SOUTHWEST HARBOR — For those who are hardy enough, sailing season is here.
At least, that’s what the respective coaches of both the Mount Desert Island High School and George Stevens Academy sailing teams said. And the evidence bares them out.
Barring unforeseen weather complications, both teams will head for Marblehead, Mass., early Saturday morning for a weekend of racing against the Magicians of Marblehead High School. Plans call for a day of team racing on Saturday and then fleet racing on Sunday.
Only three teams will take part in the weekend event, hosted by the Pleon Yacht Club. In the past, the regatta has frequently drawn a larger fleet.
“It will only be MDI, GSA, and Marblehead this weekend,” said Kelly Stannard, the Marblehead Magicians’ new sailing coach, on Monday. “We only have seven 420s (420-class sailing dinghies) and two RIBS (inflatable outboard-powered boats used for safety boats on the icy water), so I would like to keep the numbers lower.”
It’s still early, and the shape of the 2018 high school sailing season is yet to be determined.
GSA has a new coach, math teacher Andy Stephenson, and what looks like a small and inexperienced team.
Stephenson is no stranger to sailing. He served as an assistant to last year’s GSA sailing coach, Bill Neufeld, sailed competitively in prep school and college, and sailed and worked in the St. George’s School offshore science program aboard the 70-foot Geronimo.
This year, Stephenson said, he expects GSA to put together a team of about 10 sailors that will, as in past years, practice at Maine Maritime Academy. Although all of them are underclassmen, Stephenson said, the team has “a fair amount of experience.” Next year, he expects three sailors currently studying abroad to return to the team.
With only a small group, the Eagles likely will sail a reduced schedule of regattas. Besides Marblehead this weekend, GSA is planning to compete in the Breakwater Blast in Rockland later in the spring and at the Downeast Regatta in Castine in May.
Stephenson said that weekly regattas with the MDIHS sailing team likely will not be on the team’s schedule. He said that with practice ending at 5:30 p.m., the youthful sailors got back to Blue Hill too late.
Even if the weekly scrimmages are off the schedule, what would be the 21st edition of the Welles Cup regatta still appears to be a go. First sailed in 1996, the event has been a highlight of the rivalry between the two sailing programs every year except 2016, when it was suspended because the Eagles didn’t have enough sailors for competitive racing.
“We will likely do a Welles Cup, I hadn’t planned not to, but just a little early to think about,” MDIHS sailing Coach John Macauley said in an email last week.
Macauley said that the sailing situation on MDI looked a bit uncertain. While he expected plenty of sailors to come out when practice begins at the MDI Community Sailing Center in Southwest Harbor this week, he suggested that MDI might not be among the top high school teams in the state this year.
“NESSA (the New England Schools Sailing Association) is again promoting a team racing format which makes us less than competitive as it requires 12 committed sailors to run a practice,” Macauley said.
There is another reason, he said, that comparatively small schools such as MDIHS and GSA are likely to be at a competitive disadvantage in statewide regattas.
“On top of the prevailing attitude toward conglomerates,” teams built with students from more than one secondary school, scholastic sailing authorities are “probably not doing much toward promoting youth sailing Downeast,” Macauley said.