Family Time, Sailing Passion

Published on November 4th, 2021

Nothing screams Corinthian spirit quite like when families compete together. Connie Bischoff, who knows something about raising sailing kids with sons Senet and Clay recognized as College Sailor of the Year (1996, 2003), reflects on the 2021 sailing season in Newport, RI:


Sailing as a team requires a lot of cooperation. Maybe it is easier when you are already related. This was proven by the recent victors of the overall Shields Spring/Summer/Fall races and the Melges IC37 North American Championship.

The Shields Class, founded in 1962 with 30’ 2.5” long boats, are the biggest one design fleet in Narragansett Bay and their Shields Fleet 9 Wednesday night races are famous.

Operated by Ida Lewis Yacht Club, they survived the pandemic in 2020 by requiring facemasks and limiting crew. This summer, the competition was out in full force with 20 to 25 boats every Wednesday night in the 2-hour long races run.

Who won? The Toppa family racing in Bomba Charger!

Onboard were Skipper Mike Toppa, daughter Holley, her fiancé Jeremy Wilmot (he actually proposed to Holley on the boat!), Jamestown’s Susie Leech and in the Toppa daughters, plus twins Alie and Liza and their Mom Libby. Mike laughs when he says, “We do a lot of things together.”

The Melges IC 37 Class tells a different and yet similar story. Created in 2018 to promote one-design competition for amateur sailors, New York Yacht Club purchased 20 boats for charter with other privately owned IC 37 boats. The 37-foot keelboat was designed by Mark Mills, and strict class rules ensure the most-level playing field in big-boat sailing.

The Sertl Family on Das Blau Max was ready for the competition with former Harvard Sailing Team member Nick at the helm, Mom Cory (current US Sailing President), Dad Mark as boat captain, sister Katja and the rest of the crew.

Racing was very close in the North American Championship, but after eight races it was Das Blau Max taking the win with a strategic move in the very last race. Nick celebrated the win by saying, “We definitely do appreciate doing this as a family!”

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