As the languid and svelte 68-foot Dencho racer turned the corner into D Basin Saturday, June 16th, young sailors in tubby eight-foot sabots looked up in awe at the contrast, but in awe as well of the similarity between these racing boats that sit on opposite sides of the racing spectrum.
While there was an obvious size difference, even the eight-year-old kids staring up noticed that both boats were built to race and both employ the same concepts to move forward.
The crew from the maxi-sled all smiled as they watched the pint-sized sabot racers in their pint-sized sailboats tacking and jibing as if someone were pressing the fast-forward button on a DVD player. Booms were swinging everywhere as they sailed on unfazed by the monstrous obstruction.
The kids were finishing up the sixth edition of the U.S. Sabot High-Point Series, a competition that runs throughout the year and decides who are the best young sabot sailors from Long Beach to Ventura.
Representatives from five yacht clubs up and down the coast were racing in the High Point and both the Del Rey Yacht (DRYC) Club, which hosted the event, and the California Yacht Club (CYC) had their most competitive sailors from their respective programs exercising what they have learned through the years, vying for a win. For this contest, DRYC had second- and third-place finishers in the A class, CYC had second- and third-place finishers in the B class and they also had first and seconds in the C class.
Both clubs have been churning out sailboat racers for decades and both operate their educational programs at or near capacity every season. Thousands of kids have taken part through the years and a few have gone on to some amazing achievements in the sport with the solid sailing foundation that they gained in the clubs.
Years ago, Ben Mitchell went through the Cal Yacht Club program and eventually found himself beside Dennis Conner in the America’s Cup.
Peter Wells went to the Olympics in the Windsurfer class and many others from CYC have excelled as well.
Will Petersen, under the tutelage of Forest Gay and Carrie Dair, recently took first place in the Silver Fleet of the Laser Radial World Championship, won the CFJ Nationals and placed in the top three in the Leiter Cup. He was also awarded the Association of Santa Monica Bay Yacht Club’s Junior Yachtsman of the Year. Petersen, 18, is currently preparing for college, where he will continue to compete.
CYC’s Allie Belcher also placed high in the Laser Radial worlds and is currently an All-American Sailor in her first year on the collegiate level.
“We are so lucky,” said Carrie Dair, CYC’s first full-time junior director and currently an assistant to director Forest Gay. “The club is really behind developing the program. If we have a reasonable plan of growth and where it’s taking us — the club has backed us 100 percent.”
Dair attributes the success of CYC’s junior sailors to how their staff focuses on initiating kids through a low-pressure method. The philosophy is to not overwhelm young sailors with the intimidation of competition and to slowly bring them along, teaching fun as the most important aspect.
“The staff is really important,” said Dair. “If you have a high-level competitive coach to drill on the kids, most of the time they’re not going to like it and then they won’t want to come back. [The kids] have to like the sport, not just bring home a trophy.”
The Del Rey Yacht Club has a similar philosophy of bringing kids along slowly and it also boasts some notable quality junior sailors hailing from the club. Not long ago, three sailors from the program were invited to represent the United States in a high-profile race in New Zealand and the skipper of the trio, Greg Helias, like Petersen was a former ASMBYC (Association of Santa Monica Bay Yacht Clubs) Junior Yachtsman of the Year.
In the program now is Laser sailor Julian Soto, 16, who competed against Petersen in the Laser Radial World Championships and was recently accepted into a top-level Laser clinic in Annapolis taught by Anna Tunnicliffe, an Olympic favorite and the number-one-ranked female Laser Radial sailor in the world. Soto was one of only 40 kids from the entire country accepted to the clinic.
Soto has been in the Del Rey program since he was seven and he is a disciple of DRYC coach Adam Corpus-Lahne, of whom he speaks with great reverence.
“Adam teaches every kid individually,” Soto said. “He’d show us our weak points and our strengths.”
Soto feels fortunate to have gone through the program and to have had such positive mentorship. He has sailed all the boats the program encompasses, traveled to distant regattas to compete and practiced hard on his own, and he credits the program with giving him a solid foundation and the confidence to excel.
“They’ve really supported me all along,” said Soto of the DRYC program. “Especially Virginia Howard — getting me down to Annapolis.”
Howard has been the chairwoman for the past 14 years and is devoted to seeing kids reach their goals, but she also places a high priority on the less competitive kids getting a positive experience as well.
Under her tenure, the program has more than doubled in size and the Del Rey Yacht Club is a far more competitive youth club than it was before she arrived.
If Soto’s dream comes true, Howard can brag of Olympic greatness coming from the club. Soto has his eyes fixed upon competing in the 2012 Olympic games in London and he considers himself in training.
“I’ve already started my own program at home,” he says. “I’m on a special diet and training every single day.”
Information, www.dryc.org or www.calyachtclub.com/.