Mass State Fleet Racing Championship June 1 & 2


The last event on our spring schedule is the Massachusetts State Fleet Racing Championship, which takes place at the MIT Sailing Pavilion on the Charles River.  Fourteen schools signed up for this two-day event, with each team providing two crews to race in the A & B Divisions.  MIT has a superb facility with over 40 boats lined up on the dock, with the racecourse only yards away.  Another big plus is that coaches and spectators can view every aspect of the races from the second-floor deck of the pavilion -and agonize from a distance as the races progress.

What marked this event for the team was the absence of our most experienced sailors.  Anna Brzezinski, the top skipper, and our two Seniors, Aiden Harrison and Lynn Benali, were tied up with end-of-year obligations.  The five-person team that travelled to MIT’s pavilion was composed of Sophomores Ian Carlin and Ava Rizzico as A and B Division skippers, with Freshman Matthew Graeter, crewing for Ian, and two 7th graders, Max Deery and Thaddeus Bardsley, crewing for Ava.  This young squad went up against the top teams in the state, largely composed of Senior and Junior sailors with four years of sailing under their belt.  We decided to approach the competition as a chance to gain valuable experience and a two-day exercise in “character building”.

On the first day lots of rain and surprisingly cold winds swept the Charles from Beacon Hill to Harvard Bridge.  The wind direction shifted between northeast and southeast, offering plenty of chance to win (or lose) ground on the shifts.  The racing quickly settled into a pattern with the top four finishers in both Divisions being the teams from Wellesley, Winchester, Sharon and Duxbury.  Two give an idea of the competition, the top A Division skipper at the end of eight races had a race result of seven firsts and one second.

Our sailors had difficulty with the very crowded starts, with 14 skippers jockeying for position on the narrow starting line, trying to find the fastest route to the windward mark, considering the variations in wind strength and wind direction on the fluky Charles.  A sailor can decide to go out on either tack and commit to one side or the other of the first upwind leg with a 50-50 chance of doing well.  However, the best strategy at such a location is to focus on the streaks of darker water indicating stronger wind, and sail towards the puffs in the hope of catching either a stronger breeze or a better angle to the next mark than your competitors.  And very often, by the time you get to the spot where you last saw it, the ephemeral wind is gone.

In the end, our frequent finishes in the second half of the fleet resulted in tenth place overall, a final score that we hope to improve upon next season.  But it was a wonderful ending when Ava and Max docked with big smiles, and Ava saying, “Did you see that?  We ended with a fifth!”

After the awards ceremony (the top four finishers were Wellesley, Winchester, Sharon and Duxbury) we watched the Wellesley team encircle their coach, give him a few seconds to lose his glasses and cell phone, then grab him by his arms and legs and toss him off the dock.

I turned to Ian, our A Division skipper, and said, “If you win this event by 2024, you can toss me in the Charles.”  With a big grin he responded, “That’s a deal, coach.”

Tony Leggett is the MERHS Varsity Sailing team coach.

sailing, lynn benali, mit’s pavilion, winchester, harvard, thaddeus bardsley, mit sailing pavilion, b division, matthew graeter, anna brzezinski, tony leggett, ian carlin, ava rizzico, max deery, harvard bridge, merhs varsity sailing team coach, aiden harrison