelter Island managed to place 10th in the A and B division.

Racing got underway at about 11 a.m. in a warm 6- to 8-knot easterly breeze. The wind was very shifty throughout the day with a few strong gusts blasting down over the bluffs now and then.

The sailors needed to be alert to take advantage of the wind shifts. Sailing into the puffs usually lead to a nice shot of speed for the boats lucky enough to be near the gusts. More than a few times, the Shelter Island sailors sought out and took advantage of the increased wind, hiking out fully to get as much power out of the sails as they could.

The schools raced on a triangle course that took about 18 minutes to complete from start to finish. Teams were made up of A, B, C and D divisions. Each division sailed two races and then handed their boats off to the next division of sailors.

After the A sailors completed two races, the B division teams were rotated in as the A teams took a break. Racing continued in this way, switching teams in and out throughout the day. Six races for each division were run including the second team C and D divisions. One little problem: all of us neglected to protect our skin from burning by wearing sun block. Who would have expected the sun to be so bright in the middle of March?

12/09/11 6:00pm

PETER NEEDHAM PHOTOS | Drew Garrison and Matt Murphy tacking up the right side of the final leg to the finish line.

It was a national championship, the Inter-Scholastic Sailing Association Great Oaks Regatta, that brought three sophomores from Shelter Island School to the Southern Yacht Club in New Orleans for some serious sailboat racing just before the Thanksgiving break.

Drew Garrison, Macklin Lang and Matt Murphy had signed on for what promised to be the toughest scholastic sailing competition that they had ever raced. Forty-two teams from across the country and as far away as Hawaii and St. Croix came to enjoy stellar racing conditions for two days on Lake Ponchartrain just outside of the city.

Both days saw winds ranging from six to 10 knots, under sunny skies, and the lake’s reputation for sloppy waves didn’t disappoint. The boats sailed were of the 420 class, the same as the boys had been training in at the Shelter Island Yacht Club all fall. On Saturday, 12 races were held for qualifying purposes and on Sunday the fleet was divided into gold and silver divisions.

Despite some up and down velocities in the wind on Sunday, the Race Committee was able to rattle off another 12 races per division before the 4 p.m. deadline.

At the beginning of the competition on Saturday, the Shelter Island team got called over the starting line too early for the first two races. Due to the short course format of high school sailing, it is very hard to catch up to the rest of the fleet if you are over early, which requires you to essentially turn back and restart. By the time one is done maneuvering, the rest of the fleet is well on its way to the first mark. After a little strategy session back at the dock, adjustments were made to the starting approach. The result was a dramatic improvement in timing and positioning for the rest of the regatta.

From left, Macklin Lang, Coach Peter Needham, Drew Garrison and Matt Murphy.

Drew skippered most of the races with Matt taking over when Drew needed a break. Matt and Macklin alternated the crew position where it was vital for them to keep the boat driving during the tight downwind legs of the course.

That first day, the Islanders showed solid improvement with each successive race and they ended the day exhausted from such a long time on the water in competition. On Saturday night, all of the competitors were treated by one of the Southern Yacht Club members to a southern-style meal of turtle soup, jambalaya and bread pudding.

Sunday’s racing turned out to be a lot more serious than the day before, but with the championship on the line it was to be expected. Drew, Macklin and Matt took all that they had learned the day before and really dialed in their tactics with great starts and multi-boat passes during the downwind runs.

They finished the day with four top-10 finishes, including a fourth-place finish with which they nearly won the race. The Shelter Island team’s outstanding performance for the day earned them a 16th-place finish overall in silver fleet.

Following racing on Sunday, we left the yacht club and took a tour of Tulane University that included a visit to the university’s multi-storied library. Afterwards, in the evening, we walked up and down the eerie, foggy streets of Jackson Square to do a little sightseeing and souvenir shopping.

Thanks to all of the team’s supporters who helped make this trip possible.

09/28/11 9:30pm

PETER NEEDHAM PHOTO | Drew Garrison (standing) and Henry Lang contemplate rounding the next mark during the Northeast League district qualifier.

The Shelter Island School sailing team attended its first regatta of the fall season on September 24. It was hosted by the Stony Brook School and held in Port Jefferson Harbor. Eighteen teams from 11 schools attended the qualifier with Harborfields earning the win followed by Stony Brook and Mamaroneck.

Representing Shelter Island were Melissa Ames, Drew and Will Garrison, Macklin and Henry Lang and Matt Murphy. Drew and Henry sailed in the A division while Melissa, Will, Macklin and Matt took turns in the B division.

The wind was very light for the event, maybe 5 to 6 knots with little puffs running across the harbor. In spite of the light winds, the Race Committee managed to get off six races before the time limit expired.

The Island team sailed a mostly clean regatta with maybe one or two penalties, those infractions requiring that each boat do a 720-degree spin for exoneration. Otherwise the team had a rough go of it, with much to be learned about getting a good start and making successful mark roundings.

The middle school students have graduated to 420s and have joined the high school students during practices. The combined practices have worked out well with the more experienced sailors able to teach the younger students how to rig and handle the boats. That has been a big step for the younger sailors. They handled the more technical boats very well with only one minor capsize so far.