Sailing: Bone-chilling conditions for Sailing Club's first spring regatta

PETER NEEDHAM PHOTO | With the finish line in sight, Shelter Island sailors Alexis Gibbs and Drew Garrison in boat 3 are hot on the transom of Olympic Development Team sailor Matthew Mollerus and his crew, both from Rye Country Day School.

It’s hard to imagine that Saturday’s weather conditions would be acceptable for the first spring regatta of the high school sailing team, but there we were, barreling down the road towards Port Jefferson at 7-something in the morning with 29 degrees showing on the car’s thermometer. There was a layer of ice on every puddle that we drove by. Passing the Sound View Inn it was obvious that it was very windy, with Long Island Sound whipped up into an angry, white-capped sea.

How would new teammates Melissa Ames, Saverina Chicka and Alexis Gibbs withstand such miserable conditions? Would they ever sail again after the day was over?

We had the right gear: warm under-layers, toe- and hand-warmers, waterproof dry suits, wool hats and winter socks. A team from Bermuda, the Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club, flew in to race with us but they weren’t so fortunate in their apparel options. Board shorts, thin wet suits and normal sailing gloves just weren’t going to cut it today. They were frozen stiff before they even got across the parking lot!

In addition to the team from Bermuda there were 10 other Long Island and Westchester schools competing in the regatta, the Southeastern New York League Mallory Qualifier. Some schools brought second teams so in all there were 15 boats in each division on the course.

For Shelter Island we had Ames, Chicka and Gibbs as well as returning sailors Drew Garrison, Matt Murphy and Mackenzie Needham. We shuffled the sailors in and out of rotations between the A and the B divisions.

It was a long, cold day of sailing with 12 races in all. In between the rotations those not sailing either watched from shore huddled in the comfort of our van or they ran up the street for a warm cup of mocha from Starbucks.

At times the wind gusted into the 20-knot range, leading to some exciting high speed planing reaches and surfing opportunities on the waves coming in to the harbor. The Shelter Island team held together with no capsizes and no fouls during the races.

The Island sailors generally had strong starts and some tightly-packed mark roundings. The team’s upwind speed was good but a little work on being more aggressive on the course is needed — they’re just too polite and accommodating sometimes!

Racing concluded at around 4 p.m., none too soon for the frozen competitors. Shelter Island placed 7th out of 15 overall, a great accomplishment for such a relatively young team.

One final note: the Bermudians invited us back to their place for practice and training. With no sign of warmer weather in the near future, it is a very tempting proposition!