Going offshore with the next generation
Published on May 29th, 2018
On a sunny spring morning, crew members of the 63-foot race boat, Gambler (ex Lucky, ex Loki), gather at the Hinckley boatyard in Portsmouth, Rhode Island to prepare for their first Bermuda Race practice. Of significance is how this team is made up of sixteen young sailors male and female – all under the age of 23.
Following the guidance of four professional coaches as part of a new initiative by the Young American Sailing Academy (YASA), this young team is part of an effort aimed at getting more young sailors offshore sailing opportunities.
“We’ve been busy getting the boat sorted for the last few weeks to get it sailing ready,” said 20-year-old Fraser Mackechnie of Middletown, RI. “This is really the only program that exists in the US for young sailors to get the opportunity to race a boat at this caliber to line up and compete against pros.”
Through a partnership with the US Merchant Marine Academy Foundation, the mini maxi with proven ocean-tested pedigree is available to YASA for the 635-nautical mile iconic ocean race. The sailors will be practicing in Narragansett Bay between now and the start on June 15th.
But learning to apply their sailing skills to this high-performance boat is not all the young sailors need to master. Also integral to the program is developing knowledge of boat maintenance, navigation, and safety.
“These sailors come from a wide range of backgrounds and are very skilled in their own right,” said coach Ralf Steitz. “Some have already done the Bermuda Race but we are going to go over everything between now and the start to build them as team.”
Coaching programs like this is not new for Steitz. Seven years ago, he put together a similar program with two newly graduated college sailors for the Transatlantic Race – Charlie Enright and Mark Towill – who are now competing for the second time in the Volvo Ocean Race.
“We hope to impart to them the skills required to continue to join other teams in the future,” continued Steitz. “But first we must get to Bermuda.”