Recollections Part 6 - Sailing With the Stars - The Pleasures and Benefits of One Design Racing
By Mark Einstein
Most people don’t believe me when I tell them that I once raced against Dennis Conner – the world’s most famous and successful racing sailor. Dennis is known for his success in Olympic events, the America's Cup, many different offshore races, and two Star Class world championships. One might wonder how a mediocre club racer such as I could find himself sailing neck and neck against the greatest legend in the sport of yachting.
For many of us, when we dream of learning to sail, we envision ourselves behind the wheel of a luxury sailing yacht, carelessly cruising to the far side of the world – perhaps beyond even our wildest and most distant horizons. Then we wake up! The good news is that through one-design and local club racing, many of our sailing dreams can be realized right within the confines of our everyday lives. An aspiring sailor, even on a budget, can actually launch his or her sailing dream by becoming active in one of the many one-design fleets easily accessed throughout the Chesapeake Bay region. By becoming involved in a well-organized class association, a beginner can readily find a boat, crew, spare parts and best of all, a camaraderie that will lead to the most important aspect of making any sailing dream come true – experience.
Riverton Yacht Club on the Delaware River in New Jersey is one of the oldest yacht clubs in the country and some of the best-known sailors in the world have raced there. Legendary names such as Lippincott, MacCausland, Menkart, Wright, and Martin, are just a few whose achievements are forever etched into the many perpetual trophies that the club has awarded through the years. Still a dreamer myself during the early 1980s, I began to take an interest in the Star Class, having seen a few regattas at Riverton Yacht Club. To me, the Star is “king of the keelboats” with its huge, deck-sweeping mainsail, a plethora of multi-colored lines and controls and perhaps the fastest looking hull design in existence. Watching the skippers and crews of the West Jersey Star Fleet inspired me and before I knew it, I had a boat of my own - quickly learning how easy it is to finish in last place! I soon began to make new friends with the hope of sharpening my skills and gaining confidence.
Most one-design fleets are eager to introduce new members to the sport and the top sailors are usually enthusiastic to mentor novice sailors and share their knowledge with them. Moreover, many fleets award a trophy to the novice competitors as a way of encouraging them to stay in the game. The social aspects of club racing and one-design sailing are at least as rewarding as the sailing itself. One does not need to be a champion to be a part of the fraternity, but by hanging out with the experts, one can learn much more than is possible by simply taking sailing lessons.
One of the distinct advantages of one-design sailing is the ability to travel to “away” venues where the social and networking potential becomes limitless.
Not long after I had acquired my own Star, I began to travel with the fleet to many of the excellent Chesapeake Bay regattas, such as, Oxford, St. Michaels, Gibson Island, and Annapolis, meeting more people and gaining priceless experience with every race. Finally, after I had built up enough confidencein the mid-80's, I set my sights on the premier Star regatta in the United States, the Bacardi Cup, held annually at the Coral Reef Yacht Club in Miami Fl. The only thing one needs to do to qualify for this prestigious event is show up with a Star boat, and even though I knew I would be way out of my league, I felt like I was entering the Indianapolis 500.
Practically every sailing celebrity in the world was there. Intimidated, yes, but simply attending the regatta was a dream come true to me, notwithstanding whatever might happen once I got my boat into the water. However, by the second day of the five-day event, I found myself experiencing what may have been the proudest moment of my life. I was sailing neck and neck – eyeball to eyeball – with the fastest sailor in the world - Dennis Conner. Me and Dennis - mano a mano! Surging through the water, hiked way out over the side, I was nose to nose with “Mr. America’s Cup” himself! What a thrill it was to be a part of a sport where such a feat is possible!
Then... ten seconds later, the starting gun went off and I never saw Dennis Conner again.
Nevertheless, the fact remains, no matter who you are, one design and club racing provides an unbeatable way to achieve the confidence and experience that is necessary to start making your sailing dreams come true.