Youth Team Gets Offshore Education

Published on March 17th, 2016

A team of teenagers participated in the Islands Race on March 11, a course that would take the young crew offshore toward the Channel Islands as they raced from San Pedro to San Diego in California. But with storms in the forecast, the lessons they learned couldn’t be scripted. Here is their report…

With wind conditions predicted to be 30+ knots, and gusting higher to the west of Catalina and San Clemente Islands, the Organizing Authority of the Islands Race opted to alter the 130nm offshore course to run inside the islands for an 80nm trek down the coast to San Diego.

The Newport Sea Base Youth Sailing Team, sailing aboard Apprentice, and IMX-38, motored up to Long Beach the morning of the race. They even practicing reefing the mainsail ahead of the start, even with wind speeds little more than 5 knots. Cells of inclement weather were forecast to overtake the fleet.

The race began with a southerly flow, causing the fleet to sail upwind from the start. The storm front soon arrived after and the team responded with a headsail change, a reefed main, and then another headsail change to their #3 jib.

Sixteen-year old helmswoman, Catherine Reynolds, was steady on the helm even as the wind and rain strained voices to be heard. Though she has sailed in the 2015 Islands Race and several other long point-to-point races, this was her first time sailing the IMX in such weather.

“I had a great time,” Catherine reported. “While it was my first time skippering a keel boat in heavy weather, once I got a feel for how the boat responded to the conditions, I was able to figure out the forces to keep the boat under control. It was great to see the team working together, with every member watching out for one another and functioning as a team to solve problems as they came up.”

The first minutes after the storm front caused some anxiety among the young crew, but after all the sail reductions were completed it was all smiles across their faces.

The mindset going into the race was to foster the experiential learning that would take place, and as much as the team would like to place as well as possible, the journey is perhaps more important than the standings at the end of the race.

So, when other competitors pushed their boats hard, the team made calls to push its members through new experiences, in challenging moments no doubt, but to allow for successes and later build on them. When more sail could have been added at times, it was done with a plan of when the sails would come down and how.

“For the first six hours of the race, including the three hour transit in the morning, I never put a finger on the helm,” said Tom Hartmann, Executive Director of the Newport Sea Base. “I was certainly ready to do so but I was confident Catherine would find her footing. It was great to see her, and our team captain, Kitty Brough, also 16 years, step up during the whole race.”

After sunset, the wind became gusty again as another front came through, and prudence paid off for them. Other competitors broached and wiped out which caused ripped sails and broken spars. Apprentice did have a round-up and the call was made to drop the asymmetrical spinnaker and move back to the #3 jib.

Granted, they were not going to keep up with boats in their class that hit speeds in the upper teens but the young teen sailors were content to push forward with 9 to 10 knots with their conservative sail plan as swells grew to breaking eight footers on a dark night.

“The most challenging part for me was handling the boat once night fell,” shared Catherine. “Once it got dark, the only prior notice that a wave was about to hit was a shimmering, grey shadow welling up behind you, before it peaked up on the transom to send you rocketing down the face.”

The team finished just before midnight and sailed into San Diego Harbor under blustery winds and more rain.

The Newport Sea Base Youth Sailing Team is comprised of approximately 20 youth members and a number of adult advisors. Some team members are away at college, many sailing collegiately, like Tufts, UCLA, and Cal Poly SLO. Some are high school or club sailors. Some are Sea Scouts. One of their more experienced youth team members was also sailing in the Islands Race, but on the Santa Cruz 52 Paranoia.

It makes the team proud to have their members ‘poached’ by other programs because it means they are doing the right things. Former Newport Sea Base sailors have Transpac, Puerto Vallarta, Sydney Hobart, Congressional Cup, and Farr 40 Worlds accolades. Others simply continue to sail for the fun and pleasure of getting out on the water.

Mike Price, skipper and owner of the O’Day 39 Peacemaker, introduced himself to the team after the race to congratulate them and let them know he loves the idea of getting young people into bigger boats earlier. His crew had an average age of about 25, which certainly is also a decade or two below the average of a lot of other boats out on the course.

“For this weekend’s crew, the forecasted winds would be challenging but not insurmountable if handled correctly,” observed Hartmann. “And while there were times we could have shaken our reef out it was decided to keep things stable and quick. They’ll be better able to push the boat much harder and faster the next time we race in 15-20 knots winds, without a doubt.”

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