Thriving at 50: It’s all in the family
Published on February 2nd, 2021
Set on Aquidneck Island in the New England state of Rhode Island, Newport is a sailing town deeply rooted in the America’s Cup. That era, with massive schooners, J Class yachts, and 12 Metres, spawned industry and interest in competition.
While summers find the fanciest yachts crossing Narragansett Bay, a different sailing vibe rules the town in the winter. From October through April, it is all about the Newport Laser Fleet, with racing every Sunday out of the public sailing center Sail Newport. Joe Berkeley provides an update on why this is:
At the age of 50, the Laser is not yet ready to file for its AARP card. The Newport Laser Fleet is going strong with 88 boats registered for the season.
Much of the fleet’s ongoing success can be attributed to the family nature of the boat. There are five parent/child combinations on the race course, one husband/wife, and family friendships that go back for decades.
With all due respect to online dating, Christine Shope met her husband Peter on the starting line of Newport Laser Fleet. A marine electronics technician who previously worked as a sailmaker, boatbuilder, and rigger, Christine gives no breaks to Peter on the race course.
The couple celebrated their wedding with a regatta at Sail Newport, the home of Newport Laser Fleet, dubbed “The Pre-Nup Cup.” One of the many things that Christine loves about the Laser is the cockpit. She said, “All four walls of the cockpit are accessible. There’s always some part of the boat to push on. It’s an art form, not so much a science.”
Christine is quick to point out that the Colantuono family puts three boats on the line in Newport. For dad Larry, “It’s as fun for me to get my gang out there as it is for me to be out there.” If the wind is up, Larry, who weighs in at 235 pounds sails. If the wind is more manageable, Theresa, who is considerably lighter, rigs up.
Whenever their son Parker Colantuono, who is now on the URI sailing team, is available, he is happy to be on the course. Parker has been sailing since before he knew he was sailing, as in the early days, when Parker was two or three years old, Theresa and Larry would take Parker out in the Lightning.
However, while balancing the race and child duties, if Parker was under the deck napping on the spinnaker at the weather mark, the team would just keep sailing and crack open a beer as they didn’t want to set the kite and wake Parker from his slumber.
Today, Parker’s mother Theresa doesn’t hesitate to disturb Parker, especially when she shows him her transom on the race course. Theresa has had some top-five days in the fleet and is known to go home with the best finish of the Colantuono family.
Steve Kirkpatrick and his son John, a freshman at Stanford, often finish one place apart overall, trading tacks and bragging rights. As soon as John was marginally big enough to sail a Laser, his dad Steve strapped him into the Laser and sent him out “to get his ass kicked.”
Steve said, “That cumulative experience in Laser Fleet 413 was a lot better than getting him a Brazilian Optimist coach who looked great in a Speedo. It was an easy decision and it was fun. Now we have something we can do together for life.”
Lars Guck and his son Olin are another father/son combination on the race course. Lars said, “I took a pretty big break from Fleet 413 after the last day of my last Olympic trials. That was the day I came in and Olin was born.
“I stopped frostbiting as I was working six days a week. Frostbiting is a full day on Sunday and I didn’t think coming home from the AC (the bar) Sunday after racing all day would be a strong move.”
As Olin grew, it was time to return. “When Olin was barely big enough last year we came back with some equipment that was pretty cobbled together. We got some new sails this year and slightly better boats and that’s where we’re at. It’s pretty fun to have something to do on Sundays with my son.”
Being budget friendly is part of the family friendly recipe. An entire season of Newport frostbiting is $190. High school kids sail for free. Fleet Co-Captains Jack McVicker and Scott Pakenham are quick to offer newcomers fleet boats to charter for a day.
But if there is one reason why fleet vibe is so strong it comes down to one word: Moose. The spiritual leader of Fleet 413, Moose McClintock has known the parents in the fleet like Lars Guck “since he was a dock rat in Barrington.”
“Moose is in my opinion arguably the most accomplished sailor in Newport,” noted Steve Kirkpatrick, former President of Sail Newport. “His gravitas allows him to cut through any bullshit that happens out there. He’s just so damned good at running races that it’s hard to actually go to regular regattas because so often the RC pales in comparison to what Moose provides.”
As the URI sailing coach, Moose is quick to offer encouragement to all youth sailors. He says, “The fleet is drawing the kids more than the parents are pushing the kids.”
Moose loves the Laser because he believes “it is the greatest boat of all time.” He adds, “Every single sailor in the world should be forced to sail a Laser for a year because it will make you a better sailor. You learn about strength, balance, sail shape, and physical fitness. There’s so much more to the boats than the boats. The foundation you get from the Laser is the foundation of so much sailing.”
Photos by Joe Berkeley:
Joe Berkeley is an amateur sailor and a professional content creator. His work and contact info are at joeberkeley.com