Mount Desert Island High School (sail No. 5) and George Stevens Academy were among the dozen high school sailing teams that took to the waters off Portland’s snow-covered Munjoy Hill Sunday morning to race in the season-opening Latchstring Regatta hosted by Yarmouth High School. ISLANDER PHOTO BY STEPHEN RAPPAPORT

MDI sailing season opens

PORTLAND — The spring regatta season got under way Sunday morning as Mount Desert Island High School took an early morning bus ride to the big city to race at the Latchstring Regatta hosted by Yarmouth High School.

MDI Coach John Macauley had more than 30 athletes sign up for the Trojan sailing team last week and took eight of them – several with considerable experience – to Portland.

Although MDI had little time on the water this spring, the islanders still managed to finish third overall.

“They did well with sketchy light winds and a pervasive chill,” Macauley said in a Monday email. “The kids sailed well, and we identified some areas that will require work, of course.”

Among MDI’s competition was the team from George Stevens Academy. Head Coach Bill Neufeld took a young, inexperienced team of fewer than a dozen sailors to the regatta, and that lack of depth showed. After a dozen races – six each in two divisions – the Eagles finished 11th in the 12-team fleet.

For the Eagles, returning sailors Hattie Slayton and Katie Forrest and newcomer Silas Murnik sailed as skippers. A variety of inexperienced sailors joined returning Berlioz Xu in the crew slots. Some of them never sailed before joining the GSA team.

All things considered, Neufeld said, “we had a good day yesterday. We’ve only been out on the water once.”

Now in his second year as GSA’s coach, Neufeld is dealing with a team that has very little experience, and that could affect how often the Eagles actually race.

This year, he and Macauley agreed to scrub the weekly home-and-home regatta schedule the schools followed for several years that saw racing in Southwest Harbor or Castine on alternate Wednesdays throughout the spring. Instead, Macauley said, MDI will host GSA’s top six sailors every Friday to help them hone their racing skills.

The schools will still sail the Welles Cup regatta at the end of the season, but the event will be in fleet racing format rather than the team racing format sailed for the last several years. Generally, successful team racing requires experienced sailors with a strong knowledge of racing tactics.

Initially, Macauley had hoped to have GSA’s advanced sailors come to Southwest Harbor on Wednesdays under the tutelage of former Maine Maritime Academy sailing coach and three-time Paralympic Games medalist Tom Brown. During Brown’s six-year tenure, the Mariners were the national intercollegiate offshore sailing champions and winners of the Kennedy Cup in 2010. In 2011, MMA represented the United States at the Student Yachting World Cup La Trinite-Sur-Mer in France.

At the same time, Macauley thought he could take some of MDI’s less experienced sailors to Castine to work with GSA’s inexperienced sailors from GSA on the MMA waterfront

“I liked that idea because MMA was making some noises that we could use a few Colgates or race close to shore in the C420s,” Macauley said. Colgate sloops and Club 420 dinghies are both raced in collegiate sailing programs.

Transportation difficulties scotched that plan but, Macauley said, “Overall, I am really excited for this season.”

With the two teams working together, Neufeld and his new assistant coach, GSA math teacher Andy Stephenson, hope the Eagles will be full-fledged participants in the recently formed six-team Penobscot Bay Sailing League. Stephenson is an experienced sailor and a former commodore of the Pleon Yacht Club in Marblehead, Mass., Neufeld said.

Whether GSA will actually race with the Penbay League is “a loaded question,” Neufeld said.

“I’d love to be,” Neufeld said Monday. “It makes sense to get together to race more often.”

The problem for GSA, though, is that “everybody else wants to team race,” said Neufeld. “We just don’t do it.”

For the moment, Neufeld said the team is planning to race at the O’Day Cup qualifying regatta in Marblehead and the Breakwater Blast in Rockland later this month.

On the slate for May are the Hospice Regatta in Rockland, the Downeast Invitational Regatta, hosted by MMA in Castine, and the Great Harbor Regatta in Southwest Harbor.

Other events are less certain.

“I don’t think we’ll do team races,” Neufeld said.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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