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Regattas highlight the joy of sailing around Shelter Island

The last weekend in September saw the waters surrounding Shelter Island alive with sailors aboard their boats.

Two regattas were held. One, the 27th Annual Whitebread race, the other, the Etchell’s Long Island Sound Championships. 

The Whitebread is organized by the Peconic Bay Sailing Association (PBSA) and the Etchell’s regatta by the Shelter Island Yacht Club (SIYC). Both regattas were run under all the new normal COVID-19 guidelines. Fortunately, outdoor sailing is not a contact sport and both races seemed surprisingly “normal.” 

Etchells are a one-design boat, meaning everything on each craft has to be identical. The sails, the gear, even weight limits for the collective crew. First launched in 1966, around the time the Buick Riviera and the Ford Mustang were the hot cars, these fast, light 30-foot boats have a devoted following (including my wife). Some of the world’s top racing sailors keep the global fleet relevant and some of those star performers were here for the SIYC Regatta. Altogether, 26 boats were on the water, divided into two divisions: 14 in Corinthian, i.e., non-paid sailors; and 12 sailing with pro crew, like Newport’s Doyle sailmaker Tony Rey. Each division had its own winners and trophies. As he often does, Steve Benjamin won both the pro division and overall Regatta.  Of the local Corinthian sailors, Jay Mills scored highest.

For almost a week, the SIYC was a beehive of activity leading up to the three days of racing. Boats and crews came from as far as Canada, Chicago and Miami. Etchell’s are trailer-able and are sailed with a crew of three or four. The class is very active at the SIYC with several internationally ranked sailors, like Jay Cross and Scott Kaufman, often at the helm of international regattas.

As they tend to be, winds were fluky resulting in delays. However, there was racing on all three days and the SIYC fulfilled all the requirements for this class-sanctioned event. The waters east of the Club, Gardiners Bay and Orient Harbor, were chosen for the courses.

Shelter Island’s own Olympian, Amanda Clark, ran the race committee. As usual, her calm voice and demonstrable competence assured that everything ran smoothly.  Susan Brewer, race committee member and wife of our current Commodore, noted, “Amanda pulled it off.” 

At the finale, club sailing director Jeff Bresnahan had the final say. “Thanks to the spirit of volunteerism and the well-organized race committee, we had a great event.”

The SIYC has plans to host the Etchell’s Nationals in a few years. Local sailors should look forward to that.

The Whitebread could not be more different. This PHRF event is open to all with a valid ratings certificate. Boats come from all over the East End’s waters. Again, the SIYC and SI was well represented with ten boats out of 36 on the line. PHRF rating were used to divide the fleet into six classes. The course started in Little Peconic Bay and wound counterclockwise past South Ferry around the Island. It was immediately clear that the lighter, faster boats like Brendan Brownyard’s Barleycorn, Andrew Ward’s Bravo, and Harry DiOrio’s Bella were all set to do a horizon job on the rest of the fleet, as they gave the impression they had their own wind. Some of these Division One boats finished hours ahead of the slower Divisions Four, Five and Six boats. 

Aside from the gift to spend a day on the beautiful waters surrounding our island one of the best features of the Whitebread is the clarity of the instructions. The race uses government buoys, so local sailors are familiar with the marks of the course. This eliminates the surprisingly common possibility of navigation errors while trying to find course marks set by the PBSA race committee. 

Despite light winds toward the end, the race went well, and while the absence of any post-race celebration was noted, those who participated in the Whitebread were glad they did.

Two regattas, one conclusion: Sailing on our waters is pure joy.