Love it when a plan comes together

Published on September 15th, 2022

The Mariner 19, with a weighted centerboard keel and cabin, and connected to notable designer Philip L. Rhodes and Olympic medalist George O’Day, is one of the rare sailboats created during the “classic plastic” era of the 1960s and 1970s that enjoys continued production.

In this report, Miguel Casellas shares his story of what happens when a son asks his dad to go sailing:

It was Sunday afternoon, and I was watching TV with my son and wife right after finishing racing the San Juan 500 Years Regatta in San Juan, Puerto Rico. My son, Sebastian, who is a senior at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and my designated skipper in our Mariner #3122, asks – why don’t we go to the Mariner US Nationals?

Riverton Yacht Club would be hosting the 2022 event on August 20-21, located just 15 minutes north of downtown Philly in the shores of the Delaware River, and his classes start right after. Founded in 1865, it’s one of oldest yacht clubs in America and has a rich sailing history. It is well known for promoting One-Design racing and for producing world class sailors.

My son wanted more Mariner racing and thought this was a great opportunity. In San Juan, we raced with a 46 years old ‘made in Hong Kong’ main and a new North Sails jib. We were very happy with our results as we finished 2nd, but we really wanted to race with all new crispy sails. Sebastian is very competitive, and he wanted to sail with me in the Nationals.

Soon after that conversation, I sent an email to the Mariner Class Racing Section to see if we could charter a boat for the Nationals. Three hours passed, and I had a call from Brant Beach Mariner Fleet – Bill Watters.

“I will be racing the Nationals with my boat, but I can lend you my other Mariner,” he said. “Just bring your sails. Arrive to Brant Beach three days before the Nationals and we’ll get the boat in good racing conditions. The boat is in pretty good shape, but it will take us about nine beers to do the bottom.”

Perfect. Sounds like plan – I responded. That same night I purchased a direct SJU – PHL ticket scheduled to arrive Wednesday morning at 9:45am. I told Bill that we needed a main because ours was 46 years old and to sail the Nationals we would need a good one. He goes – don’t worry I have a Quantum main in good conditions and it’s going to be just fine. I had my son do the payment/registration and Terry Fennel – Mariner #919 – confirmed in less than 10 minutes. BINGO! We were set to go.

I started reading about Riverton and soon discovered that it was a very hard and tricky place to sail. Their newsletter is called The Current so you can imagine! I told my son, go to YouTube, and look at all the videos because the current over at the Delaware River is strong.

A week passed, and I had a call from Bill. “Miguel – I have some good news and bad news. Which one do you want first?” Bad news first – I said.

He goes on to explain how he won’t be able to race the Nationals because his daughter is a freshman and he had to take her to the University of Rochester. Then I asked about the good news, which he said we could now be using his #1 boat – Black Ice with one of his mains.

Black Ice (#860) is an all-black hull Mariner in very good racing conditions. During COVID, Bill spent a lot of time getting the boat to the highest racing standards. Bill really wanted to race the Nationals, but it was impossible for him, so he made every effort to help us.

A week after Bill’s bad/good news, I had a call from last year’s Nationals winner Dan Walsh (#2778) saying he had a new North main available. We bought his main and he agreed to put #3122 on.

Our plan was taking shape but unfortunately, Bill was not going to be able to join us at the Nationals.

Bill brought Black Ice to Riverton Wednesday at 1:00pm where we met Dan who gave us the new North main. We tuned the mast, and at 2:15pm we were practicing with Bill onboard. He taught us a couple of tricks about the boat and how to handle the current. Thursday, we arrived at the club at 1:00pm and practiced for three hours.

On Friday morning, Bob Corney (#1095) weighted the boat and inspected the sails. We checked everything to make sure all equipment was perfect and then, headed back to my son’s house at St. Joe’s. First, we stopped at Manayunk, a small town full of restaurants, bars, galleries, coffee shops, etc… 20 minutes away from Riverton.

We had a late lunch at Manayunk Brewing Company and talked about our racing strategy for the series. Our strategy was very simple. Conservative sailing.

On Saturday’s Skippers Meeting, we met all participants, and the Race Officer gave instructions for the windward/leeward courses. Protests were not welcome, and a 360-turn rule was in force. Gentleman/Old school racing. The Star-Spangled Banner was played, and we were ready to go.

Tom Green (#738) from Surf City, NJ introduced himself with his wife/crew Michelle and we talked about good times in the Caribbean. Soon after, I looked to my right and there was Joanne McCarthy and Steve Creighton (#1362) from Cooper River YC whom I met last winter while sailing in Puerto Rico.

Right before Race 1, Tom goes to my son – make sure you leave the board down sailing downwind against the current. Wind was very light, but the PRO managed to set three races. We rounded the first weather mark 2nd place and crossed the line in 5th place. Race 2, we finished dead last and Race 3 we finished 6th. Riverton is a very challenging place to race but we started to learn the basics thanks to all the help from fellow competitors.

We sailed back to the club and there was Dan Walsh at the dock waiting for us with a pitcher of full of beer and two big red cups. What a master!! We took the boat out of the water and soon after, a Mexican Party was getting started with great food and drinks. As the band began tuning, I saw their lead guitarist wearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd shirt. I said to myself, ‘These guys aren’t mariachis.’ This is rock & rock. Good old rock & roll. And indeed, it was. We had a great time and then headed to back my son’s house.

Last day of racing started at around 12:15pm as there was no wind. There were cumulus clouds coming from the east, and as the wind picked up, the Race Committee decided to start the races. In Race 4, we finished 4th place just ahead of Jim Irwin and his daughter Elizabeth (#3178) who had a spectacular series finishing 2nd overall. For Race 5, the Committee Boat was favored, and we positioned at an excellent spot. We were very confident of getting a great start, but Riverton sailing is no piece of cake, and with 35 seconds to go, the wind died.

We hit the Race Committee anchor line and took us about one minute to get out of the mess. We finished 9th place. Race 6 – I told my son – the pin is favored, and we cannot afford to make the same mistake. We must sail closer to the pin end on port and be ready to tack if we see trouble. Fortunately, we had a pretty good start and managed to sail the first windward leg with clear air. We finished 2nd place in a very close race just ahead of eventual Nationals winners Bob and Billy Martin (#938) who sailed a very consistent and intelligent series. BRAVO!

Being first timers to Riverton, we were pleased with our 5th place overall. My son, Sebastian, won Best Rookie Skipper and Farthest Traveled, and during the awards ceremony, members of the RYC gave us two hats and a club burgee.

I had a wonderful time with my son sailing the tricky waters of the Delaware River and meeting all the super people and sailors from Riverton Yacht Club and other clubs. We are definitely coming back, and next year we’ll do everything possible to make it to the Nationals at Narrasketuck, NY.

Our thanks to Dan Walsh (#2778), Terry Fennell (#919), Harry Mayer (#664), Chris O’Brien (#3599), and all fellow competitors for such a great time, camaraderie, and hospitality. Our many thanks to Bill Watters for giving us the opportunity to race Black Ice and, our many thanks to all Regatta Organizers, RYC members, volunteers, and PRO for hosting such a wonderful event. You guys are a class act!

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