Creating Sailor Sailors, Not Just Youth Sailors

Published on December 4th, 2013

No sailor on the Stamford Yacht Club lawn after this year’s Vineyard Race was prouder than Peter Becker, the chairman of the Junior Big Boat program at American Yacht Club in Rye, NY. Peter was the navigator on the winning boat, and among the eight young sailors aboard the J/122 Patriot were his 15-year-old son Key and daughter Carina, 14.

“I was on a boat when I was probably a couple days old,” says Peter. “I’m the oldest of four kids, and our parents sailed very actively. I don’t think any of us ever had a choice! I started sailing in the junior program at American when I was eight or nine. There was a syndicate of AYC members – Lorna Hibbard and Commodores Dooie Isdale, Bert Jamison and Herbie Hild – that owned a series of big boats, most of which were called Fair American. They’d grab a bunch of us kids, and we became their crew.

“We’d do all the Stratford Shoal races, the Block Island Race, the Vineyard, and the Bermuda Race. I did my first Bermuda RaceBECKER when I was 15 or 16 on Roger Fortin’s Cal 40 Thunderbird. I went to college at Fort Schuyler and was captain of the sailing team one year. My brothers and I sailed on Ogden Reid’s Peterson 48 Flyaway at the height of the IOR years, and we had free run of the boat. I was just a kid, and at any given regatta Peter Conrad – who was a professional sailor and a sailmaker – and I would be debating who was going to steer the boat and who was going to do the tactics. Those were good times.”

“American has always taken the Junior Big Boat program very seriously and devoted a lot of time to it. The program was started by Lorna Hibbard, I believe, when I was in the Junior American Yacht Club. Later, it was run by Butch Hitchcock and more recently by Scott Florio and Barry Gold. Last year they indicated that they weren’t going to carry on, so I raised my hand and said I’d do it.

“The kids have a J/105, Young American, for their exclusive use and they do absolutely everything on the boat. They make all the decisions and handle all the responsibilities, and that instills a pride of ownership. We’ve always looked at the program as more than just the Beach Point Overnight and the Dorade, and this year we’ve tried to double down on that. We started with Spring Series and we’re going to sail right through Fall Series.”

“While teaching navigation to the kids, I told stories about how the Dorade used to be a day race, followed by a raft-up in a place like the Sand Hole and more races the following day. We had a lot of fun in those raft-ups, and some of the kids wondered why they couldn’t have that kind of fun. We started talking about all the things you can do in a big boat when you’re not racing, so we decided to have a junior cruise.

“We named it ‘Back-to-Basics’ because it’s all about seamanship, knot tying, how to anchor the boat properly, rafting up and other skills that may or may not be a part of the racing program. Becca Quirke, the Commodore of the Junior Club at the time, took the bull by the horns and it was a huge hit. We had our third Back-to-Basics cruise this year.”

“Back when I was in the junior program, the Junior Sailing Association of Long Island Sound had a Marlinspike Seamanship Competition. The trophy was gifted by Jakob Isbrandtsen, and you would tie knots graded on time, and splice and whip graded on time and quality. Somewhere along the line that competition stopped, but the JSA decided to reinstitute it. I was asked to help modernize the test, and we held it during the 420/Laser Champs at American in August.”

Describing Patriot’s victory in the Vineyard Race, Peter says, “As with all racing, you work really hard to make your own luck. That race broke our way, and it’s really gratifying. Having Key and Carina on board was just a blast. Doug McKeige, the other adult on board, had his son Will with him, and that makes it all much more special.”

An accomplished International Moth racer, Peter relishes competing in the Heineken High Performance Dinghy Open (HPDO), hosted annually by American YC on Columbus Day weekend.

“I have the first Bladerider to be delivered to the States,” he says. “I went to the Worlds in Weymouth in ’08 and I’ve been having a blast with it ever since. Sailing a Moth has made me a better big boat sailor. You have to be firmly in control of a foiling Moth, but also very subtle. If you’re too violent when you’re foiling along at 18 or 20 knots, the foils stop gripping the water and you crash. The Heineken HPDO is a cool event because all types of fun boats show up. On windy days, the Moth and F-18 catamaran sailors compete to see who’s faster. They go upwind at the same speed but they point just a little bit higher. We’re faster downwind in all conditions, except in light air when we’re not foiling. Then the Moth is the hardest boat in the world to sail!”

Peter, his wife Adrianne, Key and Carina also enjoy cruising. “I grew up cruising,” he says. “We have a friend whose 38-foot lobster boat is available to us. Cuttyhunk is our all-time favorite destination. In fact, the first time Carina saw Cuttyhunk she wanted us to sell everything and move there! Edgartown is another of our special stops.”

“I’d love to find a way to get the kids to do the Bermuda Race next year,” Peter enthuses. “There’s nothing like being hundreds of miles away from the nearest point of land…it’s pretty cool out there!”

Source: WindCheck Magazine

WindCheck is a monthly magazine devoted to sailors and boaters in the Northeast. Every issue features those who race, cruise and learn to boat in the region.

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