Harken Derm

Setting a New Standard for Youth Sailing

Published on August 30th, 2016

Something special is taking shape along the southeastern Connecticut shoreline for the world of youth sailing. In just its second year, The SECOR Volvo Fishers Island Sound Race is giving young sailors between the ages of 12 and 18 an aquatic experience normally reserved for world-class skippers.

The regatta’s founder and chairman, Brandon Flack, has modeled this one-of-a-kind kids’ race to closely resemble the prestigious Volvo Ocean Race Newport. Just like the big boys, Flack’s race around Fisher’s Island Sound comes complete with live-streaming video footage shot by drones, online access to real-time GPS race tracking, a VIP spectators boat and, of course, top-notch sailing.

“The kids really put on a show last year. It’s great to see one hundred 15-year-old kids ripping it up around the sound. These kids are going to have a day that many of us could only dream of,” Flack said. “We really improved this event from a lot of angles this year, and next year, with a better date, I think we can easily get participation up to over 100 boats and make this a signature sailing event for the area.”

Clear skies and welcome winds set the backdrop for the race on Wednesday, August 17, but before setting sail, members of more than 30 youth sailing teams from 15 clubs across the Connecticut and Rhode Island shoreline were tasked with preparing homework, attending meetings and studying course instructions to help them navigate the 10-mile course that spanned the shores of three states.

“What made this race so special for my skipper and I was just how different it is from other 420 regattas,” said Peter Cronin, who was a repeat winner with Zach Champney. “Every leg asks something different from the sailors. Navigation, race tactics, and reading the current all came into play. I loved the fact that this race had so much variety and asked us to show lots of different skills. Without a doubt, my favorite regatta.”

Nick Ewenson, Assistant Sailing Director of the New England Science & Sailing Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating youth of all income level through sailing and sea exploration, was skeptical as to whether an event with this magnitude of production could still focus on teaching its young participants the vital fundamentals of sailing.

“I asked myself what purpose it served and what the participants would get out of it,” Ewenson said. “But as the event approached, it was easy to see how much the sailors were anticipating it, and after following it around the sound for the day, I’m totally sold. The purpose was fun, the kids had a blast, and there were plenty of lessons learned and problems to solve. There was homework to do and Fisher’s Island Sound and its harbors’ entrances have plenty of hazards to avoid, funky water movement, and patchy spots.”

Ewenson said the Fishers Island Sound Race sets a high bar and excellent precedent that he hopes will start to be replicated in other communities.

“It was just too fun not to catch on. I know we’ll see a bigger fleet in next year’s edition, complete with a bigger spectator fleet, bigger stop-overs – a bigger circus. I can see this turning into a two-dayer with camping out on Fishers Island in between. I say hire a band and roast a pig – I’m sure the residents would welcome this circus to town.”

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