MERSD Sailing Race

The Manchester-Essex Varsity Sailing Team travelled to Sharon Mass on Saturday to race against three teams, BC High and Sharon High’s Varsity and JV teams.  This was our first formal event in a highly compressed spring sailing season.

We raced on a beautiful clear day, sailing from the host team’s beach on Lake Massapoag into blustery conditions with winds averaging 18 with gusts over 25.  We paired up against BC High, an all-male team of experienced sailors.  By the time the sailors had finished the first leg, it was clear that we had a lot to learn about heavy air sailing.  Buoyed by an initial scrimmage with Landmark on our home waters that went well, we quickly realized that we were up against three very experienced teams.  Like a bracing shot of cold spray in the face, we were met by a solid dose of reality.

We have a young team, with no returnees from our stellar team from 2019, and no one with previous Varsity experience.  Furthermore, we have an extremely light team, with most crews averaging around 220 pounds, versus the typical weight of 280.  On a day with heavy wind, this is a considerable handicap.  The crew of the first boat is Lynn Benali and Liv Renzi, the second is Anna Brzezinski and Bella Wright, and the third is Aiden Harrison and Andrew Torri.

The “Digital N” team racing course takes the shape of the letter ‘N’.  From the starting line, the course begins with a windward beat followed by a short beam reach, then a dead downwind leg followed by another reach, finishing with a second windward leg to the finish line.  A race typically lasts about eight to ten minutes.  Each team has three boats, and the goal is to score the fewest points when the finish places of each team are totaled.  The best possible finish is one, two, three, for a total of only six, versus 21 total points between the two teams.

From the start, our team was overpowered by the strong wind, and we had difficulty keeping the boats flat.  Light dinghies, like the “420s” we race, are faster when upright rather than heeling over in the wind.  While the heavier BC high sailors kept their boats upright and steady, the Manchester sailors were often having to luff their sails to keep upright and on course.  Additionally, the wind was both puffy and shifty, given that this was on a lake where the wind is often highly affected by shoreline, an added factor for the ocean-sailing Manchester sailors to master.  Some of the shifts were so dramatic that they could be sailing on one tack, and suddenly forced onto the other tack by a shift of 50 degrees!  Frustrations were high initially as our sailors sought to adjust to these unfamiliar conditions.

After five difficult and unsatisfying races against BC High, the Hornets took on Sharon’s JV team, while BC High faced Sharon’s Varsity.  At this point, the teams were more evenly matched and the competition closer, with the boats beginning to interact more frequently and apply their team racing tactics, such as trying to hold back the competition by blocking their opponents at marks, and getting to windward and slowing down their opponents.  The ME team, as they gained confidence, began to get closer and managed occasionally to outsail their opponents.

One important aspect of the day is that we were given our own coach boat to watch the racing and to function as the finish line, recording the finishes and scoring the races.  From this vantage point, the two substitutes Ava Rizzico and Ian Carlin (in their drysuits and ready to jump into a boat if needed), and two more team members, Matthew Graeter and Cole Cote, had a great vantage point for watching the racing and learning valuable techniques about sailing faster and team racing tactics in heavy wind.

Over the next weeks, we will be racing Pingree, Landmark, Gloucester High and St. John’s Prep.  We will be working hard on our boat handling skills, our boat speed and our team racing tactics, and particularly on keeping the boat flat and fast in strong winds!

Tony Leggett is the Hornets Varsity Sailing Coach.