Sailing: Modica wins as wind beats fleet

SALLIE BETHGE PHOTO | Jasper Edie trying to right his Sunfish on West Neck Harbor Sunday.

The Menantic Yacht Club (MYC) held its sixth Sunfish race of the season in West Neck Harbor at about 2 p.m. on Sunday. It was an exhilarating day to say the least, with the wind blowing at 20, gusting to 25 or more. Where do I begin? Many records were broken — and not the kind that gets one into the Olympics.

According to Commodore Pete Bethge, 22 boats were seen on the water before the start of racing. Only 16 made it to the start line. Of those 16, only 10 finished the first race. Never before have we had so many boats not only fail to finish but not even make it to the start line.

The Race Committee held only one race, around a triangular course. There were at least five boats upside down at any given time. I advised the committee that some of the flipped sailors needed help and that those of us who were still floating right-side up could not be of assistance because of the wind.

We did not have a chase boat available and the committee boat was needed in rescue operations. At the conclusion of the first race, the Race Committee blasted the horn signaling the end of racing for the day. I believe all were relieved. Two records were broken at once: having five boats overturned at the same time and calling the races after just one race.

Sometimes the best part of valor is knowing when to quit.

Several racers, including Mary Vetri and Penny Pilkington, asked me if I thought the wind was too strong for their ability. I said, “Give it a try. I think you are good enough.” Well, Mary did not flip as many others did but her innate sense of survival told her to tell the commodore that she was going back to shore before the start. Commodore Bethge replied “good idea.”

On the other hand, plucky Penny Pilkington, the club’s token Brit, achieved a first for the club. She was elated at the start of racing because Andy Murray had beaten Roger Federer in three sets to earn a gold medal in the Olympics. However, in a major turn of events, Penny did not finish and I am not sure she even started the first and only race before she was blown between two docks off Montclair Colony. After the first race, when Penny’s plight was realized, a team effort consisting of Charlie and John Modica and Andy Belford went to the rescue, bringing Penny’s boat and Penny back to the staging area. Thanks also go to the owner of the dock for his assistance and his cooperation.

Not only did sailors perform numerous flips, there were also some crashes, including a spectacular one in which a sailor managed to slide into and over Linda Gibb’s boat. Fortunately, Linda and the other “crashees” suffered no serious injuries but black and blue marks must decorate most of Sunday’s sailors. Thank goodness for Advil.

The newcomers this week were Stuart Homer, who finally succumbed to my constant hounding; Richard Ludlow and his son, John; Ricardo Palmerola; and Rob Griffith. Welcome back Jonathan Brush and Bill Martens’ son-in-law Tom Pickett, a yearly visitor to the MYC.

Some of the newcomers were not familiar with Sunfish so I advised them on the correct procedure for righting one when it flips, which they were certainly grateful for before the day was over. The procedure is as follows for those who do not know: release your main sheet, grab the end of the dagger board and pull down with all your weight and keep pulling until the boat flips upright.

Another tip for sailing on heavy wind days is adjusting the gooseneck. It should be shifted back to the 22- or 23-inch position in order to ease the helm and prevent “irons.” I even tried it at 24 inches to no avail on Sunday. Every sailor had a hard time getting out of irons. Even manually pulling on the lower boom did not work all the time. One experienced sailor, Stuart Homer, drifted backwards until he hit the beach and walked his boat home. Not a record though, as that happened once before to another sailor.

John Modica beat his brother Charlie, again, for  first-place. Bill Martens came in second, with Charlie in third and the duo of John Woodward and Oscar Champigneuille in fourth. This duo was having the time of their lives in the windy conditions.

All the sailors who braved the elements on Sunday will have stories to tell. When I asked Marnie Colby, eight years old, if she’d had a good time, she unequivocally replied “no.” She was a real trooper, however, as was Jasper Edie, another of our younger sailors. Jasper flipped and could not right his boat even though he knew the technique because his mast was stuck in the bottom muck. I think that both of these young sailors deserve gold medals for their determination.

The Race Committee consisted of Commodore and Sallie Bethge, Betsy Colby and Dave Olsen. Dave assessed the windy conditions and decided to help on the committee boat instead of racing. I am sure that Commodore Bethge was grateful. Dave was eventually needed in the water to help right some of the flipped boats. He was pulled through the water by the committee boat from one rescue to the next.

Sailors, before the start of racing each week, sail up alongside the committee boat and give them your full name and sail number. Also, remember to wear your life jacket.

Commodore Bethge has organized a special event for next Sunday. Please be at Commodore Bethges’ at 1 p.m. sharp for a skippers’ meeting. There will be a series of shore activities before racing begins on the water. There will be a women’s and a men’s division and all scores from both the shore activities and sailing will count toward your final score. Small donations will be accepted to help pay the cost of awards for this event, which will be followed by a barbeque at Rita Gates’ home after racing. Rita has asked that those with a last name starting A-L please bring a simple appetizer, those with a last name M-Z bring a simple dessert. All should bring their own beverages.

Speaking of barbeque, Mother Nature did not give up. While we were eating, the wind snapped a small branch off a tree, which landed on Melanie Coronetz’s head, which was startling but thankfully caused no injury. Just one of those days.

We are a congenial club open to all, with no dues, no fees and no clubhouse. The sailing is great, we have tremendous fun and often have after-race barbeques.

All sailors, novice to expert, are welcome. Meet the fleet at 2 p.m. every Sunday through Labor Day in West Neck Harbor. Commodore Bethge has several Sunfish available on a first-to–reserve basis. Call him at 749-1297 or Bob Harris at 749-0524 at least one day prior to racing. See you on the water.


1.     John Modica
1.     Bill Martens
3.     Charles Modica
4.     John Woodward and Oscar Champigneuille
5.     Tom Pickett
6.     Andy Belford
7.     Bob Harris
8.     Tom McGuirk
9.     Tom McMahon
10.     John and Marnie Cole

DNF: Brush, Coronetz, Colby and Dombroski, Pilkington, Gibbs, Edie