Young sailors descend upon Marblehead for Junior Race Week

Marblehead Junior Race Week began Monday afternoon with nearly 240 young sailors from across New England converging on Marblehead Harbor for three days of competitive sailing.

A total of 248 kids are participating across various boat categories, with each fleet competing in 12 races over three days. CURRENT PHOTO / WILLIAM J. DOWD

The annual regatta, hosted by Pleon Yacht Club, unifies sailors ages eight to 18 to compete in the historic maritime race week.

As the young sailors waited to enter the water around 10 a.m., they said Marblehead’s notoriously light and shifty winds on the water may be a homecourt advantage and pose a challenge for young racers used to steady breezes.

“It’s a thing here,” said Skipper Lucy Key, 14, referring to Marblehead as a “no wind town.”

Key is sailing a 420 with teammate Kay Whitman, 14, both from Marblehead. The 420 is a two-person dinghy equipped with a mainsail, jib and spinnaker. For many, the 420 is a step up from the single-handed Optimist “Opti” dinghy. Key began sailing on an Opti at five years old and transitioned to 420s this year.

“The Pleon Sailing program emphasizes independence; we haul, rig and repair our boats,” Whitman said. “If you need a part and it’s not on hand, you buy it yourself.”

Optimists, sailboats that are for a single sailor, resemble small bathtubs and have one sail. Lasers are one-design singlehanders raced by all ages. Green fleet Optimists and 420s remain near the shore, while older sailors in fleets known as “the champion fleet” venture further out.

A group of 420s line up duing Junior Race Week at the Pleon Yacht Club. COURTESY PHOTO / CELIA DRESSEL

Organizing so many sailors is a huge task, said race officer Susie Schneider. “We face the usual problem, especially with the 420s,” she said. “Because they’re boats from different clubs, multiple kids have the same numbers.”

Schneider has helped organize Marblehead Race Week for many years. After COVID-19 led to the cancellation of certain race formats in recent years, she’s happy to see a return to normal.

“”During COVID, the emphasis was on boats with one person. That fit the rules for COVID at that time. As things loosened up, the 420s were able to join in,” Schneider said. “This year is fantastic. We’re expecting over 220, maybe 230 participants.”

Skipper Will Cruikshank, 15, sails with his crew member, Cole Barbeau, in the 420 fleet. They’ve been practicing for weeks with their sailing coach, Imanol Bilasetru, who is from Argentina.

“We’re trying to make sure that we’re we can be as competitive as we can be with the 420 fleet,” he said, adding that in Marblehead “you learn how to sail in the harder conditions. With a partner, you can’t think of sailing as two people in a boat, you have to think of it as one unit.”

A group of 420s with thier spinnakers ballooned out duing Junior Race Week at the Pleon Yacht Club. COURTESY PHOTO / CELIA DRESSEL

Other young teams traveled from Maine to compete. Skipper Olivier Garcia, 16, and his crew member, Mira Broussard, 14, came down from Harraseeket Yacht Club in South Freeport, Maine. Experienced 420 racers, the duo set reasonable expectations for their first time racing in Marblehead. “Our expectations are moderate,” Garcia said. “We’re hoping for some good races and landing a result we can be proud of.”

Broussard agrees.

“I think placement doesn’t really matter as much as just like sailing fast and sailing good and being smart about what we are doing,” she said.

“We’ve been preparing, doing different drills, sailing maneuvers and working on whatever we need to work on,” said Broussard. Their coach, Enrique Ruiz, appreciated the trip as a learning experience.

“This is definitely the biggest event that I’ve been to so far with these guys, since we’ve kind of stuck around Maine because of COVID,” Ruiz said. “I think they’ve definitely come a long way in terms of the way in which they handle themselves. They are much more together as a unit.”

Skipper Jack Guinness, 16, is crewing a 420 with Ben Baldwin.

A group of young sailors competes with boat big enough for one person. COURTESY PHOTO / ALI SPRING

“It’s a great way for the kids to experience sail racing for the first time,” said Guinness of Race Week. “Having a good time is what it’s all about.”

Guinness recently won a regatta sailing an Opti. He noted the winds are lighter than where they live in Maine, which they said could make things challenging.

“Normally, it is pretty light here. So we kind of prepare for that. We read the sails differently,” Guinness said. “So a day like today, we’re planning for like 10 knots.”

He added, “So we’re hoping it’s going to pick up when we get on the water.”

Marblehead Race Week continues through Wednesday. Racing starts at noon each day, with onshore activities and coaching in the mornings. View the results.

Race Week proceeds with adults competing from July 27-30 after the juniors. Featuring 200 sailboats, it’s part of the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series, co-hosted by the Marblehead Racing Association, Sailing World and the Corinthian Yacht Club.

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