Island sailors top NY clubs at NJ regatta

Mackenzie Needham and Drew Garrison sailing out to start their first race at the Northeast League Fleet Racing Qualifier held in Tom’s River, New Jersey.

The Shelter Island School sailing team has been practicing three times a week, with Olympic sailor Amanda Clark coaching them throughout September in preparation for this past weekend’s Northeast League qualifying regatta held in Tom’s River, New Jersey. The regatta will decide who goes to the Mid-Atlantic Scholastic Sailing Association District Championship. Sixteen teams showed up for the qualifying regatta, representing both New Jersey and New York. Long Island had a good showing with Bay Shore High School, Ross, Shelter Island, St. Ann’s from Brooklyn Heights, St. Anthony from South Huntington and Stony Brook.

At 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning the teams arrived at the Tom’s River Yacht Club only to stare out at a glassy water surface with a light mist of early morning fog hanging over it. There was not a breath of wind. The boats had been pre-rigged, so since there was nothing to do while waiting for the wind to arrive, tossing a Frisbee was a great way to help kill the time. A very light breeze finally arrived shortly after 11 a.m., the launch signal was given and the “A” teams from each school sailed out to the course that had been set up right in front of the Yacht Club’s docks. Eighty or so spectators, coaches and alternate sailors lined the docks to watch the racing. The teams can be coached while on shore during rotations but there is no on-the-water coaching allowed at events like this.

The first two races were sailed on a windward-leeward course in around 3 to 4 knots of wind that was just barely enough to get the boats moving off of the starting line. For the “A” team Shelter Island sent out Connor Needham and Stephanie Vecchio. They had two good starts and finished their set with a fourth and a sixth. 

Next the “B” teams jumped into the boats vacated by the “A” teams. Mackenzie Needham and eighth grader Drew Garrison (debuting at his first school regatta) sailed out to the starting line. The wind had increased by about a knot but as the teams had learned from the first rotation the wind was very patchy and shifty. If you happened to be in the wrong spot when a little puff came through you could lose five or six places in an instant. Garrison and Mackenzie Needham sailed well and finished with an eighth and a fifth.

The A and B teams for Shelter Island sailed one more set each before substituting Rachael Heinze for Vecchio on the A team and Doug Binder for Garrison on the B team. Three more races were run for each rotation with the breeze finally filling in nicely. In all, seven races were run for each rotation, which was pretty impressive given the light wind condition. 

The day wasn’t without incidents however; both of Shelter Island’s teams were fouled by other teams. Once back on shore the Shelter Islanders filed protests against the offending teams. For the first protest Shelter Island’s B team had been rammed by an out-of-control boat while rounding the leeward mark. It was a clear violation of the rules of sailing, and both teams knew that Shelter Island had the right of way.

During the hearing it was discovered that the Shelter Island team had not hailed “Protest” at the time of the collision, so the official threw out the protest based on that technicality. The second protest fared better, this time for Shelter Island’s A team. 

In a crossing situation the Shelter Island boat was forced to duck a starboard tack boat that had the right of way to avoid a collision. While passing astern of the starboard tacker the other boat turned and tacked hard on top of them, with their mast banging into that of the Shelter Island boat. The protest was for tacking too close and once testimony was heard from both sides the officials agreed with Shelter Island’s protest and penalized the other team with a disqualification for that race.

It was a long day of racing but the hard work and practice leading up to the event paid off for the Shelter Island team placing them sixth overall, the top New York team, and qualifying them for the District Championship being held October 24 to 25 back at Tom’s River.