FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jake Fish, US SAILING Communications Manager
By Betsy Alison
The theme was “Beyond Disabilities” this past weekend in Rye, N.Y. at the Robie Pierce One-Design Regatta presented by Heineken. With hulls cutting through chop, and sails set for speed, 66 sailors on 22 identical Ideal 18s battled for top honors in a regatta named after disabled sailing pioneer, Robie Pierce, and co-hosted by the American Yacht Club and Larchmont Yacht Club.
After noticing the high success of the US SAILING’s U.S. Disabled Sailing Championship last September, American Yacht Club Commodore Mike Bruno suggested that perhaps an annual regatta could be instituted on Long Island Sound where 50 boats sailed by sailors with physical disabilities could test their competitive skills in a highly competitive regatta. In this inaugural event, 20 disabled teams and two teams of blind sailors from 14 states U.S. states and Canada converged to participate in a nine race event that broke barriers.
The casual observer would never know that 44 of the sailors had disabilities ranging from visual impairments, amputations and spinal cord injuries to diseases like multiple sclerosis or residual effects from strokes, unless they looked back at the docks from which the competitors had just abandoned their wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, crutches and canes. Sailing skills were on display from start to finish. Tactics and strategy were employed in every attempt outsmart the competition at the starting line, mark roundings, and at the finish line where all 22 boats finished within a minute or two of each other.
The regatta represented the largest number of one-design boats sailed by disabled teams held in the U.S. and starting on the same line, other than national, international or world championship events. Basic adaptive seating systems were installed on each of the boats to minimize the impact of the physical disabilities with skipper and crew seated on opposite sides of the boat. You may ask, why do they do that? The simple reason is to be inclusive of a wider range of disabilities, including those who cannot physically transfer side-to-side in the boat. This regatta was intended to include as many sailors as possible; to provide a great event with excellent racing where ‘ability’ is the key word; and the focus is purely on race course performance. Each boat also had an an able-bodied sailor who was there to balance the boat, trim, adjust sheets and controls, and/or assist in an emergency only at the direction of one of the sailing team members. The two blind teams each sailed with an able-bodied sailor who served as a sight guide. The sight guide verbally gave direction to help them navigate around the course.
In the end, when points were tallied and results posted, US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics member Mark LeBlanc with his crew Alex Streb (making her debut in disabled sailing) and 2008 Paralympian Tim Angle performed as their able-bodied sailor, received top honors and the Ideal 18 half-model perpetual trophy that was donated by Vice Commodore Carl Olssen from Larchmont Yacht Club – a below-knee amputee, and the third place skipper! Jennifer French and Mike Hersey, both US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics members, were a close second place followed by Olssen and Jacquie Gay (from Great Britain) in third. Paralympic Gold Medalist Maureen McKinnon-Tucker crewing for Shan McAdoo finished fourth, and the blind team of Inky Inkavalia and Duane Farrar rounding out the top five.
With this inaugural event now complete, all of the sailors are optimistic about competing in next year’s event that will be hosted by Larchmont Yacht Club with assistance from the American Yacht Club. The goal is to get close to reaching the 50 boat mark next year and surpass it in the near future. With the help of the commodores and yacht clubs on Western Long Island Sound and the support of Heineken, plans to continue growing this “must do” event are in the works and that goal of 50 boats on the line is just another barrier soon to be broken!
About US SAILING
The United States Sailing Association (US SAILING), the national governing body for sailing, provides leadership for the sport in the United States. Founded in 1897 and headquartered in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, US SAILING is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization. US SAILING offers training and education programs for instructors and race officials, supports a wide range of sailing organizations and communities, issues offshore rating certificates, and provides administration and oversight of competitive sailing across the country, including National Championships and the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics. For more information, please visit www.ussailing.org.